It is time for Namibia and the rest of Africa to develop socioeconomic measures that provide better value for its people rather than relying on GDP measures.

Here is why.

Although GDP still serves as a tool to assist countries to mobilise aid and attract investors, there is a need to find other measures that consider the African context to quantify and measure our resources.

Namibia is one of the 193 countries that has adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs). These goals have been incorporated into the 5th National Development Plan and other development policies in the country. In terms of the implementation of the SDGs, Namibia ranks 109 out of 166, with a score of 64.3 in the world. This score is fairly good, compared to other Sub-Saharan countries. Namibia, Malta, and the Bahamas also scooped the award for adopting effective approaches and methodologies in implementing the 17 SDGs on a national level. 

SDG 8

This article will focus on SDG 8, which discusses whether GDP is an effective measure for sustainable development and economic growth. Goal 8 of the SDGs focuses on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all.  According to the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in Namibia Voluntary National Review of 2018, Namibia is classified as part of the 10 most unequal countries in the world.

Namibia's Voluntary National Review (VNR) 2021, on progress against the UN SDGs

The review further cited that although economic growth has been well recorded over the years, growth has not been “commensurate [with] employment opportunities, resulting in high employment rates and increased levels of inequality”. With high employment and inequalities, Namibia cannot expect to see an increase in its GDP.

Does that mean the country is not progressing?

What does GDP measure in developing countries?

There has been a growing dissatisfaction among scholars and economists, especially in developing countries, who feel that the GDPs do not comprehensively measure the social or human developmental aspects that contribute to economic growth. One of those economists was Mahhub ul Haq, a Pakistani economist, who invented the Human Development Index in 1990.

The Index aims to shift the focus from assessing a country’s growth by using economic statistics to social development outcomes. It places people’s knowledge and skills, health, life expectancy, standard of living and gross national income, as criteria for assessing the development of a country.

As useful as this index is, it is criticised for not assessing ecological sustainability, especially since human economic-related activities are responsible for the increase in greenhouse emissions and biodiversity loss.

The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index

Then we also have the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). This is an international measure, which looks at the multidimensional poverty factors affecting countries. This measure is used in over 100 developing countries and details acute deprivations in health, education, and living standards that locals face.

The targets in this index also do not comprehensively cover factors that are authentic to developing countries or the natural environment. The MPI consists of three dimensions of poverty, which are health, education and living standards. Under the health dimension, nutrition, child mortality, and years of schooling are measured. For education, years of schooling and school attendance are measured. Under living standards, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets are measured.

Although these measures are noble, they did not consider variables that developing countries face. Therefore, it will be worthwhile to either improve the variables that are measured or develop another more inclusive index. 

If the MPI were to be more effective in measuring multidimensional poverty, then I believe they can be improved by adding additional indicators, such as access to quality medical centres with machinery like X-rays, access to mental health facilities and workers around the country, number of mortuaries and their infrastructure quality, number of child-headed home measures, and number of quality tarred roads and streetlights in informal suburbs.

Is GDP an effective measure of economic growth?

Map of Namibia
Old paper with handwriting, blue ink – Namibia

The challenge with targets, such as those outlined in SDG 8, is the adverse effects on the environment and natural resources.  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions within 2 degrees Celsius is not possible, if Namibia wants to improve its GDP.

It is important to understand that what is measured can be managed. It is thus vital to develop comprehensive measures that speak to the Namibian ethos and context. In Canada, for example, they have a measure called the Canadian Index of Wellbeing that is used as a source of data to monitor SDGs progress and how it impacts their people and the economy. What is stopping Namibian economists from coming up with a measure that suits our context? Mahhub ul Haq has shown it can be done.

Morna Ikosa is a Senior Corporate Communication & Brand Reputation Strategist in Namibia, with a focus on Sustainable Development.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/morna-ikosa-49855237/

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This article focuses on SDG 8, and whether GDP is an effective measurement for economic growth for developing countries, especially in Namibia.