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April 5th, 2016

Basic Income Grant (BIG) in Namibia

Namibia has long suffered from high levels of poverty and income inequality. A pilot Basic Income Grant project was conducted in the region of Otjivero-Omitara area from 2007 to 2009 with very positive results in reducing poverty and crime and in raising levels of school attendance.

The initiative

In this context, the Namibian Tax Consortium (NAMTAX) made the proposal for a Basic Income Grant (BIG) for Namibia in 2002. The proposal was part of their recommendations for poverty reduction and income redistribution.

A two-year pilot project was implemented through a universal cash transfer programme to Namibians who were living in poverty. “In January 2008, the [BIG] pilot project commenced in the Otjivero-Omitara area, about 100 kilometres east of Windhoek. All residents below the age of 60 years [received a BIG] of NAD100 per person per month, without any conditions being attached.” [1]

A nationwide roll-out of the BIG formed part of the national 2016-2025 plan, although it has yet to be implemented.

The challenge

About two-thirds of all Namibians live below the poverty line and it has the most unequal distribution of income in the world, in part a hangover from the colonial and apartheid eras. The reduction of inequality is not only an issue of justice, but it has also been identified as a prerequisite for economic growth and investment in Namibia, as for any developing country.

The public impact

Household poverty has dropped significantly. Using the food poverty line as a yardstick, 76 percent of citizens were below this line in November 2007. This was reduced to 37 percent within one year of the BIG programme. Among households that were not affected by [in-migration], the rate dropped to 16 percent.

“The BIG resulted in a huge reduction of child malnutrition. Using a WHO measurement technique, the data shows that children's weight-for-age has improved significantly in just six months from 42% of underweight children in November 2007 to 17% in June 2008 and 10% in November 2008.” [2]

Attendance in schools almost doubled (it grew by 90 percent) because more parents were able to sustain the cost of sending their children to school. Dropout rates fell from 40 percent in 2007 to 5 percent in 2009.

“The BIG has contributed to a significant reduction of crime. Overall crime rates - as reported to the local police station - fell by 42% while stock theft fell by 43% and other theft by nearly 20%.” [3]

Stakeholder engagement

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) through its Desk for Social Development (DfSD) was instrumental in liaising with all stakeholders to implement the BIG pilot. It was the organisation responsible for the administrative and financial implementation of the BIG Pilot Project on behalf of the BIG Coalition. “The Coalition brought different umbrella bodies together. This includes the churches – represented by the Council of Churches (CCN) – the trade unions, represented by the Namibian Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the Namibian NGO Forum (NANGOF) and the Namibian Network of AIDS Service Organisations (NANASO).” [4] It followed the recommendations for the BIG formerly made by NAMTAX, which was very supportive of the programme.

Political commitment

The level of political commitment was insufficient to move from the pilot, which ended in 2009, to a nationwide roll-out, which in December 2015 was still under discussion. In the Namibian 2025 Master Plan, the BIG is considered alongside infrastructure projects such as improved commuter trains, housing for government employees, and improved energy and water provision. This could result in the programme receiving less attention than it requires.

Public confidence

Based on AFRO Barometer survey results, the public’s trust in the Namibian government is low (90 percent of respondents believe that there is very high level of nepotism and favouritism in government schemes. However, there is a high level public confidence in the BIG programme. “For example, 78% of Namibians interviewed for the ... opinion poll favoured the adoption of the [BIG] even if it required new taxes such [as VAT] or income tax. Although the government has rejected BIG, the people favour it, nearly eight out of ten.” [5]

Clarity of objectives

As a form of social protection, the aim of the BIG is to reduce poverty and wealth inequality. “As a national policy it would greatly assist Namibia in achieving the Millennium Development Goals to which the country has committed itself.” [6]

Strength of evidence

The BIG Coalition “has drawn on the debate in South Africa, where a wide range of groups – including the trade unions, NGOs, churches and a government's expert panel on comprehensive social security – have proposed a Basic Income Grant.” [7]


The two-year pilot conducted between 2007 and 2009 in the Otjivero-Omitara area covered all the people in the region and established the BIG’s feasibility, even though this did not translate into a nationwide roll-out.


The DfSD was responsible of the management and implementation of the BIG pilot, reporting to the BIG Coalition.


A meticulous approach was adopted to measure the impact of the BIG, in research carried out by the DfSD and the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) on behalf of the BIG Coalition. “The effects of the BIG pilot project are evaluated on an on-going basis. Four complementary methods were used. First, a baseline survey was conducted in November 2007. Second, panel surveys were conducted in July and November 2008. Third, information was gathered from key informants in the area. Fourth, a series of detailed case studies of individuals living in Otjivero-Omitara was carried out.” [8]


All the stakeholders considered the BIG to be an effective means to address poverty. The nature of the BIG Coalition, and its close working relationship with the DfSD indicates that there was a high level of collaboration between the actors involved, whether religious, labour or community organisations. Although there was involvement from NAMTAX, there was a lack of alignment with the national government, which resulted in a failure to move at speed, or at all, from regional pilot to nationwide roll-out.


Making the difference! The BIG in Namibia Basic Income Grant Pilot Project Assessment Report, April 2009, The BIG Coalition

Namibians express strong policy preferences in comparison to the government, 18 November 2014, AfroBarometer, Institute for Public Policy Research, Windhoek, Namibia

Geingob makes more promises, 15 December 2015, The Namibian

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