MANY small and medium businesses in the Oshana region have been forced to shut down due to the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 and its offshoots, but hope for a recovery still lingers.
The region’s economy mainly comprises small businesses in the informal economy and well-established businesses catering to over 250 000 people.
Towns such as Oshakati, Ondangwa and Ongwediva accomodate most income-generating activities, and the surrounding areas largely feed off subsistence farming.
Oshana governor Elia Irimari says despite the challenges of Covid-19, the high unemployment rate and business opportunities drying up, support will be extended to local businesses to ensure their recovery.
“Businesses are relying on our services now more than ever to sustain their operations, hence we should create synergy to promote and develop local businesses. Trade activities have declined with the reduction in the tourism sector, therefore it is our obligation to fast track the implementation of government programmes to induce growth,” he says.
The region hosts the biggest northern trade fairs, such as the Ongwediva and Ondangwa trade fairs,which have all been called off for this year, but local authorities in the region had an opportunity to promote trade activities and attract investments in the region in 2019.
Irimari says these prominent trade exhibitions are crucial in strengthening the business sector – particularly through the support they offer the SME sector.
During the last financial year, the Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade has facilitated the registration of 478 new businesses in the region.
“I wish also to commend the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry branch offices and our business people for their continued support of local businesses to develop, because business growth is the greatest impetus for socio-economic development. It is important that we support local businesses to increase their productivity and profitability – especially during the current challenging times,” he says.
Irimari says access to finance for start-up capital remains a challenge in the region.
The Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) has since its inception in 2013 made significant investments in the Oshana region’s local economy, having invested an amount of N$44 million in commercial property development, N$84,5 million in manufacturing, N$152,6 million in housing, N$71,7 million in education, and N$16,8 million in tourism and hospitality.
The chairperson of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ondangwa branch, Mario Mwenyo, said that a number of businesses in the north, particularly at Ondangwa are negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic while a few are struggling to stay afloat.
“It has really become hard on businesses to stay afloat. Many business owners are coming to us crying out for assistance and we really don’t know how we can assist them. It’s a national crisis and times are hard for everyone. Many businesses are also appealing to the government to assist and bail them out because they are struggling to even pay their employees,” he said.
He said that most of the affected businesses are small-to medium-sized especially the alcohol establishments and street vendors.
Mwenyo further added that the regional branch has been hard at work encouraging business owners to register for the stimulus packages that are offered by the Social Security Commission.
“We have so far tried to engage with the central government on how we can assist the businesses that are struggling to stay afloat and we are still busy mapping out the way forward. We are also encouraging them (business owners) to register for the stimulus packages for assistance,” he said.
Mweyo added that they have also tried to educate and encourage other business owners to keep going.
“We have to struggle and go on but we cannot give up. We have to put our hands together and go on with our businesses. Some business owners don’t want to work together with others, something that is disappointing to hear. Hard times do not last,but tough people do” he said.