Urbanizing Africans to Fight Poverty

Published on 8th May 2007

In a recent public forum in Brazil, the former Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar pointed out the importance of governments facilitating an environment that breeds more private sector initiatives as part of fighting poverty and providing employment. Another panellist argued that the Brazilian middle class are disappearing because of taxation and government regulation which is making poor people focus more on the need for land.

The discussions during the “20th Forum Da Liberdade” took place against a backdrop of demonstrations and land occupations by indigenous landless people. It is estimated that 3.5 percent of landowners in Brazil own 56 percent of arable land and the poorest 40 percent own barely 1 percent! Sounds familiar in Africa? The concerns of the landless range from protesting a massacre that took place 11 years ago, malaria menace, hepatitis and government neglect; familiar?

History is replete with examples of individuals driven with “urbanized minds” possessing land and valuable resources. Huge populations in urban areas promote a competitive approach to life thereby facilitating “business thinking”. This competitiveness can be used destructively (as in Africans being enslaved slaves, or resource wars for purposes of domination in the global economy) or constructively. What best strategy should  Africans adopt in order to fit if not play smarter in the global economy?

Acquiring an urbanized mind would be the first step. Deleting what Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of Justice Africa refers to as “Sexy African Goals” such as too much focus on human rights, women rights, children’s rights, female genital mutilation etc. If Africans create wealth and improve their standards of living, a lot of the values wealthy nations are exporting will not need much prodding to gain acceptance. African urbanized minds ought to figure out the reason why international companies in Africa make profits despite the popular argument that ours is a poor continent. Where can I and you possibly start this “urbanized competition”? 

For over 30 years, I have witnessed an interesting trend of shops in rural areas that never “develop” to another level save for the usual stock of tea leaves, sugar, salt, painkillers, and soft drinks. Many friends from various parts of Kenya pointed out that they too have witnessed a similar trend which only changes whenever a district headquarter is introduced, a foreigner from another tribe sets up a parallel vibrant shop, or an educated “Diaspora son or daughter” opts to join this type of family business.

Reasons given for this apparent stagnation include rural shop-entrepreneurs being a contended lot as long as they can feed their families, pay school fees and have social prestige in the village. One even argued that he doesn’t need a lot of wealth because neighbours might become jealous. Others shop owners fear to expand purely because of insecurity, see why the government needs to play its part!

Rule of law can secure society from possible negative effects of “African urbanized minds”. Note that international companies have a model of reaching out to a wider market than their own village. Positioning our rural entrepreneurs, who have already taken the first step of setting up shops, will add value to rural life. History will inform you that unless you are smart, no amount of land will make you rich. Let us grow the business sector in the villages.  

This article was first published by Business Daily, a publication of Nation Media Group

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