By Anthony Kila
Abuja was the centre stage, penultimate week, of an international public finance strategy workshop hosted by CIAPS that brought together senior civil servants and other major policy makers from various states across the country to discuss ideas for managing and solving challenges with limited resources and writhing institutions. To each its own, given the level and nature of discussion, the event was strictly by invitation and selection as one can imagine, yet many still were called but few responded. We must find time to say it: Those few that made it to the event did their professions, states and organisations proud.
Participants from various states and organisations were very keen on finding cogent and locally applicable solutions to their problems and there was a sense of urgency and commitment that many outside the system will not readily attribute to senior civil servants and policy makers in developing countries, rather many of us are used to thinking the contrary of keen and committed when it comes to them. Mind you, many of these senior civil servants and policy makers know what we think of them and they in return think we outside the system think and say the way we do due to our lack of knowledge of the system.
Some key features of their various interventions were around how the odds are stacked against them as professionals and organisations, how many factors militate against them and how they find it impossible to reach their potentials: The environment, people, system, process, etc.
For them and all of us, out of Israel comes hope on how to turn challenges into opportunities. Hope in this case comes with a more practical feature than its normal guise of general, wishful thinking, desire or inspiration.
To us offshore, the hope that comes from Israel is from a practical adverse situation and successful planning implementation of policies that have turned scarcity to abundance and deficit to mastery. More than what it does to them in Israel, the Israeli experience shows us that with goodwill to plan and learn, anyone anywhere can achieve beyond what nature has given it.
Let us face it, Israel is one land that is blessed with little in terms of natural resources, rather if we go by the performance and the importance of natural resources in the lives and land of those who seem endowed with these resources, one will be forgiven to conclude that Israel was selected and designed to fail.
Created by a controversial historical process and within a general conflictual acceptance, Israel sits amongst countries that can hardly be described as partners let alone friends. As if to prove a point, nature gave the unfriendly neighbours of Israel oil and gas, but gave none to Israel. Its controversial process of formation and the conflictual acceptance it has to deal with has put Israel in permanent state of war with its neighbours.
It is therefore not a surprise to readily observe that for most people offshore, Israel is known for conflicts, bombing and secret intelligence. The latter is renowned for its role in keeping the people and land of Israel safe. That is a true but incomplete story, we must pause to observe: The safety and the integrity of the land of Israel also has a lot to do with national and international politics, raw diplomacy and a strong capable, very well trained and highly equipped military. What is this land of Israel for which many are ready to deal, connive, kill and die? A very arid land with no water, let alone of milk or honey. It is not a place where you toss a seed and expect it to grow, rather it is a place where even well planted crops have little possibility of making it without extra care.
Circled by unfriendly neighbours, settled on an arid land in an inclement climate, Israelis knew from the onset that they had had to look inward. To truly defend their land and people, the Israeli leaders had no doubt in their minds that they had to make the age long words of Charlotte Elliot theirs: “Seek not yet repose, cast thy dreams of ease away; thou are in the midst of foes, watch and pray…” They did more than just watch and pray in Israel.
From its inception the vision was clear, as soon as it got “independence” from being a British mandate in 1948, to become a state, Israel allocated 30 percent of its national budget to agriculture and water resources, and another 30 percent to education. Such a combination allowed the creation of fertile minds on an arid land and ensured availability of resources to fund such minds and to get equipment and connection to germinate the production of water and food in a place nature didn’t deem fit to provide water and fertile land. A project worthy of mention here is the one undertaken in the early 1950s: The 250km water pipe from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Negev Desert. Many saw it as impossible.
As a matter of policy, farmers and all things related to food security and research are given priority in Israel and decades after decades, innovation and more invention, today Israel is one of the top five countries in the world that has enough food for its own people and leads the rest of the world in the development of cutting-edge solutions for high yielding farming, alternative font of nutrition, conservation, transformation and transportation of produce.
Today, that tiny scorched land with less space and less population than most regions and sub-states in many countries in the world is not only feeding itself and growing the best crops to sell to other countries, it is also sending out professionals, companies, agencies and government envoys to help nations endowed with fertile lands, abundance of water, generations of farmers and fishermen, discover products, ideas and innovations that will help them make better use of their wasting, badly managed and underutilized resources to feed their hungry and angry people.
It is worth reminding ourselves here that all these and much more, Israel has done and continues to do while simultaneously dealing with issues of security, constant attacks and reprisals, ideological opposition and racial bias against it.
Anthony Kila is a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development. He is currently Centre Director at CIAPS; the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies, Lagos, Nigeria. He is a regular commentator on the BBC and he works with various organisations on International Development projects across Europe, Africa and the USA.