Namibia’s flagging economy, which contracted in both 2017 and 2019, has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Bottlenecks in supply, falling mining exports and the decimation of Namibia’s tourism sector forced its economy to shrink by 7.2% in 2020.
But with a recovery of 2.1% forecast in 2021, the southern African country formed the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB) at the start of 2021 year to make itself more investor friendly.
Nangula Uaandja, who became chief executive of NIPDB on January 1 2021, talks to fDi about boosting Namibia’s competitiveness, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and plans to become a green hydrogen hub.
Q: How has the pandemic affected Namibia’s economy?
A: It has been quite severe. Namibia is less self-sufficient than other countries in many areas. Last year, when we experienced lockdowns, it really impacted our economy. When goods could not be transported from South Africa to Namibia, that had an impact on local production too.
We experienced a significant decline in economic growth and had some negative growth for several quarters before the pandemic. That has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19, particularly in agriculture and tourism, which we are heavily dependent on.
Q: The NIPDB was formed as a new entity by the Office of the President on 1 January 2021. What was behind this decision?
A: Our investment promotion was formerly a department within the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade (MIT), and that has been the case since about 1990.
As we have experienced a decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) and negative economic growth in the past few years, the president considered other countries which are more successful in attracting FDI and what their structure looks like compared to ours.
The president wanted to create a more autonomous organisation with someone who has more authority to work with various ministers and regulators to bring about the changes that are required in the ecosystem, so that we are an investor-friendly country. NIPDB enables us to respond to investor needs and coordinate effectively with the private sector.
Q: How are you streamlining the investment process in Namibia?
A: Namibia’s competitiveness ranking in the globe is less than what we desire. Some people cite policy uncertainty. We believe that policy uncertainty is a matter of communication. We are working with the government to finalise policies that have been announced, and working with the private sector to coordinate input into that policy.
It is very challenging for a private-sector investor to come into Namibia and do business without touching points with at least six or more public institutions. We felt that if we really want to bring investors to Namibia, we have to demonstrate that by serving them better.
We are creating a department as a one-stop centre, where an investor can come and meet the senior people across different ministries all in one office. As a country, our project preparation is a little bit less mature than it should be. Therefore we have got a team that will help our public enterprises package assets in a form that can attract investors.
Q: Namibia’s government has plans to develop a green hydrogen industry. Could you tell us more about these plans and investor interest?
A: Namibia is one of a few countries in the world with particularly suitable conditions for green hydrogen, as we have a sea that meets the desert. We have two sites being explored by investors – one at Walvis Bay, in the Erongo region, and at Luederitz, in the ’Karas region.
We have facilitated site visits with global players from Australia, Belgium, Germany, South Africa and the US. Proposals put before the government so far have been between $6bn and $8bn, and have the potential to double our gross domestic product.
Q: Namibia ranked eighth out of 17 selected countries in fDi’s inaugural African Tech Ecosystems of the Future rankings. What role does entrepreneurship play in your development goals and how is it supported?
A: Start-ups and SMEs are important to Namibia. The future of the country has to be in the hands of Namibians. If we want to make a difference in Namibia, and make sure our economic development is inclusive, SMEs and start-ups are crucial.
SMEs are supported through Namibia’s MIT, where they have quite a few programs and work with development finance institutions (DFIs), such as the UN Development Programme, the EU and GiZ. We have institutions of higher learning, such as the Namibia University of Science and Technology, which are working with incubators and other initiatives too.
Nangula Uaandja became the chief executive of Namibia's Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB) on January 1 2021. Before joining NIPDB, Ms Uaandja spent over two decades with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Namibia, leading day-to-day management for ten of those years.
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