Remove the crutch of foreign consultants

There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring qualified foreign consultants for a specific task. The problem is that the country surrenders to these consultants rather than inculcate the skills. We do not ensure that our own people learn what is being done by consultants so that we need not import the same skills set repeatedly. Until we commit to using foreign skills only as a tool to strengthen the country, rather than a crutch to weaken it, this will be a controversial issue.

This issue is not new; many have been complaining about Namibian dependence on foreign skills for decades. And yet, nothing changes. In many areas, this country remains attached to the overseas consultancy teat with no adjustment insight.

There is a tragic story around Agribusdev and their board’s insistence on hiring a South African. There are controversial issues at the Namibia Civil Aviation Authority with contract extensions and work visas for consultants. There have been many similar consultancy controversies at various agencies and ministries. This issue must be addressed.

We do not accept that the foreigners hired as consultants are the only people who can do the job needed. What support mechanisms are in place to upskill local people? Why not bring in supervisory and training consultants rather than operational personnel. The solution must empower Namibians through skills transfer.

A sad reality exists on many boards and in management meetings where they embrace a self-hating climate. They accept the lie that white foreigners do things ‘better’ than black Namibians. They delude themselves into believing that white faces are a measure of competence. This legacy of apartheid and institutional racism in Namibia keeps the country tethered to foreign consultants as if we can’t do better. We can do better; we must only commit to it.

Namibia sent students to questionable foreign universities to do technical courses in languages they barely understand. These young people are returning with degrees that the local professional societies and ministries won’t accept. This is a contradiction.

Namibia sent students off to study fashion design or other fields that are not the technical areas where we have our skills deficit. When they return, they are largely unemployable and disheartened.

Our secondary schools continue to teach learners how to DO and not to think. As long as we do this, we will never have locally trained young professionals who can use their minds strategically or tactically. They sit at their office desks and wait for someone to tell them what to do. At universities, they need only do modules, memorize whatever it takes to tick the right boxes and they will earn their degrees. This is not the path to skilled performance, advancement, and innovation. Yet, it is the path Namibia is on.

We need students in the STEM disciplines to be trained at the highest levels. Once they demonstrate their knowledge, they must be given the entry level positions to gain experience. We should have aggressively embraced this trajectory long ago. If we had, this country would not need so many foreign consultants.

A full look at the consultancy problem cannot avoid acknowledging that there are Namibian officials who lighten their work load by dumping on the consultants. They cheer the arrival of long term outside consultants; they get paid in full while someone else carries a part of their load.

Far too many civil servants do not bother to LEARN what these consultants are doing. They do not ask questions, demand to be a part of all work done and decisions taken and co-write reports done by the consultants. In these ways, consultants in Namibia have become a crutch for underperforming civil servants.

There is low institutional memory in the offices where these consultants work. The next time around when the same skills are needed, Namibia has to hire yet another foreign consultant. And the circle of dependence continues.

The pattern of hiring foreign consultants to provide specific skills and services is fine. But, only if there is a component of mandatory skills transfer. The staff in the various ministries must be forced (with nasty penalties) to LEARN what the consultant is doing. A skills transfer plan with follow-up must accompany each consultancy contract. This is the only way to remove the crutch of importing foreign skills sets which is weakening Namibia.

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