In the recent past, there have been very disturbing videos circulating, some showing Africans being bludgeoned in China.
There have also been claims of Africans being denied health services in the US and Europe.
The fact that none of these countries has come out to condemn such acts of discrimination confirms that indeed these ugly incidents continue unabated in a civilised world. Indeed, Malaysia does not even bother to hide racism as they explicitly deny Africans housing (see picture below). Do we really need diplomatic relationship with a country that is explicitly racist?
On our part, it is shameful that we (individual countries and the African Union in particular) have not protested in the strongest terms possible that our citizens wherever they are, in whatever circumstances, should never be treated as though they were not human beings.
Our leaders have largely remained mum about mistreatment of their fellow citizens abroad because of our vulnerabilities based on our dependency on aid. We are also guilty of failure to manage and grow our economies.
Although we have been celebrating modest growth and complimenting ourselves with celebratory phrases like Africa Rising, the Africans still consist of 70 per cent of the poor people in the world. A recent article, ‘Poverty in Africa is now falling—but not fast enough’, by Kristofer Hamel, Baldwin Tong, and Martin Hofer, in the Brookings Institute’s March 2019 issue says:
Africa is the world’s last frontier in the fight against extreme poverty. Today, one in three Africans—422 million people—live below the global poverty line. They represent more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.
An American private non-profit research organisation, the National Bureau of Economic Research’s April 15, 2020, publication reports that, “One half of the African continent lives below the poverty line. In sub-Saharan Africa, per capita GDP is now less than it was in 1974, having declined over 11 percent.”
Under vision 2030, it was argued that an average annual GDP growth of five per cent was not sufficient to see Kenya out of poverty and as such, we aimed for an annual growth rate of 10 per cent. Electoral violence has always undermined our progress. It therefore means that the key problem we ought to solve is political, before we tackle social and economic problems.
BALANCE OF TRADE
We have been manipulated by our political class to embrace the same theory colonists used on us – make the people dependent – by ensuring they are poor and rely on the provider.
The practice of nurturing local dependence is borrowed from this earlier theory, mercantilist (an economic policy that is designed to maximise the exports, and minimise the imports, of a nation) mostly used by the British in what used to be their colonies to exploit and accumulate monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade.
Politicians love such dependency on them because it comes in handy during elections or when the politicians want to justify their salary increases.
Their arguments have always been that they support their constituents, which essentially mean that they them dependent on their leaders.
They even go to the extent of importing sugar and maize by disenfranchising sugar cane and maize farmers and accumulating resources for their political advancement.
Many of us living in the continent feel the burden of poverty.
According to UNCTAD, sub-Saharan Africa leads the world in “dependency ratio” (ratio of dependent people to the population of working age) which is between 65 per cent and 100 per cent, compared to below 50 per cent elsewhere.
Effectively, the few who work underwrite virtually every social and economic need of their relatives. Even though politicians argue that they support their constituents, it is we ordinary citizens who bear the burden of poverty. We have been doing this through welfare groups and lately, through crowdsourcing platforms.
Unfortunately, dependence fuels corruption, which in turn impacts on productivity that undermines our performance.
With these variables raging in our veins, it is foolish to expect that one day our economies will magically flourish to emancipate us from the bondage of slavery and discrimination.
We hold the key to the respect of African lives now and in the future.
This calls for some sacrifices on our part. A friend, Jean Phibert Nsengimana in a recent article, How Africa Wins The 4th Industrial Revolution, said, that Africa must improve in terms of productivity of her people “through unity of purpose: if Africa unites, connects everyone, empowers the young generation, embraces change and thinks exponentially, it could bridge the development gap with the rest of the world in around a decade.”
What is disturbing is not that we do not know what ails us, we know even know how to go through the problems and it is on record.
A recent concept note from the African Union listed the factors contributing to the declining productivity in Africa, They include:
• Poor performance of the Public Sector as well as the parasternal sector
• Lack of a comprehensive productivity movement agenda
• Lack of competitiveness among local enterprises
• Low skilled workforce specially in the informal SMMEs and agriculture
• Weak tripartism and weak political commitment to productivity
• Quality of the education and training system
• Ineffectiveness of the labour market information systems
• The corporate human resource management systems,
• Quality of social dialogue and
• The state of infrastructure (electricity, transport, telecommunications, etc.) and services (health, central and local bureaucracies, etc.).
During the development of Vision 2030, the National Economic and Social Council of Kenya (NESC), which consisted of experts from mostly the Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) of Asia, recommended the development of local productivity centres to facilitate global competitiveness.
We dragged our feet and the next thing that happened was that NESC was disbanded. How do we compete in manufacturing if productivity is a foreign word in Kenya?
None of the NICs got to where they are today without the backdrop of productivity improvement centres.
Vietnam was at war in the 70’s, but it is the shining poster child of industrial growth in Asia today.
In less than two decades after the war, Vietnam has regained recognition and respect of her people.
We must develop some leverage to enable our voice to be heard. We must do this either through competitive advantage in manufacturing, specialised skills, strategic advantage, resource leverage and many others.
We must understand how collectively we can become a force. The division of Africa is our undoing. I do not see how Burundi, for example, could stand up to the US if her people were to be discriminated there.
Africa could change its image and gain respect of her people within a short period. But to do that, we must abandon our insatiable greed, live the dream of building our productivity for global competitiveness and embrace inclusivity.
That is how we can productively engage our youth and grow our economy and wealth.
Someone once said, “Respect is for those who deserve it, not for those who demand it.”
So, no matter how much we demand for our respect now, it is an exercise in futility. Let us earn it through working towards our independence by developing some leverage.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.