Urgent African developmental imperatives

 (By Uche Nwachukwu)

I see it this way: You have a big chasm in front of you. You must thus move back, then race forwards with speed, gain momentum and leap frog over the obstacle but the local and western economic oracles say: no, take small steps and cross the chasm. Does one then wonder where the hopeless candidate will land?

SOME fundamental issues must crop up in contemporary global economic dispensation. At a time when International Monetary Fund (IMF) and kindred organisations are howling that Africans live at less than a dollar a day, the East Asians have seen African businessmen trooping to Asia to do business and thus they don’t take the IMF and World Bank serious. While the West was in slumber the East Asians have invested massively in Africa to displace them. Even the distinction between developed and developing nations is no longer valid. The so-called developing nations now account for over 80 per cent of global growth and they lend billions of dollars to Western treasuries in Europe and the United States. So, who then is underdeveloped? Who has more debts? Any nation can claim to be developing so as to attract some preferential treatment by Breton Woods’s institutions. Therefore, the question lingers as to whether Africa should partner with the West as equals or play an underdog aid-seeking role that jeopardizes its posterity? I prefer the former.

Then, what is to be done? Africans themselves should be asking these questions because they have to mould their destiny with their hands and not just hope on an African summit in London today, another in Tokyo tomorrow. Those people, though, technologically more advanced, are still struggling with their own mammoth cyclopean problems of another octave.

There have been lots of presentations, recipes, recommendations, lots of good recipes shoddily implemented and lots of baggage rigorously executed with zeal and preposterous arguments shallow as the Baltic. So many reckless recipes have looked like the predicament of the sick child of a doctor suffering more from excessive dosage than disease.

I see it this way: You have a big chasm in front of you. You must thus move back, then race forwards with speed, gain momentum and leap frog over the obstacle but the local and western economic oracles say: no, take small steps and cross the chasm. Does one then wonder where the hopeless candidate will land?

The bottom of the chasm is strewn with remnants of failed policies. And so Africa lands perpetually at the bottom of the chasm by choice and by external influence and ‘’eats’’ reports perpetually while self–battered post-war Europe got her great leverages, her great leaps and Marshal Plans couples of decades ago. But is the average African planner leader, or public administrator a product of common sense deficiency syndrome (CDS) or public sector complacency syndrome (PSCS)? Does he possess the knowledge, skills, competence and attitudinal value systems catalytic to economic sustainability? I think the answer is in the affirmative. For everyone our common sense comes to the forefront when we are stressed. For instance, when sick and fatigued, we appreciate the value of mobility and other divine gifts which we had hitherto taken for granted and so begin to thank Providence for everyday mercies we ignored. Therefore, the African planner does not lack common sense, he is copious with it but he is a victim of forces, psychological, historical, geopolitical and economical that suppress his common sense instinct.

The African planner needs to break through these vicious cycle and rings of encirclement like a deft general to navigate out of his economic entanglements and its moral turpitude. He needs all the wits at his disposal and must call everything to question like Platonic or Socratic self-evaluation to move forward the knowledge hierarchy with vision onto practical consummation of talents for the good of all and posterity. For, somewhere among the nations on the continent, Providence has placed an exemplary model of what the future of the continent will be if they responsibly play their cards well.     There is such a nation in Africa. Inside every nation elsewhere, too, there is a state or province with that potential promise if you, look carefully. You don’t need the IMF to tell you. Equally, there are worst-case scenario nations or states inside continents and nations that warn us of dire generalised consequences of irresponsibility reigning unchecked.    Therefore, every state or continent can premonitively learn by examining itself properly. There is one state in America that holds its potentials and manifest promise despite the terror scare that is stealing the American golden age of creative freedoms. There is also a worst-case scenario state over there, whether they notice it or no.

The aid hypothesis is good idealistically and theoretically beautiful and practically easy to maneuver while in the air like an airplane (as any pilot knows) but harder in, down to earth reality, landing. The aid drought is proving this, too. The continent easily feels the impact of turbulent changes in global economic cycles more than other continents and these cycles are like intricate synchronised clock wheels with major and minor cycles in cycles down. It can ill-afford reckless theorising from all the conceptual dreamlands of utopia. If these nations can exercise some degree of control over their psychological, cultural, historical, political and economic predicaments and problems as previously stated they can consider some of these homespun African economic leapfrog or jumpstart strategies, and policy clusters from new perspectives.

They have toyed with these words before but they can re-examine them closely just as some common words of sacred scriptures can begin to  semantically suddenly appear quite new to you when you gain a fresh or deeper interpretation. Until they can think like this, at least a bit, they need not bother but the breeze hears it all the same. I randomly suggest these at relevant national and continental levels as they may appropriately apply. They include; among other things: the development and consolidating of a framework for the realisation of food security and self-sufficiency as well as necessary infrastructural and capacity-building implications there-of, the re-engineering of economic packages that engender, at least, an annual 15 per cent growth rate average for longer term economic sustainability, the stabilisation of macro-economic policies in a result –oriented approach.

Others are, to integrate sustainable development and capacity building into policy making, attract five-fold increase in foreign direct investments through appropriate and pragmatic policy thrust frameworks, elevate G.D.P per capital three-fold within seven years, elevate and consolidate e-governance, institutionalise transparency in policy making frameworks, factor in environmental sustainability and climate change implications into development plans, and experiment boldly with rolling plans and recreate and make dynamic the intellectual middle class as fundamental catalysts for development. The strategy should include efforts to replace poverty reduction with wealth-creation, boldly engender and consolidate on export oriented economies less dependent on fossil fuel, strengthen and consolidate the processing of continental economic integration for greater economy of scale in the light of geopolitical and macroeconomic realities and involve the NEPAD fully in economic reconstruction and peer review strategies.

The plan should also drastically checkmate graft through multimodal strategies, grow the organised private sector as the major engine of development anywhere and fast-track the processes of efficient privatisation, de-regulation and commercialisation that help put the economy into the hands of the people, engender efficiency and help control runaway official graft, develop uniform regional legal frameworks in  the transport, energy and maritime sectors, develop policies that strengthen greater South-South economic cooperation, leapfrog massively into the ICT age, create investment friendly business environments, raise at least 35 per cent of their population onto upper middle class. It should equalise educational opportunities and narrow the educational gender disparity in formal, informal and vocational education, achieve universal basic primary, secondary and ICT education. The strategy should seek to set up special economic zones,  drastically reduce the under five years infant and maternal maternity rate through appropriate measures, reduce the heavy expenditures on sports and foreign missions and channel same to sectors  such as tourism, undertake heavy reduction in military expenditures even if they  think they are threatened from outer space, undertake special image laundering designed to attract serious investors by countering to deconstruct the problems of image demonisation by western media.

It should begin fundamental reforms in the power, banking, educational and industrial sectors, initiate value-added manufacturing strategies, initiate macro planning of development plans through inter-sectoral linkages, initiate five-fold increase in research and development budgets and establish new research institutes and centres of excellence, seriously mull the reversal of brain drain and capital flight. The plan should explore possibility for greater integration and partnership with the West and quest for greater globalisation dividends and justice in world trade talks. It should seek to effect relevant debt management strategies, re-engineer effective strategies for sustainable attitudinal change, create African multinationals to compete effectively in a globalised world and begin to tell the West that it is tired of the old game just as a tired child tells playmates frankly: “I play no more”.

The African leader planners also need to institute inter-ministerial economic policy as well as private sector reforms and development commissions. So much for big words. They have heard all this music before, but only a few have committed themselves to its experimentation and implementation to sustainable levels. Not everything is economics but they have to begin with those sectors that would help carry others along inter sectorally. Such sectors include power, ICT, industries, health, education and capacity building, agriculture, perhaps in that order. They can with proper planning and historical hindsight avoid many problems that emanated in the wake of Western civilisation. Nations often fast track development by manufacturing technology by mining etc. only to be later ruined by financial speculations. Ask Holland and the “Dutch disease;” ask England and you may soon begin to be asking America if they don’t play their economic cards well.

As for financial services sector, the strategies should be such that the African leader-planner must, in embracing the services, beware of booby traps. But how do you translate some of these broad policy frameworks to yield short and long term results with economic thrust?

They must identify the immediate short-term needs and long-term goals, should differentiate needs from wants, should not make their wants their desire, must prioritise the developmental chains, not leap in the dark for many well planned business fail due to inadequate background checks, due diligence.    Again, I suggest a few initiatives such as setting up of technology adaptation centres, heavy industrial triangles, I.T corridors, silicon valleys, science and energy cities, university cum research, and commercialisation business linkages technological/ industrial parks, industrial cluster strategies, popularisation of production technologies by websites, handbooks and seminars.

The strategies will also include mounting  development economic workshops for senators and legislators in general; creation of 10 million outsourced jobs in a decade; declaration of  industrial cum ICT,  open universities for a knowledge-based economy, and to develop a critical mass skills capacity including the use of mass media to educate and economically empower; creation of more industrial and technology development banks, a micro-finance banking revolution to help power integrated rural development; massive afforestation programmes, soil and water conservation and management programmes, systematic anti-desertification strategies to buffer the effects of climatic change, intensified productivity campaigns as well as import substitution and export-oriented programme campaigns,  stock market and forex  mass education initiatives, and so on. I should mention here that youths as the future knowledge capital need formidable investments in entrepreneurial skills, software development skills (the next revolution), environmental and health skills, leadership skills, volunteering skills and massively educated by web, TV, and social networks.  The African leader/planner must identify and prioritise the most fundamental ones. Of course, time constrains the inclusion of targets, strategies, financing and implementation modalities. They know these things alright but overlook the fact that timing, preferential hierarchy chain and monitoring mean much instead of haphazard riot of policies often with inevitable policy somersault. They should halt the near rhetorical conference hall approach to socio-economic problems solving.

The propensity towards public sector administrative laxity and apathy—all are a formidable drawback in the process of rejuvenating and revamping the continents economic landscape, because the tendency has often been to manage anyhow.

Nwachukwu, a Public Affairs commentator, lives in Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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