Simon Kolawole: Where exactly is Africa going?

by Simon Kolawole

simon-kolawoleSenator Abdul Ningi recently raised the alarm that N500 billion was missing from the SURE-P funds. Was it mischief? Was it ignorance? With N834 billion having accrued to the programme between January 2012 and September 2013, the chairman of the SURE-P committee, Mr. Christopher Kolade, said he received N300 billion only during the period.

You love statistics? Enjoy these for a start: Africa’s current economic output is more than most regions, thereby making it one of the fastest growing in the world; seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa; the annual GDP growth rate of 10 African countries, including Nigeria, between 2000-2011 was an impressive 7%; Africa received capital inflows of $48.2 billion in 2011 – an increase of $8 billion; and these statistics, mind you, were highlighted and celebrated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Put together, things are looking up for the “dark continent”. There is need for Afro-optimism and clinking of glasses, isn’t it?

Not so fast. In his book, Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy ‘s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter – which I have just read – Dr Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu rains on the parade of the Afro-optimists. The CBN deputy governor summons the forgotten statistics: Africa’s share of world trade is still an insignificant 3%; its share of Foreign Direct Investment is a mere 5%; the combined GDP of 54 African countries is about that of India alone; the GDP of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa inclusive, is similar to that of Belgium; all the electricity produced by Sub-Saharan Africa is equal to that of Spain, a country with just 5% of Africa’s population; and just 100,000 individuals account for 80% of Africa’s GDP.

To be sure, Moghalu is not an Afro-pessimist. And that is the point. Afro-optimism, in its present shape, is not about Africa being a driver of globalisation but a mere passenger, a growing passenger – if you will. It is not about Africa being a producer but a voracious, obese consumer. Instructively, much of the celebrated GDP growth is fuelled by high prices of commodities, like oil, which only come in cycles. The prevailing Afro-optimism, for all intents and purposes, is about Africa being a market. For instance, Africans have more mobile phone lines than Americans. But the devices are produced in Asia and North America. There are over 120 million active phone lines in Nigeria – but not one is assembled, much less manufactured, in the country! “Emerging market” indeed!

Moghalu cautions that Africans must temper this “emerging market” euphoria with a few soul-searching questions. Who is assessing our progress? Against what benchmarks are they saying we are progressing? Are we assessing our own progress based on the benchmarks we set for ourselves or the ones set by global institutions and the ambassadors of global capital seeking new frontiers of profit? For the established world order, we are OK the way we are. We should just continue to export raw materials and import value-added finished goods. We are just a market. But for us Africans, these questions could help us rediscover ourselves and retrace our steps. They could help us understand that behind development, there is a logic.

Logic. That is the word. Moghalu describes it as a worldview that would push us to ask: how do we play this game to our own advantage? Call it value system, call it organising principle, call it strategy. Clearly, there are philosophical foundations of prosperity and Africans must truly understand this fundamental fact in their engagement with the global political economy. Moghalu points out worldview as “the most fundamental of aspect of the African development dilemma”. It all starts in the mind. We imagine it and then plan it and pursue it. Too many Africans, the author argues, “wake up every morning and do their daily rounds with no idea of their individual and collective relationship with the world around them and how they can change that world…”

Let me cite instances to back Moghalu’s claim. We take many decisions without the bigger picture in mind. We sign trade agreements without analysing how they hurt or help us. We award oil blocks without a strategic intent for our own good. We do not see ourselves as operating strategically in a competitive world. We just sleep, wake up, take decisions and go back to sleep without a global goal in mind. We think the world is the way it is simply by mistake or coincidence. The Chinese, the Koreans, the Malaysians and the Singaporeans – who have made giant leaps – understand the logic of worldview very well and this has reflected in their interactions with the global political economy. They pursued policies and programmes that played to their own advantage and today, they are competing with the West.

Moghalu’s Emerging Africa is an incisive and authentic contribution to the global debate on Africa’s underdevelopment. There have been a series of original thoughts on the development debate, especially as it affects Africa. Guyanese historian, Water Rodney, in the highly celebrated 1972 book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, blamed the colonial masters for Africa’s underdevelopment. American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, in The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, blamed geography. Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo, blamed aid in Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. American economists, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, argue that man-made political and economic institutions determine the success of nations. It is all about choices, nothing more. Moghalu pursues a more encompassing argument that touches on all these previous works.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda famously bought and distributed copies of Moyo’s Dead Aid to his cabinet members. Emerging Africa offers even bigger food for thought.  It should be a recommended text for every African undergraduate – at least, to fire their imaginations.

I am patiently waiting for the day when we will conduct an election in Nigeria where materials will arrive on time, accreditation will commence as scheduled, voters will find their names in the register, there will be enough ballot papers, voting will commence on time and we will get the results without a fuss. It’s not as complicated as brain surgery, is it? Why then can’t the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) get it right for once, with all the billions of naira they are always spending? Why? Why? Why?

Last week, I highlighted the issue of our poorly equipped battle against Boko Haram, as raised by Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State. I got this anonymous letter: “Simon, I am a very senior police officer. I want to let you know that we virtually fight Boko Haram with our bare hands and prayers. We send our Mopol men to fight BH with obsolete guns, without bulletproof vests and helmets. These men are killed like flies and their families left to bury them without their burial expenses and entitlements being paid to the families.”

Senator Abdul Ningi recently raised the alarm that N500 billion was missing from the SURE-P funds. Was it mischief? Was it ignorance? With N834 billion having accrued to the programme between January 2012 and September 2013, the chairman of the SURE-P committee, Mr. Christopher Kolade, said he received N300 billion only during the period. But since SURE-P belongs to all tiers of government, the Kolade Committee can only receive Federal Government’s portion! As it has turned out, the “missing” N500 billion went to the 36 states and 774 councils.

We’ve not heard the last on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway accident that led to the death of two persons. One story says the convoy of the wife of Kwara State governor recklessly forced a tipper off the road and it killed two persons. The Kwara version is that the tipper lost control and almost hit the convoy – which they claimed was driving responsibly. What’s the truth? A son of one of the victims, Dr. Olusegun Adeoye, has petitioned the Lagos State Police Command. We must know the truth. Justice must be done!



This article is published with the permission of the author


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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