Africa’s misleading development and prosperity models
Martin Ike-Muonso, a professor of economics with interest in subnational government IGR growth strategies, is managing director/CEO, ValueFronteira Ltd. He can be reached via email at email@example.com
October 5, 2020702 views0 comments
Colonialism cost Africa a great deal. Unfortunately, Africa is yet to remove that garb. From shifts in consumer preferences to mind shifts at the roots of its underdevelopment, Africa needs to reject several misleading notions that continue to derail its destiny. It is in the interest of the colonialists to mind-manipulate the conquered colonial states to elicit sufficient loyalty and perception of being supported. That was precisely the plank for successful colonization. Western education systems are the traditional platforms for propagating these misleading ideologies. That is also it is much more challenging to contain. There are so many of them; however, seven of them deserve serious attention. The first is the limited understanding of the continent as well as the statistics that are relevant in correctly appreciating its progress. The second is the unfortunate neo-colonial dependence model which is firmly in operation today. The third is the comparative advantage model that seemingly inhibits the continent’s adventure into those development-inducing substructure industries it desperately needs. The fourth is the misleading assumption that Africa desperately needs climate change management which distracts its attention from its core developmental priorities. The fifth is the misleading assumption that all import substitution strategies are wrong for our growth. This notion connects with the comparative advantage model mentioned above. The sixth is in the structuring of the sustainable development goals and the consideration that Africa’s main problem is the resolution of poverty and hunger rather than the pursuit of well-being and flourishing prosperity. Finally, the seventh is that the developed world means well for Africa.
African leaders, unfortunately, find it convenient to rely on the counsel of “consultants” from many of the institutions in developed or generally foreign countries. While this behaviour has historical foundations traceable to colonial times, the usually advanced justification for this is that these countries provide finance. In other words, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. While it is not a bad idea to seek sound advice from anybody, it is usually tragic to receive such from one who has little knowledge of one’s circumstances. It is like asking someone whose highest academic attainment is the first school-leaving certificate to help in putting together the curriculum for some courses in a tertiary institution. Most of the “consultants” from these countries know little or nothing about the circumstantial reality of Africa. Many of them never visited Africa except in the course of their assignment, and usually for a short duration. Even those that claim to know more about Africa do so on the fringes. Many of them lack the typical African experience such as living without water, electricity or roads. The problem of the African continent is unique and best understood by those Africans that have experienced them.
Secondly, because of the unique data-gathering challenges in Africa combined with its highly informal sector, most of the statistics on the continent are at best, a severe underestimation of Africa’s level of output performance. This underestimation becomes increasingly evident as methodologies are improved in some countries and as some levels of formalization of some sectors take place. In effect, therefore, the GDP accounting in Africa on which many other socio-economic parameters are based is at least 50% of the time wrong! Thus, armchair brainstorming and decisions by many of these foreign country consultants with little or no first-hand knowledge of the continent often result in terribly misleading conclusions.
Part of the reason for this is ascribable to the so-called neo-colonial dependence model. In its very simplistic form, it means that former colonies may be politically independent but are still considerably economically dependent on their former colonial masters for survival. The problem with this is that it is sold as a doctrine and pushed in such a way that African leaders begin to see the continent’s prosperity as umbilically tied to the whims and decisions of the Western world [their former colonial masters]. Mind manipulation is conducted through various economic and financial aid to the continent. These aids ignite actual financial dependency. Africa’s leaders consequently stop thinking about rigorous ways through which they could navigate the continent to well-being and lasting prosperity and rely on foreign assistance as the way out. Unfortunately, such foreign support is usually wrapped in sheets with underlying economically exploitative intentions. China’s implementation of this model appears to be the crudest, and one which, has made it clear that such foreign economic assistance is not as packaged. France has also to-date glaringly implemented such exploitative policies and programs in its former colonies. The United Kingdom also did the same to many of its previous colonies, particularly Nigeria. Africa possesses all the economic, human and natural resources that it requires to launch itself into the very frontiers of prosperity comparable in all respects with what obtains in the rest of the world if the leadership could do away with this unholy ideology and the mentality that it has created.
Complementing the dependence model is the comparative advantage model; a much broader theoretical economic model driving global trade and exchange. Again, this is sold to developing countries so that they could relax and focus on the areas that they supposedly have ‘a comparative advantage’. For the African continent, such areas are in primary commodities and other mineral resources. For the developed countries pushing this ideology, their comparative advantages encompass all those high-tech manufacturers that help in redefining well-being and prosperity. Examples include electricity, motor vehicles, aeroplanes, nuclear technology, television sets and so on. In simple terms, Africa should therefore concentrate on the production and export of things like cocoa, palm oil, cassava and so on. In contrast, the developed world focuses on the production and export of those highly sophisticated items. Unfortunately, most of these countries set this thinking entirely aside as they attained their current level of technological developments. Their governments, in concert with their development and investment banks, had elaborate programs to identify, fund and protect those critical industries where they wanted to have comparative advantages. Now, to limit other countries or competitors from possessing the same, this model is aggressively sold, and our leaders, unfortunately, buy into them without thinking. Africa can develop a comparative advantage in anything, and in any area, they chose to do so. They do not need to reinvent the wheel. They only need to do what these developed countries did to attain their own comparative advantages in those areas of their choice.
Climate change management strategies is another potential stopper for countries like Africa. If indeed carbon emissions are responsible for the drying up of our lakes and the massive torrents of floods that we have witnessed in some countries then, it is worth giving some level of consideration and attention. There is also every reason to believe that it might be right. Everybody wants a clean environment. And every community desires freedom from the harsh reprisals of climate change. However, the way it is sold today is as if there is only one choice to be made between the pursuit of green/clean environment, under which specific socio-economic priorities can be realized or the quest for socio-economic priorities with climate change considerations as an add-on. The developed world considers the former as critical for all nations of the world, which includes Africa. Unfortunately, nothing can be more distracting than that. Africa faces unique socio-economic challenges which demand full-frontal attention with the pursuit of a green environment as its subset. Climate change management strategies in their strict form, which are marketed by the developed world, do not make the list of the top fifteen challenges faced by the African continent. Therefore, African countries that unwittingly prioritize this and displace some core priorities defining their transitioning to prosperity will only regret this in the future. The continent needs to come up with its acceptable threshold for carbon emissions that is consistent with its developmental agenda.
Another grievously misleading notion is that import substitution is not suitable for the African continent. This might be relatively true, but is again generally misleading the way multilateral agencies package it. Most of the developed countries of the world attained the heights they currently are in the developmental ladder using import substitution strategies. Why should a country continuously open its borders to uncontrolled dumping of goods that it can quickly develop the competencies in its production? Why should African countries continue to import things like tooth pick and bottled water when these are in abundance within the continent? It is in the best interest of any economy to use whatever diplomatically acceptable means to enhance the size of its employee human resources, real output and income. In recent years, Nigeria appears to have successfully reversed its dependency on foreign rice by blocking its imports and substituting for them through local production. Replicating such successes in other areas is healthy for the growth of various sectors of the economy.
Finally, the long-run focus of the sustainable development goals appears to be the actualization of well-being within a clean environment context. However, since hunger and poverty seem to be excellent sources of pollution, they need to be ‘eradicated’. There are two reasons for this. The first is to guarantee that the developed world successfully eliminates future sources of pollution that could affect its unfettered enjoyment of well-being. Africa mainly and to a lesser extent, some parts of Asia constitute these sources of pollution. Therefore, dealing with hunger and poverty that are largely domiciled in Africa would eliminate those future sources of pollution. The second reason is therefore tied to this and seems to create some sense of equity in the crafting of the global development goals. Consequently, to satisfy the continent of Africa means the facilitation of the eradication of poverty and hunger. Nothing can be more manipulative than that. Reducing the long-term goals of the continent to ensuring that about 90% of its population live on $1.25 a day is another way of saying that the continent should be kept on a slightly above poverty situation. Eradicating poverty is utterly different from creating prosperity. The implementation of the SDG’s has both. But unfortunately, global efforts are more on helping the majority of Africans to be able to earn $1.25 a day. Such a low aim can only continue to perpetuate the socio-economic quagmire of the continent.