I grew up with a school of thought that says – there is no need for long sermons in an afternoon church service because we already heard it in the morning. Follow that with the notions of the Business of Politics and Politics of Business. The latter notion pretty much decides and determines who gets what, how, when and on what terms and conditions.
As we try to split air on what is good for Africa, I like to remind the ‘latter day saints’ that Africa did not just pop now and we are all coming to rescue and save her. Before trade became a subject of international intrigue, Africa was ahead in that – please read Africa Squadron if there is need for a refresher course. The persons who show up to rescue and save Africa often get their bearing referring to the same playbooks while pretending to be on new chapters and verses. It is old wine in new wine bottles. The taste is same.
Many are hardly informed on the history of economic development in Africa going back say 60 years. Before getting some brief facts on history of economic development, I want to state engineering and science are a given – what makes an airplane take off and land does not change with geography. So when engineers and scientists bring their single minded approach to problem solving they often overlook the other equally cogent factors that affect how projects are delivered – human capital at the local destination of the projects. Financing a power plant, refinery, airplane manufacturing facility, etc is simple – they are products – cost versus revenue – expenses = profitability. It is either one is selling a service and or a product; all financiable.
Africa Under Colonial Rule and Economic Development
When majority of Africa was under colonial rule, the currencies of the colonies were at par with the currency of the colonizers, and in most cases the colonies were required to have a percentage of their national wealth/assets as RESERVE with the colonizers. In the case of Commonwealth nations, it was a third. In other words, Nigeria for example was expected to have its reserve in the Exchequer. So if Nigeria’s national wealth was One Pound, 33 pence were kept in the reserve while 67 pence were allowed to circulate in the colony. This system of holding wealth on behalf of colonies enriched the colonizers and enabled the equalization or eliminated the exchange rate between the colonies and the colonizers. In other words, One Pound in Nigeria was the same One Pound in UK. In that undue relationship, companies from the colonizing nations set shops in the colonies and were happy. Economic development was seen as level and fair.
Then comes the colonies becoming independent and pulling out. A good example is Singapore and - please check out the book - Lee Kwan Yew Years, by Lee Kwan Yew, on how he defied the Commonwealth and set Singapore to cultivate and have relationships with countries whose dealings would benefit the small island nation. Singapore became independent and demanded its reserve. The Exchequer told the new nation: sorry we don’t have the physical cash in a vault. If they could not wait to receive the full value in the time that suited the Exchequer, they would receive less in the form of devaluation.
Folks, that was when currency devaluation first entered the books of colonizers to reimburse less on the actual. Unfortunately for Africa, her leadership were timid to follow the example of Singapore. This emboldened the former colonizers to offer lousy policies and tighten the grip on Africa.
By the the 70s up until mid 1980s, Nigeria had a strong Naira which was one to one to the pound and higher to the Dollar. Many corporations flooded Nigeria from US, Europe, Asia and UK. They all wanted a piece of Nigeria. Given that Nigeria has the highest number of educated Africans, the technical skills were domestic and Nigerians upon finishing college abroad went back home.
In mid 1970s, Nigeria awarded the largest contracts in Africa if not the world for telecommunication and infrastructure development to ITT, roads, steel complex development, refineries and power plants. With such wealth and likely power that comes with it, Nigeria’s presence on the world stage was wooed such that it sought to join a group of Non Aligned Nations; which said they didn’t belong to the East and or West.
Of course, this act of ‘we are a big boy’ did not sit well with the traditional power blocs. Things started to fall apart quickly, and from the mid 1980s – it was quicksand. It was then that World Bank - which many Nigerians never knew - showed up and preached and promoted its voodoo SAP – Structural Adjustment Programs which led to the SAPPING of Nigeria.
21st Century Africa and Economic Development
Africa lacks real friends and genuine development partners. Outside of Africa, all blacks with ancestry connections to the continent are still grappling with socio-economic development issues in their home nations. US is a feeder nation with tentacles through her immigrant connections. These immigrants tend to favor development in their natural nations of connection. For the African-Americans, supposedly the most educated and exposed black person on the face of the earth by virtue of their presence in US, they are still begging/pleading with the Whiteman to help free them from the Poverty of the Mind even when the means are evident. Blacks in America are not robustly equipped with the mindset and attendant resources to be effective in doing projects in Africa.
Africa therefore, needs to develop from within and shun the Johnny Just Come saints who often stain the continent leaving confusing policies and programs that do nothing to alleviate the dire situation. Nations need to make sacrifice in order to reap the benefits of sound policies. When Africa asks the world for example US and China to give her money, I often wonder why. The money they are asking US and China to give was not wired to them by God for distribution to the needy nations. Currencies are a man-made tool for exchange of goods and services. No one nation’s currency should dictate how that exchange needs to occur. But since supposedly all animals are equal, some who have become unequal by design and default dictate. Address this unequal status and be defiant standing up on what is good for one’s country, and see the playing field level.
Africa Undoing – Exchange Rate and Currency Devaluation
Africa need not wait to appease and please anyone to rise and change the course of its development. The continent should eliminate the various currencies and go to strong currency unions whereby fewer than 5 of such currencies are used for exchange of goods and services. While at it, interest rates on borrowed money need to be in single low digits as a weighted average with what happens in other comparable thriving economies. To expect that Africa will emerge when interest rates run in high double digits is like hoping that by mere wishing and praying, the Sun one day will rise from the west.
Money is a human creation and its value is hinged on legal backing behind the currency. There is no need to go to the World Bank to borrow – create your own institutions and make them count. The World Bank was created when no African nation was independent and to think that membership in that institution creates a level playing field is being naïve. No one according to FDR – should undermine its own economic wellbeing.
Africa needs to be defiant when on a mission to change the course of its development and growth. Seeing the Chinese looking like rescuers and saviours of Africa insults my senses. But when the desirable is not available, the available by default and presence invariably becomes desirable. With Africa’s leadership believing that no Prophet has honour in their village and or country, they listen to foreigners while shunning their own. Everyone exploits this human flaw that Africans exhibit.
So for those caught up on their engineering, financing and science experiences; those are a dime a dozen. I am not impressed with experiences in what is a given. I rather chant and cheer when the unknown is solved and creates value for human existence. The science and engineering to build a power plant is a copy and paste endeavour. What is not copy and paste is having the mindset and national drive to provide leadership that is seen to put the people of a nation first and everyone else far second.
By Ejike E. Okpa