Africa: Another Chance For Change

Published on 4th October 2005

\"Now we have an African or (is it a ‘South African’) talking about the things that most Africans would dare not talk about.”  This may be the reaction amongst some who read Jan Lamprecht’s article in the previous issue of the African Executive.

Although it created a mixture of reactions in me, I believe that he should not have been as harsh.  Arguably, he missed out on some developments that even an African critic would feel ashamed for not mentioning.  It was less of an eye-opener and more of “Oh my, Africa will never change, not even given another century.”

Why is this?  Something seems to have gone wrong.  But dwelling on the past, which Lamprecht seems inclined to, is not the right measure towards change.  One thing that the writer needs to understand is that the measure of success in a country is not how popular the leader of that country is – and more so with the west.  Mandela was popular, and so is Thabo Mbeki, but this may not dictate the growth rate of that country.  Zambia and Botswana may be unpopular, but their economy is thriving.  I believe that the truth behind a successful economic system lies in the private sector development.  Jan Lamprecht should have been more rounded to touch on the successes being made by the private developer but not governments, for heavens sake! 

One success factor to reckon with is the multinational confidence exhibited by players like Barclays Plc, Standard Chartered Bank, British American and American Investment Group, Citigroup and oil companies.  If you asked the CEO’s of these Multinationals, Africa may be the best thing that has probably ever happened to them.  This is only achieved because of the market potential it offers the world over.

If you take a closer look at the Nigerian banking system, it explains how Africans have gone out of their way to fully capitalize on the potential that the world has to offer.  South African tourism industry has taken a big leap to become one of the biggest players in the world because of its wide array of services and pocket friendly packages.  There is also the joy of flying African Airlines after seeing the collapse or near collapse of some Western Airlines.  An example is the glorified Kenya Airways, South African Airlines, Ethiopia Airlines and many others.  You may also reckon the downfall of KLM, poor performance by British Airways, collapse of EUJet among others.  Those are the tell tale signs of a tunnel that has reached its end.

What about the movers?  Titus Naikuni has moved Kenya Airways from a loss maker to one of the most profitable corporations in the region.  The publicly listed company has had its share price rise from Ksh.11.00 last year to Ksh.85.00 at the close of September 2005.   The largest manufacturer of sugar in Kenya, Mumias Sugar Company has seen the fruits of its billions-worth investment in overhaul of production and I.T departments, with its share price reaching an all time high and being the most active share in the region. 

Our reformists such as Muammar Gadaffi, who despite being in Bush’s axis of evil has steered Libya to long term stability.  I believe that African leadership is not a disaster, only the thought process of our critics.  Oumar Makalou (former Deputy Director of the World Bank) commenting on African leadership during The African Resource Bank meeting said that African leaders act the way they do because of the circumstances that surround them  but the private sector (after empowerment) has ashamed them into taking action.  The thriving economies in Egypt, South Africa, East Africa, Nigeria and the emerging Rwanda and Botswana are proof.

Lamprecht labeling of Africans as stereotype is not in good taste. Why?  It is not the African’s opinion about the intensity of stereotyping but a Western Media’s “baptism of fire”.  They (Western Media) as much as they are obliged to social change, never stop reporting about Africa’s failures and never will they report about the success.

Africans, more than any other continent, are worried about tomorrow.  Let us start right in South Africa.  Why is Thabo Mbeki so concerned about the Unification of Sudan?  Economically speaking, from an African standpoint, is this not an investment for the future.  If Africa is really not concerned about tomorrow, why does Kibaki (Kenya’s President) have to visit Koizumi of Japan? Why do we have strategic alliances (African Growth and Opportunistic Act, New Partnership for African Development, Common Markets for East and Southern Africa, African Union)?  Why should we talk about East African Integration or a call for more Foreign Direct Investments (FDI)?  Why do we have a Trans African railway from Kenya to Sudan and beyond being planned for? 

The argument for Africa’s under-development is due to intelligence or lack of it does not hold water.  In the Apartheid South Africa; in Libya’s hard-headedness against the West, in Egypt’s stability despite aridity and in Burkina Faso’s pledge to the U.S on cotton subsidies, it is African intelligence that bailed and is bailing Africa out. 

Some truth, however, 40 years after the attainment of independence, we only seem to be doing worse.  Even Asia, a decade ago was at stagnation (a ‘learning stage, so to say), before reform period came and now everyone is talking about the “Asian tigers”.  Africa too may be in its “learning stage” and time; but the period of maturity and bounty is coming.

But again, why is it that majority of successes to tell in Africa are only those by expatriates, mostly from the Asian culture?  We seem to have an Asian success culture and less shining Africans.  The entrepreneurial spirit is slowly picking up, soon the taught shall become the teachers and only then shall it be realized that Africa was not in slumber.



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