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Economies grow far better with inclusivity and compromise

Monday November 23 2015

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After visiting Ivory Coast last week, I can report that the country has pulled back from the brink following the post-election violence in 2010.

The turnaround has been so complete that the country registered a staggering economic growth rate of 8.3 per cent in 2014.

This year’s election slightly slowed down the country’s growth rate trajectory, which is now estimated at 7.9 per cent, still well above Africa’s average growth rate. The roads have improved tremendously and agriculture is booming.

Regarding politics, however, things aren’t as rosy. Supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who comprise close to 50 percent of the voters, are crying selective justice, still smarting over his arrest and arraignment before the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

This is where Africa fails. We must be more inclusive in our approach to build a sustainable future. Success does not mean a license to subdue those who don’t support the administration.

Political success is born out of political compromise, not just with the losers, but the supporters of the losers because voters never quite lose.

Victors in political contests must call for greater integration at home. Sustaining good, inclusive leadership is the product of constant responses to critics with messages of hope of eventually creating harmony.

The African practice of winner-take-all is the foundation of our social, political and economic underdevelopment.

In some well-formed countries like the United States, political compromise is an everyday activity, where people who hold extreme views converge for the sake of the nation as a basis for greater inclusiveness.

In virtually all African countries, development is held back by uncompromising personalities and exclusive tendencies. Africa’s youngest state, South Sudan, is in a stalemate because two individuals can’t compromise.

Lack of infrastructure to open up Africa is perhaps the source of the opaqueness in many countries. We need to open up, not just for greater transparency and integration but also to increase intra-African trade, in order to increase opportunities and lift our people out of poverty.

I had visited Abidjan at the invitation of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to discuss inclusive infrastructure development as a panelist. The weeklong Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) is an African Union Commission (AUC) initiative, in partnership with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The AfDB aimed at addressing Africa’s infrastructure deficit, which severely hampers Africa’s competitiveness on the world market.

Studies now show that Africa’s development is even more hampered when infrastructure is not inclusive, and evidence from the IMF shows that overcoming gender inequality and gender-related legal restrictions would increase annual GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa by 0.75 per cent.

In response, the African Development Bank, for example, has made gender as one of the areas of special emphasis in all the Bank’s operational areas. Discourse around inclusivity has intensified in the recent past because when a section of the community is discriminated against, economic growth is severely impacted.

I have had the privilege to participate in two global expert committees, and the discourse in both reflects what the AfDB is embarking on.

The first meeting was a British government-sponsored initiative, through DFID, to find strategies for greater access to the Internet, chaired by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web.

The second one, chaired by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf is a US-based initiative known as the People Centered Internet (PCI) also working towards access and inclusiveness.

In our first meeting at Stanford University, we came up with seven desirable properties that would enhance inclusiveness through People Centered Internet:

  1. Complete universal Internet coverage that enables functionality that is otherwise unreachable or ineffective;
  2. The Internet is affordable, open, available and accessible to all;
  3. Fosters digital literacy, local content in local language to achieve widespread usage and increased value to people, families, communities and countries;
  4. The system achieves a level of trust that meets the users’ expectations of affordability, privacy, safety;
  5. The quantity and quality of educational and information services is increasingly available to families and communities;
  6. Anyone can contribute to improvement of the utility of the global Internet; and,
  7. Personal information in the digital environment is protected by law and controlled by the individual

Participants at the meeting for a People
Participants at the meeting for a People Centered Internet, held at Stanford University on 24-25 October, 2015. Dr Ndemo is in the back row PHOTO: PEOPLECENTEREDINTERNET.ORG

In a one-and-a-half day meeting, we developed a list of elements that could drive the agenda for a PCI program, as set forth below:

a) Align PCI program goals to support the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, approved in September 2015 by the UN General Assembly, in education, health and other development objectives;

b) Build trust and inclusion to bridge generations, nations and cultures;

c) Empower women and youth with relevant Internet content to better equip future generations;

d) Support locally-led initiatives and grassroots innovations as well as top-down policies and reforms to support scaling up of promising innovations to improve human lives in diverse contexts;

e) Develop narratives to influence decision makers to leverage ICT to transform their economies, institutions, and societies; and,

f) Promote research, innovation, and knowledge sharing in best practices in national policies and strategies to advance digital transformation in government, economy, and society and maximize the digital dividends of the Internet.

From the UN to different nations and now to the African Union, we are seeking ways of integrating communities and promoting peace for sustainable development.

The good news is that the technology to provide almost universal Internet is here. A pilot project in Nairobi’s poor neighbourhoods showed that we can indeed obtain 3,000mbs of broadband bundle at less than Sh10.

This is a disruption that has far reaching implications. Entry barriers that required heavy capital expenditure have been shattered.

There is hope that everyone will have access to affordable Internet, even in remote parts of the country. I am not talking about that has been largely criticised.

Our primary role now is to work on relevant content that will become the driver of greater integration locally and in Africa. Through content, we can begin to deal with our many ways of discrimination and exclusive tendencies.

Africa must produce its content and, with it, inculcate new values and enhanced culture. Without this, we shall be as hopeless as we are at the moment and without any value system.

We have seen the ugly side of failed integration in France. Hate is filling the space of love as young people take up Kalashnikovs to butcher their own people.

No matter which way you look at it, it is a difficult experience. Anger whispers revenge into our minds but it is not the solution. Forgiveness is.

We must find ways of softening our hearts to forgive several times and embrace those with different views as we balance between freedom and security. It the only option we have.

I am reminded of what Nelson Mandela said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.Twitter: @bantigito