Finland’s new Ambassador to Namibia: Doors are always open for us
”The presence of Finland in Namibia for 140 years has a certain significance,” says Finland’s new Ambassador in Windhoek, Anne Saloranta. She presented her credentials to the President of Namibia on Wednesday, 26 March.
Finland may be a small country in size, but in Namibia Finland is a big player who is invited everywhere, often passing over the heads of larger and more powerful countries.
”We are old friends, Namibia and Finland; we are often given the chance to speak, and we are also listened to,” said Ambassador Saloranta.
Having first come to Namibia in 1994 as a Junior Professional Officer with UNICEF, Ambassador Saloranta can view the country from a perspective that stretches back some twenty years.
”In 1994, Namibia had just become independent, and the scars of apartheid could be seen everywhere. Windhoek was already a very western city even then, but the poverty in the countryside was overwhelming. When I came back to Namibia in 2011, the first thing I noticed was the immense improvements in infrastructure. Tiny villages in North Namibia had developed into large urban growth centres.”
How did Namibia escape from poverty?
Namibia’s economy is growing, and the country is one of the most prosperous in Africa. How did Namibia manage to do so much better than other countries in Southern African?
”When Namibia became independent, the country inherited a good road network from the South African period of government, as well as a working mining industry and a good service sector. Namibia’s abundant natural resources, and the mining and fishing industries, were engines driving economic growth. The mining industry was the country’s largest producer of gross national income, and the largest employer. The economic strength of neighbouring South Africa also helped raise Namibia out of poverty. In addition, they avoided a civil war,” Ambassador Saloranta explains.
Another reason for the good development in Namibia, according to Ambassador Saloranta, is the small population, only slightly over two million, and the low population growth. Conditions for making a living in Namibia are harsh: drought and desertification, and the difficult geographical circumstances, have kept population growth in check.
Namibia is a country of glaring inequality, where the increase in well-being is not being seen at the grassroots level. Social development has not walked hand in hand with economic development. Ambassador Saloranta is of the opinion that the Namibian people have waited all of the long years that SWAPO has been in power for the party to take firmer steps toward reducing social inequality.
Taxation is progressive, and the middle-class is taxed at a relatively high rate. The State has a small social security system, pays a small living allowance per child, and provides a citizen’s pension of 600 Namibian dollars, which hardly covers living expenses.
Education accounts for over 20 percent of the State Budget. Basic education is universal and free, but there is room to improve the quality of education. English was chosen as the official language of the country, but many teachers still do not speak it well. There are 12 different ethnic groups in Namibia, and there is almost no bilingual education available.
Vocational training has been forgotten
Nearly 30 percent of young people have no jobs. Growth sectors need skilled labour, but the young men often drop out of school and wander through the Wallis Bay harbour looking for work. But there is no work there for untrained young men. Unemployment and inactivity fuel social unrest.
“When Namibia became independent, opportunities for black people to obtain higher education were almost non-existent. When entrance to universities began to open up, vocational education was forgotten. Namibia now lacks a population of trained, skilled labour. Currently we are exploring together what kind of cooperation can be set up between Finnish and Namibian educational institutions to develop vocational education and training,” Ambassador Saloranta said.
In Namibia, many of the older people have an image of Finland as a friend, who works together with the Namibian people, taking as their starting point development goals set by Namibians.
Young people, especially in South Namibia, barely know where Finland is. “We want to make Finland better known, and keep up our good reputation in the whole country. Local cooperation projects are now being planned also in new fields, outside those of the traditional projects begun during the Finnish missionary era,” said Ambassador Saloranta.
Ambassador Anne Saloranta and the President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba. Photograph by Joseph Nekaya.