OMD 2030

'A Diamond in the Desert'

What do you do with a diamond mining town in the Namib Desert, when diamonds become unprofitable to mine?

Oranjemund is a town of 12 000 people, wedged between the Namib and Atlantic, near the mouth of the Orange River. It is a town built for mining diamonds - however the mines, unlike their produce, have a finite life.

How will this remote mining town, with schools, hospital, sports fields, even an 18-hole golf-course and floodlit bowls, change its dependence, & grow in resilience, as the cost-benefit of mining diamonds there becomes less compelling?

Oranjemund, like any other town or city region, needs to be a magnet as well as a circuit, attracting and retaining investment. The economy needs to diversify, to lessen the town dependence on one extractive industry. There are other dynamics, too. The mining company built and owned virtually everything. Until October 2017, you needed a permit to enter the town. Security and geography had cut it off from the world. This is all changing.

Our task was to facilitate and instigate a new trajectory for the town, that diversifies the economy in sustainable ways. We followed a process loosely based on IDEO’s Human Centred Design principles. Oranjemund 2030 was launched in early 2015 – a series of dialogues with citizens, businesses, investors, academics and government leaders about a desired future. School learners, as it’s their the future being discussed, submitted art and essays for public view and inspiration. We encouraged dreams of a best possible future.

Having gathered and synthesized the Desirable into goals and strategies, we investigated what’s Feasible. Studies ranged from how might agriculture flourish in the desert to how health and education could be drawcards to the town.

As well as investigating the ‘what’ we helped to define the ‘who’ and the ‘how’. A core of citizens has coalesced as OMD 2030, a guiding coalition for collective progress to a future state. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), with a specific mandate to diversify the economy, is being investigated.

The third lens, after Desirability and Feasibility, is Catalytic. What investments will spark others, developing an economic ecosystem?

For Oranjemund, the clue is in the emptiness of the Namib Desert, together with its mysteries. A unique tourism destination as well as a unique place to live. Catalytic to tourism will be the granting of concessions to the previously restricted Sperrgebiet – 26 000 km, bordered by the Atlantic, stretching from Oranjemund to North of Luderitz. Few beyond miners, have ever seen the deserted mining towns and shipwrecks; the flora and fauna; few have climbed its mountains, or surfed its waves.

Changing places doesn’t happen overnight. 15 years to change a town is good going. It can take five years to plant new seeds. Five years to tend and nourish the green shoots. Then a further five to establish a profitable, ongoing harvest. Just three years after the visioning process began, Oranjemund won ‘Small town of the Year’ at Namibia’s Tourism Indaba. Visitors are no longer a rare sighting. Desert agriculture has begun, plans for health and education plans are in place. OMD 2030 gives citizenry an active role in economic transformation.

Early victories, in support of the strategy, are being achieved.
LESSONS LEARNED