AFRICAN SOIL HAS BEEN a testing ground for an assortment of policy ideas. From Marxist-Communist, to Capitalist, neoliberal or hybrids of any of the combinations, the continent has seen models and types of governments – some good, some bad – since the Kwame Nkrumah’s era, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s idealism, Jomo Kenyatta’s fantasies and the daydreams of many more former political leaders while they experimented with what their own versions of what was good for their various countries at such times. The continent has been through decades of lost opportunities, wars, violent change of regimes, diseases, famine and economic deprivations, driven in part by the legacies of immediate post-independent leaders. The hackneyed reference to Africa’s underdevelopment, blaming it on the European colonialists, is largely diversionary. So much time has elapsed for African leaders to have learnt enough useful lessons and to have identified appropriate path forward for national and continental development.
Walter Rodney, in his famous book on “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” offered a study in how not to trade blame. African leaders, by now, need to be sincere, introspective, humble and objective enough to accept their failures since state powers have been entrusted to them. A very common mistake often made has been the propensity of African leaders towards westernisation, without adequate thought on the riches, benefits and importance of diversity of the people, indigenous knowledge, culture and traditional resources. Tastes of African elites have been transformed, leading to an unprecedented and economically unjustifiable preference for imported exotic goods, which indirectly kill local industries and sustain job exports from Africa to the countries of origin of industrial goods coming in to Africa. Ironically, while supply chain was gaining traction in Africa’s macroeconomic affairs, value chain development wasn’t a priority of African countries in which parochially minded economic policy makers celebrated the export of raw cotton, timber, cocoa, tea, coffee while importing clothes, furniture, chocolate and assorted beverages at many times the prices of the raw materials exported and processed into these finished products.
The growth trajectory, economic development and environmental consequences of industrialisation all over the world point in one direction: total destruction, except an alternative path is explored. Global leaders of thought have shown, by their utterances, consensus of opinions and recommendations that they are taking the world towards one end. To them, other options are implausible and impractical. Global ‘best practices’ in many instances, have been taken as given by many global actors without necessarily considering the local context and desirability of associated variations. Globalisation advocates have mostly concentrated on unitary system in their analysis of how to move the world forward on the path of progress. Their well-articulated and fiercely-defended schools of thoughts seem to have failed the litmus test in the circumstance of Coronavirus pandemic. The sudden and painful disruption of global supply chain without premonition, for instance, shows that the world is not as secure on a one-way traffic as they would have everyone believe.
It is remarkable that, in the twilight of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and during the preparatory stages for the transition to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), African leaders were at the forefront of a campaign for a standalone SDG 16 and the associated targets and indicators. That happened in sharp contrast to the positions of the richer and more developed member states of the United Nations (UN) who considered governance issues in global development agenda as fit only for preambles and footnotes. Global development thinkers, who made so much fanfare on relationships between livelihoods, policies, processes, institutions and sustainability-related issues appeared to have gone to sleep when the inclusion or exclusion of SDG 16 was up for debate. Thankfully, the essence of varieties in global development issues was established by the fact that, had African voices been drowned in the process of SDG document preparation, the world would have probably been left with Western-only ideas, Eurocentric viewpoints, American experience or a tinge of Asia-Pacific input without giving Africa a space. The entire SDG document would have been thoroughly deficient. Despite the sullied history of many African leaders, past and present, for bad leadership, SDG 16 was a commendable contribution, kept alive by them in the global debate towards the age of sustainability.
Alan Shipman, author of “The Globalisation Myth,” argued persuasively in favour of alternative pathways to global development. “Economies need a source of variety, kept safe from the competitive drive to standardise and generalise,” he argued. According to him, one way to do this is to “keep the system moderately inefficient, so that alternative ways can survive even though they’re not the best right now.” The other “is to broaden the criterion for efficiency, so that different approaches can be recognised as equally good.” Shipman was of the opinion that “competitive markets are designed to stamp out inefficiency by re-allocating resources to their ‘best’ use, with efficiency strictly defined as bringing maximum profit. So globalisation based on them put the economic system at risk by breaking down the barriers that protected plural thinking.” He argued further that it “puts the world into an economic path heading for the economic and environmental buffer” as well as “bricks up the entrance to alternative paths.”
Followers of the Peter F. Drucker’s path of ‘efficiency’ today are probably unaware of the dynamism of Drucker’s mind and how he adapted his thoughts to situations in his various analyses and projections during his lifetime. In other words, faced with today’s reality, Drucker – if alive today – would most probably have disappointed his ardent disciples if he has to pontificate about efficiency today. The pragmatic Drucker, in all likelihoods, would have settled for a tolerance for the co-existence of mainstream and alternative pathways to efficiency. Could it then be rightly argued that, as current realities now show, businesses and markets have hijacked the efficiency paradigm to selfish parochial benefits? The ensuing politics, corporate stress and multinational corporations’ crises could be examined in relation to this one-way traffic ideology.
If Africa chooses tardiness and inactivity and continues to ignore the need to seriously and urgently evolve and pursue its home-grown and pragmatic development pathway, it is noteworthy that the ominous signs from the Western countries are clear and sufficient foreboding that the time has come to speed up and act fast. The decision, last week, by the British government of Boris Johnson to end the funding and operations of the Department for International Development (DfID) is a tell-tale sign that Africa’s Western-model of development – though good in some ways – may not always be adaptable and adoptable. This is to be taken all the more seriously as it comes in less than four years after the government of Donald Trump in the United States made it clear it would no longer commit as much funds to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as it has traditionally or historically done. Africa has been a major beneficiary of both DfID and USAID funds for decades and is not expected to continue to be donor-dependent in its development programmes. It is time the continent weans itself from these as well as from other country-driven aid supports.
Environmental activism is one of the world’s current foremost awareness and pressure point. The concerns for global warming and the need to keep environmental temperature rise within assumed acceptable limits are at the core of the Conference of Parties (COP) annual meetings that almost failed to hold in 2019 because of Chile’s political, social and economic crises. As the environmental activism train gathers speed, its rank swelling and ideas keep coming in, politicians are seizing the moments, particularly in the industrialised countries. The Green New Deal, born of environmental activism, has crept into the politicians’ camp. Given a chance, the Deal’s efficiency proponents would have the world wipe off the livestock industry and turn everyone else to vegetarians. This, in their Utopian imagination, would “eliminate” the greenhouse emission by animals. The untested theory, which ignored the greenhouse gas emission by traditional smokestack, aviation and automobile industries by comparison, was considered so surefooted that it failed to recognise the potential downsides of hunger, malnutrition, unemployment and global economic distress that would arise from a blind acceptance of policies that create mutually exclusive development options for the world.
Brazil’s economy thrives on the export of agricultural products in the main. We should therefore rightly expect political interpretations to calls on Brazil by outsiders on how to manage its Amazon forests while also asking the world to reject its major export products on the grounds of environmental implications. In a very complex world of business and diverse nutrition options, these should have food and nutrition security implications on countries that depend on imports of such products for direct and indirect consumptions. What immediate alternatives do environmental campaigners have for Egypt, the premier Arab importer of beef from Brazil, which, according to a 2019 trade data, amounted to 180,812 tons and fetched Brazil $526 million? Or, what of Saudi Arabia and the UAE which ranked sixth and seventh as beef importers from Brazil, at 42,548 tons and 36,821 tons respectively? What about China and Hong Kong, the top two destinations for Brazil’s beef exports, accounting for 44 per cent of Brazil’s total beef shipments in 2018?
How complacent should Brazil, that ended 2018 with record volumes of exported beef – a total of 1.64 million tonnes shipped – with income amounting to $6.57 billion, be to suggestions to abandon the food industry leadership position? Despite Coronavirus pandemic, Brazilian chicken exports have reportedly increased by 5.1 per cent to 1.365 million tons, during the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 and international sales of the sector raked up 0.5 per cent higher revenues to $2.151 million between January and April, against US$ 2.141 in first four-month period in 2019. In the exports of soybean, Brazil still dominates the world, recording approximately $26 billion in 2019, even though it was a decrease of more than 21 per cent compared to the preceding year, when exports totalled $33.2 billion. While environmental footprints are good to monitor, proponents should be aware that their jobs don’t end with mere advocacy. Tried and tested alternative pathways must be suggested.
Those who recognise Africa as the next frontier for global food security must therefore be mindful of the hurdles they could be placing on Africa’s ways in their advocacies. Africa, in turn, must become aware of the need to position itself for unlocking its potentials. This involves, among other things, a deployment of the right thinking, right strategy and right actions towards its proper positioning. It seems clear that much of the thinking and strategy needed would have to come from within the continent, not outside it, if Africa is to take ownership of its own future. The challenges are existential, present and obvious. What now remains is to move into action. Africa can truly turn its situation to great advantage if the right things are done the right time, with the right strategy and by the right people. No need to keep waiting for outsiders to show the way.
Frontpage December 12, 2017