From the Inter Press Service, writer Servaas van den Bosch describes the Namibian BIG program.
With private funding, all inhabitants of the dusty village – over 900 people under 60 - were registered to receive 100 Namibian dollars - $13 U.S. - per month for a period of two years. The thought behind the universal grant is that a minimum income gives people the opportunity to escape the poverty trap.
And poor Otjivero was a trap. Situated at a crossing of roads, the settlement had attracted a steady flow of evictees from surrounding white-owned farms since independence in 1990. Unemployment, crime, alcoholism and prostitution were rife. Parents had no money for school fees and the sick were often unable to pay modest fees at the clinic.
The results of the pilot have been eye-opening. "Malnutrition has dropped from 42 percent to 10 percent," explained Lutheran bishop Zephania Kameeta, chair of the BIG Coalition.
Unemployment fell by a quarter, while crime reduced by almost half, says Kameeta. The school dropout rate is almost zero, many more patients are able to pay for care at the clinic, and self-employment has tripled. "A poor desperate village has been transformed into a place where people can buy clothes and send their kids to school."
But the evident success did not persuade government to implement a BIG nationwide, with President Hifikepunye Pohamba stating the grant would only make people lazy.
This remark was ill-received in a country that has topped the list of most unequal societies for many years. When the leadership of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) last year toed the ruling party line and withdrew from the BIG Coalition, it was called back by its members, signaling broad support for the income grant.