Is a country’s success in reducing poverty linked to that country having more political freedoms. The findings of the 2008 Afrobarometer public opinion survey would suggest that ‘yes’ is the answer.
The Afrobarometer survey covered 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Namibia. The section of the survey dealing with ‘lived poverty’, measured by people’s access to cash incomes, food and basic services, found that poverty is still extensive across most countries. However, it did find that there had been overall decreases in lived poverty between 2000 and 2008 in six countries: Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.
The survey findings noted definite links between reduced poverty and greater freedom. As political freedom increased in Zambia and Ghana between 1999 and 2008, levels of poverty came down steadily. On the other hand, as political freedom decreased in Zimbabwe, Senegal and Madagascar, lived poverty steadily increased
Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has emphasised that freedom and democracy are critically important to development, especially through the freedom of choice. “Freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its primary means.” Hence, the more a country expanded political liberties and political rights in a given period, the more it reduced poverty during the same period.
As political scientist Joseph Siegle has argued recently: “Democracies and democratizers in Africa consistently generate superior development outcomes, avoid economic and humanitarian catastrophes, and are less prone to civil conflict. It is for this reason that the keywords should be democratic governance and not solely the politically correct ‘good governance’”.
Recent IPPR research that showed that poverty levels had come down from 58 percent in 1993/04 to 38 percent of the population in 2003/04 should, however, give little cause for comfort. The Afrobarometer survey from November 2008 still found that 41 percent of Namibians either always or often had to survive without a cash income, while 18 percent did not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.
Namibians do remain optimistic, though. Only 12 percent thought their living conditions would be worse in a year’s time, with 52 percent believing their situation would improve.
For more on the Afrobarometer see: http://www.afrobarometer.org
A detailed breakdown of the Namibian results is available at: http://www.ippr.org.na