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Learning from Namibia

Sandwiched between Angola and South Africa, Namibia shows that even countries that start with serious disadvantages – extremes of racism, colonialism, inequality, and underdevelopment – can chart a path toward shared prosperity. Its achievement deserves international recognition – and emulation.

WINDHOEK – Sandwiched between Angola and South Africa, Namibia suffered mightily during the long struggle against apartheid. Yet, since winning independence from South Africa in 1990, this country of 2.4 million people has achieved enormous gains, especially in the last couple of years.

A big reason for Namibia’s success has been the government’s focus on education. While people in advanced countries take for granted free primary and secondary education, in many poor countries, secondary education, and even primary schools, require tuition. Indeed, governments are often advised to impose tuition as a form of “cost recovery.” In Namibia, however, public primary education is free; and, as of the current school year, so is public secondary education.

Namibia’s government is also proactive in other important ways. Malaria eradication efforts have reduced annual cases by 97% in about a decade. Bucking the global trend of increasing inequality, Namibia’s Gini coefficient (the standard measure of inequality in an income distribution) has fallen by some 15 points since 1993 (admittedly from one of the highest levels in the world). And the poverty rate has been more than halved, from 69% in 1993 to under 30%, with extreme poverty (the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day) falling by a similar margin, from just under 53% to less than 23%.