Unemployment rips Usakos apart
The town of Usakos has over the years experienced a lack of substantial investment and that has led to a high number of unemployed people, with the numbers growing daily.
Despite the current lavish lifestyles of former barefooted boys who used to play in the dusty streets of the town but who now occupy senior Government posts and executive positions in the private sector, the town has seen little or virtually no development for many years.
Usakos is the hometown of prominent politicians including Minister of Land and Resettlement Alpheus !Naruseb, Speaker of the National Assembly Theo-Ben Gurirab, former Member of Parliament Tsudao Gurirab as well as Michael Goreseb, who also represented the town politically.
There are many other prominent business people who hail from here but there seems to be no plans to turn the town into an economic hub - so much so that it was downgraded from a municipal council to a mere town in 2010.
Usakos is situated in the Erongo Region - about 140 kilometres from Okahandja along the B2 Highway - and primarily serves as a transit point to coastal towns.
It is also nestled along the railway route from Windhoek to Tsumeb and the Angolan border, as well as Outjo and Grootfontein.
The town has had many upheavals and the monumental challenge now is that of unemployment.
Men and sometimes youth sit idly in front of bars, shops and cuca shops. The town has struggled to attract big investors due to its location and its poor infrastructure and lack of vigour from the locals.
The unemployment rate, which is estimated to be around 60% for a population of at least 12 000 people, has also led to many social evils such as alcohol and drug abuse. Burglaries and petty crimes are also on the increase.
Usakos Town Council’s Chief Executive Officer Gruzi Goseb is a worried man as the idleness of the youth, in his opinion, has dumped the town into hopelessness.
He said the other major contributing factor is the visible poverty among some of the community members. Some cannot afford municipal services, with service arrears totalling a few millions.
People in the town regularly default on their water and electricity bills - putting a strain and leading to little development projects not getting off the ground because of a lack of funds.
There are some private businesses that are doing well in terms of serving the locals and keeping service on par with other towns for especially visitors. However, Goseb is looking at the bigger picture after taking the hot seat about three months ago.
“The reality is that people are poor at this town. It will not help to force them to pay their municipal bills. The only option is that we must create employment. The performance of the CEO must not be measured on debt collection but on employment creation,” he said in an interview with Namibian Sun.
He said the council recently resolved to engage all local business people in forming a committee that will advise and assist the municipality in identifying areas to unlock the potential of creating employment.
“There is a need to create co-operation with businesses and as a council to get informed about their challenges and experiences and what they expect from the municipality. We want to know from them what partnerships and investment opportunities they have with foreign investors and how we can engage the locals in possible job opportunities,” he said.
Also, Goseb argues that it will be difficult for the municipality to play the role of job creator without the involvement of local businesses, as they are the ones who identify and know the needs of the consumers in the town.
“As a municipality, we concentrate on capital projects such as the provision of water and electricity and provide essential services such as the construction of clinics and roads but businesses must step in to help create employment,” he said.
Goseb revealed that the council was currently busy with the re-construction of roads and the upgrading of the sewerage network at the town under the Government’s Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (Tipeeg).
The upgrading of the sewerage network, water system and the improvement of the road network for the informal settlements of Erongosig and Hakaseb - through Tipeeg - is currently ongoing.
Government has availed N$3 million each for the three projects but an additional N$10 million is expected for the second phase, which will largely cover the upgrading of the road network.
“For the roads, we will consider to tar them or have an interlock system - especially on the main road from the township in Hakaseb right through to Erongosig.
He said all the projects are expected to be completed by next year, adding that all the people working on these initiatives are locals.
“The Government is clear on who must be employed on these projects.
The local construction companies currently have locals working with them and that is what we have instructed,” he said.
The road leading to the historical Lutheran Church in Hakaseb, which over the years has proven difficult for the church-goers to navigate due to the bad road, will also be upgraded.
Goseb said there is a lot of co-operation needed from the locals, outsiders and any other stakeholders before the potential of the town can be realised.
However, for now it remains an entry and exit point for many on their way to better destinations.