ARB: Unity in Diversity

Published on 6th December 2005

“Due to the stinchiness and gross abuse of resources by the earlier inhabitants of the area,” a local resident laboriously narrates, “a messenger was dispatched from the spirit world to witness the status quo. Disguised as a famished woman in search of a morsel, she descended the prevailing hills, bypassing children who were swimming-not in a pool of water-but a pool of milk. Oblivious of the visitor’s identity, the clan turned her out. Experiencing this insult, she warned that danger was impending and no sooner she was out of sight than there was a terrible earthquake that swallowed the inhabitants and unleashed hot water from the bowels of the earth. This, accompanied by heavy downpour from above, became the origin of Lake Bogoria,” he finishes.

This time however; is November 27-30, 2005. Ambassadors of a different nature are touring the area. Trooping from USA, Canada, Germany, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria, they are armed with one vision: Conquering Poverty in Africa through Business.

Setting off from the IREN Kenya parking bay at 9 am, we enjoy Kenya’s scenic grandeur, especially the stopover at the Great Rift Valley viewpoint, 8000ft above sea level. Then it happens. Potholes on the road assert their presence.

“How long shall we be on this kind of road?” asks an obviously disappointed delegate.

“The next two hours.”

“The next two hours! Are you kidding?”

But the journey continues. The yawning signifies that a vacuum has developed in the tummies. Everyone is treated to packed snacks.

“How many kilometers more to be covered?”  Asks a delegate who has slept and woken up four times but is surprised that the journey is still on in a land of thickets and bushes.

“Did you have to bring us this far?”

An endless stretch of land can be seen from the window.

“That land,” explains the driver, “belongs to Kenya’s former President.”

Then we have a modern primary school, high school and University in view, before plunging back to the wilderness. 

The site of the Resort is a welcome relief. After disembarking, the Tanzanian team immediately heads to the swimming pool to cool temperatures. As the delegates dine and rest in preparation for the next day, The IREN team is busy setting the conference room in order, amidst the humming of mosquitoes. One guest searches for an anti mosquito balm all over the Spa Resort in vain. Maybe the mosquito net will do? But will it be in the conference room?

In the meeting, several papers are presented. In his opening remarks, James Shikwati (IREN Kenya Director and convener of ARB) thanks the Friedrich Naumann Foundation  for sponsoring the event. In his presentation titled, Reclaiming Africa: Using Business to Fight Poverty, he points out the need for Africa to come together, set a good entrepreneurial environment and engage in business to fight poverty among other problems. Michael Walker in  Why There is an Income Gap, Brett Schaefer in  How Economic Freedom is Central to Development in Sub-Saharan Africa and Simon Dagut in Counting on the Cost of Red Tape for Business in South Africa underscore the main hindrances for growth of business in Africa and call for a sound business environment to boost local entrepreneurship.

The topics are quite saturated with content that to let the stem off, a Ugandan national who is visiting Kenya for the first time asks the delegates to stand up and join her in singing the Ugandan national anthem.

The night is interesting. Dinner is served at the poolside as traditional dancers entertain the guests. Some guests are too captivated that they join the dancers. The meat is sizzling. Beer bottles are being emptied. Some ladies cannot leave the spa for belief that it will keep them young. Networking is becoming sweeter till some delegates crown it with a dance.

The next day, Cain Mpofu in Small to Medium Enterprises: A Strategy for Poverty Alleviation and Nicholas Mbwanji in Fighting Poverty Using Business with Reference to Tanzania observe that there is need to formulate and implement good policies for supporting the potentially vibrant small and medium scale sector in Africa, cut the talk and walk the walk.. But this is not before a church Priest expresses having enjoyed the previous dinner and dance.

Whereas Michael Musau calls upon Africans to take advantage of the untapped stock market business in Africa, Prof. Peter Kibas passionately acknowledges the role of women in entrepreneurship and suggests gender specific policies targeting them.

In general the participants unanimously agree that Africa is in dire need of development Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa’s 800 million people face tremendous challenges such as HIV/AIDS, deep poverty, unemployment, corruption, negative growth and political instability. Food production for instance has fallen every year since 1962 and seven out of ten Africans are extremely poor or on the verge of that state. “Several recent economic studies dismantle the arguments used by Prof. Sach and the U.N for increased aid,” notes Brett Schaefer of Heritage Foundation.

“But this grim picture ought not be the last act in the drama of economic betterment,” explains James Shikwati. “If we stopped regarding the poor as victims or burdens and viewed them as resilient, creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity would open up. The 800 million people can be the engine of the next round of global trade, innovation and prosperity,” he adds.

The symptoms of an ailing economy brought to light include: low income per person, high infant mortality rate and undernourishment. Low-income countries, it is noted, are characterized by having more people in the Agricultural sector (over 50% compared to 10% in the high income countries) yet their output is dismally low.

It is agreed that property rights should be respected and enforced. Countries ought to have impartial courts and independent Judges devoid of military interference. Stable and sound fiscal/monitory policies are hailed as a step towards the right direction. Barriers such as denial of the right to own a foreign bank account, inflated tax and corruption are discouraged. The need for respecting the legal rights of borrowers and lenders is stressed.

Economic freedom is identified as paramount to cultivating a suitable environment for business to fight poverty.   It is defined as the right to be free to work, to keep what one earns, to acquire and trade property, to be protected by law from fraud and violence, to be free from the arbitrary exercise of power and regulations by bureaucrats, to be free from theft of property through inflation taxes and to be free to trade goods, financial instruments and money with foreigners. 

“Every human being is born economically free but their freedom is removed by the actions of governments,” notes Michael Walker (Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute).

“There are many people posing as experts on African affairs when, in the real sense, they have little or no touch with the continent. Developing countries hold the key to their advancement,” laments Professor Ruth K. Oniango (Nominated M.P, Kenya). “African leaders should therefore have the will and commitment to support long term development initiatives,” adds Nicholas Mbwanji (Chairperson, Association of Tanzania Employers). “With resolve to succeed, we can conquer poverty,” says Cain Mpofu (CEO Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce).

Participants agree that conquering poverty using business requires concerted. Firms are called upon to work collaboratively with the civil society organizations, local governments and the poor. “The poor must participate in development,” notes Ronald Omuyonga (Executive Director, Home Dream Innovation-Kenya).  Infrastructural improvement should be embarked on and think tank initiatives supported. “It is time think tanks abandoned back seats and took front seats to change Africa,” notes Harrison Kiandiko (Ministry of Trade and Industry, Kenya). Donald Sherk, (CIPE Program Director for Africa) urges African think tanks to unite and form a joint front in addressing African issues. He causes excitement upon announcing that he has over 25 000 dollars to give to each organization represented in the meeting-but only after they fill forms and are scrutinized.

The following day, there is an excursion that involves a nature trail and visit to Lake Bogoria. There is a tree that fell, exposing its roots but developed new branches that formed a haven for birds. Could it be symbolic that Africa, a continent that has experienced economic doldrums is on the verge of gaining economic glory and be a haven for businesses? Could the hot springs at the lake be a reminder to Africa to passionately bubble with business zeal? But wait a minute! There is this participant who does not wear shoes. He explains that Mother Nature is communicating with him. He has composed a new African anthem in runyankole language of Uganda:

You work for Africa

Promote wealth and friendship

In our homes and our countries

All cooperating

Africa parent us

Let’s agree, let’s agree

Let Africa parent all of us

 


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