Church in Namibia sponsors innovative basic income project

By Ecumenical News International
March 12, 2009

A church-sponsored pilot project to provide a basic income to residents of a Namibian village has increased school attendance and employment while decreasing the poverty-related crime rate, a conference in Germany has heard.

Anli Serfontein from Trier writes: The project started in January 2008 about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the capital Windhoek. Since then every inhabitant in Otjivero-Omitara who does not receive a government old-age pension has been given a Basic Income Grant of 100 Namibian dollars (about US$10) each month.

"A Basic Income Grant can be compared to a trampoline. It catches people before they hit the ground," said Claudia Haarmann, coordinator of the project, who explained that it should not be seen as a welfare programme. "It helps them getting back on their feet," she told a symposium held on 6th March in Wuppertal, north-west Germany.

The project was launched after Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba's government rejected the provision of a basic grant to citizens in 2006, saying it was not sustainable. The project in 1000-strong Otjivero-Omitara is financed by donations, mainly from German churches.

Bishop Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia is the project's chief patron and at the Wuppertal symposium he compared the basic income grant to the Biblical story of Jesus feeding 5000 people.

"Jesus did not make his feeding of the 5000 subject to the condition that the people fulfil any qualifications," said Kameeta, who is also a vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation. "His help and his love were and are unconditional. Such a Basic Income Grant frees people to take the initiative and accept responsibility."

The symposium heard that residents in Otjivero-Omitara are now able to pay school fees for their children regularly, or are able to invest in a small shop. School attendance now stands at 90 percent, well above the national average. The percentage of people in work has risen from 36 to 48 percent, while the poverty-related crime rate in the village has decreased by 60 percent.

Because of its remoteness, the village only offers seasonal and irregular employment opportunities and hardly any possibilities for earning a long-term, secure income.

The symposium was hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland, the Evangelical Church of Westphalia and the United Evangelical Mission, all of whom support the initiative.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.