The 22nd World Economic Forum (WEF) is meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
There have been a lot of articles and programmes in world media about how the WEF is taking place in Addis Ababa at a time when the “continent is poised for economic takeoff”, and when it has “six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies”, and so on. The idea that Africa’s time has arrived is firmly taking hold.
However, the continent still has the world’s poorest people, its sickest citizens, most “failed” states, and lowest level of investment in research and development.
So, everyone agrees, we need to fix a few more things before we can rule the world.
I listened to a radio programme in which the presenter asked; “what are the two things Africa needs to fix to become rich?” Tough question.
However, I have my two ideas. In the last few days floods (both flash and non-flash floods) have killed at least 50 people in Kenya.
It occurred to me to check the number of people who have died at the coast where thousands cross with the Likoni ferry to and from work daily; go out fishing for a living; and so on.
I couldn’t find a current figure. However, sometime back police said that in an ordinary year an average of 20 people drown around the areas of Mombasa, Malindi, Kilifi, and so on.
Occasionally, you have a boat or ferry disaster and over 100 people die. However, that doesn’t happen every day or even year, so let us stick with an ordinary year.
The issue here is that in Kenya, and most of Africa, water is more likely to kill you when you live on land, then when you live or work on water.
So the first answer is that if Africa can conquer water, it will become the world’s richest continent.
In floods, we die and eventually go hungry because the water ruins our crops.
When the water goes away, and it becomes dry, we die in even larger numbers from famine because we didn’t harness water while it was around in plenty. It’s a good statement of Africa’s inability to profit from its gifts.
Also, more than 50 per cent of Africans don’t have access to clean water, a fact that accounts for a lot of our diseases and lost man hours.
I read somewhere that the United Nations estimates that sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water; that’s the same as a whole year’s worth of labour by France’s entire workforce!
In addition, the World Health Organisation says that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of between $3 and $34! We shall say no more.
The second thing Africa needs to fix is security of individuals. This means many things, but two examples will:
Our institutions are generally weak, badly run, and corrupt. However, in nearly all of eastern Africa a woman is more likely to be raped or battered by her partner when she is a free individual in society, than when she is a prisoner.
That our women are generally safer in our bad prisons than out there in society says volumes about the failure of the state and public institutions (police, courts, churches, mosques, civil society) whose duty it is to protect people, as much as the withering of our social institutions (family, neighbourhoods).
Again, prison is a “better” place for poor people too. They are more likely to have at least one meal in two days, and a roof over their head in prison – never that it will be in a horribly crowded cell –than as free people out in society.
There are many people who would say the second most important thing Africa needs to fix is its democracy. The problem is that democracy is subverted most by insecurity.
The most insecure time for the average Africa is during what is supposed to a transformative moment – election time. If you are a Kenyan or Ugandan, for example, you are more likely to be beaten, cheated, or killed during elections – and especially on voting day and after results have been announced – than at any period.
So water and security it is. We rest our case.