Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Week 6: Classes and the Coast

Catherine Raleigh, David Beck, Hannah Lee

Week six has been a busy week! We had a short week of classes followed by a long weekend on the coast. The highlights of our Political Science and Religion classes this week included a discussion regarding the Namibian Constitution, a trip to Parliament, and a lecture about the spread of Christianity throughout Southern Africa. Mr. Samson Ndeikwila[1] informed us about the creation and adoption of the Namibian Constitution. He explained that the Constitution is very progressive in regards to human and civil rights. However, it is difficult to amend and not understood by all Namibians because it has not been widely distributed in local languages and education in regards to its contents is limited. In Religion class, we discussed the pros and cons of the spread of Christianity to Namibia and its relation to traditional African religions. We (David and Hannah) have found the influence of Christianity in Namibia to be very interesting and multifaceted; Christianity has been used as a tool of oppression by colonial powers, as well as a force for mobilization during the liberation struggle, as well as today.

And then it was on to the coast! In meeting with the Walvis Bay Municipality, we learnt about the crucial role this port town plays in Namibia’s economic development. Walvis Bay is critical to the fishing industry, the movement of imports and exports, the tourism industry, as well as the mining industry. At the same time, Walvis Bay has 36% unemployment, while many of the companies that have invested in the area are foreign-owned[2]. We found it astonishing that the unemployment rate in the area was so high, as Walvis Bay has one of the strongest economies in the country, so we look forward to comparing it to other areas we will travel to later in the semester. This presents an example of the complexities surrounding economic development in Southern Africa, as well as around the world. We found it interesting that there was such a high concentration of foreign-owned companies in the area, for example the Mascato Fish Processing Company that we toured, which was Spanish-owned and sold to the Spanish economy.

Pertinent to the discussion about foreign investment was our trip to a factory that belongs to the Export Processing Zone (EPZ). One of the complexities in regards to EPZs, which we have talked about in class, is that attracting foreign investment is seemly beneficial to national economic development, but at the same time, most of the profit from the local operations leaves the country. We have found that this foreign investment and the presence of the EPZ is an example of the influence on globalization on Namibia, which has been a frequent topic of class discussion. It is also a topic that we have yet to reconcile, because while these economic activities seemingly stimulate development, we are unsure how sustainable and beneficial they are in the long term.

Another part of our time on the coast included a tour of Mondesa, one of Swakupmund’s former townships. This enabled us to see another side to an area that is simply assumed to be a tourist attraction by many, but which actually houses much of the local population. While apartheid has ended in Namibia, it is striking how it remains that areas of poverty are so separate from more popular tourist sections of town. We were glad to be able this area of Swakopmund, because it is far too easy bypass them for more affluent environments.

One of the highlights of this tour included a visit to Mondesa Youth Opportunities (MYO), an organization that takes gifted students from the area to further their education and provide opportunities which they may not have had access to otherwise. We also got to meet with Lindsay Hoover, a former CGE student now working with MYO.

This concluded our academic portion of the trip, but our time at the coast was also filled with climbing Dune 7, sea kayaking, skydiving, sandboarding and paragliding on our free day. While we enjoyed these “tourist” activities, we appreciated being able to see a more complex side of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

[1] Ndeilkwila, Samson, “Forum for the Future,” class discussion on September 22nd, 2009 in Windhoek, Namibia.

[2] Marques, Nouto, with the Walvis Bay Municipality, presentation on September 24th, 2009 in Walvis Bay, Namibia.

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