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  • A view from the other side of the continent

    19 Jul, 2016 – 9:01 am

    I was recently fortunate enough to visit Namibia. I was impressed. It is a very large country, with a small population and many, many issues, but somehow things there work quite well.

    The best thing I saw? All government vehicles, every single one, have a green license plate. Normal license plates are white or yellow. This means that it is immediately obvious to anyone that a specific vehicle belongs to a government department. The licenses have letters and numbers which indicate which ministry, which department and so on. That means that if a government vehicle is driving badly, or being used for non-government work, it can immediately be identified and reported. What a great way to ensure government vehicles are used correctly!

    Other good things:

    I didn’t need a visa to enter Namibia as a tourist – no costs, no long application procedures, no need to produce reams of documents. A simple stamp was enough to let me in and allow me to begin my holiday. What a pleasure!

    I drove thousands of kilometers, I never once got stopped by traffic police. I was never asked, while driving or walking (it’s generally safe to walk around at night) for my documents. In fact the only Namibian government officials I met were at Immigration (quick stamp in my passport) and at the country’s national parks (welcoming, helpful, efficient).

    Most of Namibia’s roads are dirt roads. I used both secondary and tertiary roads. All were in good condition. OK, it is fair to say that Namibia has almost no rain, but that’s not the only reason their roads are good. All secondary roads are graded once per month. All tertiary roads are graded once every three months. Without fail. Throughout the country. Grader operators have a special “house” which is towed by their grader. They live and work in the field for periods of time. If they find a problem they cannot fix they radio back to their boss and a team is sent out to solve the problem.

    Tourism in Namibia is easy. The country has a limited range of industries, largely because it is mostly desert. Tourism is very important for the Namibian economy and it’s easy to feel that when you visit. Tourists are made welcome from the time they enter the country. Tourism is a major employer, especially of women. There is good quality, affordable training available for tourism operators to train their staff. It’s easy to get to Namibia – various airlines fly there. It’s easy to get around inside the country – small airlines are permitted to operate and to take tourists to many different destinations. There are lots of activities to do because it is easy for companies to set up and to offer a wide range of services for tourists.

    There is infrastructure even in the remotest places. Namibia is a huge country with a very small population. It does not generate enough electricity (hardly any in fact) to supply the country, it has major problems with water. Despite this I never once experienced a power cut, I could drink the water from the tap everywhere, there is cellphone coverage on all major transport and tourist roads, and 3 or 4G internet in many places. Oh, and every fuel station has a clean toilet!! You pay a small amount to use them, which is fine since they all have running water, soap, paper and towels.

    Conclusion

    Namibia is a country faced with many challenges. It has some natural resources but it has been affected like other economies by the economic downturn. It has poverty and economic inequality. It is a huge country with few people scattered around it which makes public service delivery very difficult. It has a major shortage of water. The lack of water limits agriculture, industry, construction and expansion of existing towns and cities. It is, in fact, difficult to see what advantages Namibia has when compared with other countries in the region. However somehow the Namibians have decided to overcome their disadvantages. The country is not perfect, it is not some ideal nirvana. But it has decided to put tourism front and centre of its economy and by focusing on things which make tourism a really pleasant experience, it is doing really well. If you get a chance to visit, I would really recommend it.


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