Musings on Africa. #AfricaRising, #Africa, #Development

Why should Africa (ex-South Africa) be the only continent without nuclear power? 

According to data from the World Nuclear Association, nuclear electricity production totaled 2,346 TWh in 2012. Thirty-one countries including South Africa, Pakistan, Argentina, and Mexico produced this. The US alone has 100 nuclear plants with a 771 TWh power production capacity and yet this represents a little below 20% of its total power production (Source: WNA, FT). And it plans to build 10 more plants over the next 8-10 years (Source: FT). It is curious how talk of lighting up the “dark continent” avoids considering perhaps the most time and cost-efficient option germane to the urgency of the problem. China plans to build (or has under construction) 86 nuclear power reactors (Source: FT). This would be in addition to the 20 it already has operational. At 75%, France has the highest nuclear power share of total power production. The fact remains, even if African countries have the wherewithal to close their power deficits, it takes time to build power plants. For the hydro option, there is also the issue of seasonality. The advantage of the nuclear option in one’s view is the amount of capacity that is possible to have per plant. Whereas what is needed to meet the huge power deficit requires a much more radical solution, most African power projects in the pipeline are largely incrementalist; adding 300-500MW to their respective national grids per new plant. The Africa Power Projects Database (African Energy) puts the continent’s installed power production capacity at 151,803MW (2012). Only 1.2% of that capacity is nuclear power. Other non-renewable sources represent 50.8% of that capacity with gas (27.6%) and hydroelectric (16.8%) dominating the remaining half. One is well aware of the risks associated with nuclear power. However, that didn’t stop developed nations from using it for their development. Why should Africa be different? 

 

Why Africa’s rise has not been inclusive; or has it? #AfricaRising, #Africa (Author: Rafiq Raji; published 5 May 2014 (part I), 8 May 2014 (part II))

The World Bank reports 7 of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Why, some ask, has Africa’s high GDP growth of at least 5% over the past decade not taken as many people as should be the case out of poverty? The question is increasingly being raised as it is now almost certain that poverty would not have been halved by 2015 as envisaged by the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Data from the World Bank shows poverty incidence on the sub-continent in 1990 of 56.5% only reduced by 8 percentage points to 48.5% in 2010. The troubling paradox comes against the backdrop of the increasing number of US dollar billionaires on the continent. According to Forbes magazine, the wealth of Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, increased more than 8 times to USD25 billion in 2014 (36% of which was acquired over the past year) from USD3.3 billion in 2008 when he debuted on Forbes’ billionaires list. Yet during that period (2008-10), poverty incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa only reduced by 0.7ppts to 48.5 in 2010 from 49.2 in 2008. Ventures Africa magazine actually reckons Africa’s billionaires have at least USD143 billion in total wealth. That is at least 11% of SSA’s 2013 GDP of USD1.3 trillion.

Incidentally, most of these estimates are quite conservative since they don’t include undocumented (or hidden) and informal wealth acquired or stolen by former dictators and corrupt government functionaries. For instance, the Tana High Level Forum on African Security estimates that at least USD1.8 trillion was illegally acquired and removed from Africa between 1970 and 2009. That is twice (2 times) SSA’s 2009 GDP of USD897 million. Another report jointly authored by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Global Financial Integrity puts cumulative illicit flows out of Africa between 1980 and 2009 at USD1.2 trillion to USD1.4 trillion. These estimates are not inflation and opportunity cost adjusted by the way. In other words, if the inflation rate during the period were to be considered, the figure could be much more staggering. Never mind the other immeasurable and exponential benefits that could have accrued from spending on education, infrastructure and social grants during this period. In fact, if we assumed that USD1 trillion to USD2 trillion was the wealth accumulated between 1980 and 2009 and further assumed that USD33 billion to USD67 billion was the amount of wealth created each year, the future value using SSA’s average inflation rate of 18% for the same period amounts to USD26 trillion to USD53 trillion. That is 20 to 40 times SSA’s 2013 GDP (and 35% to 70% of the World’s 2013 GDP)! If you think these figures border on exaggeration, let us look at another example. Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria (39% of SSA GDP), earned at least USD643 billion (1.3 times its rebased 2013 GDP) between 1980 and 2009 from crude oil. That is 32-64% of the assumed USD1 trillion to USD2 trillion accumulated wealth in the sub-continent during the period. And Nigeria is just one of 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly, the inequality gap in Africa has not been for a dearth of resources.

The staggering inequality gap in SSA is certainly a source of worry for its richest. A week before the 2014 WEF on Africa that the continent’s richest man is also co-chairing, Aliko Dangote announced an endowment of USD1.2 billion (c. 5% of his wealth) to his “Dangote Foundation” (founded in 1994) to support education, health and youth empowerment in Nigeria. The foundation’s model is largely based on a concept that is increasingly gaining attention in development circles; cash transfer programmes – according to Forbes, the Dangote Foundation disburses 50-80 US dollars in cash to Nigeria’s poor rural women and youths to start small businesses. Initiatives such as this, if emulated by the many formal (and even more informal or shadow economy) billionaires in Africa would go a long way in accelerating poverty reduction in Africa.

In its upcoming planned two-part 2015 Report on Africa, the World Bank would assess the state of poverty and inequality in Africa and also provide suggestions on how to accelerate poverty reduction on the continent. At a briefing during the Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE) Conference of the University of Oxford in March 2014, its officials highlighted their preliminary thoughts on how they reckon Africa’s high growth could be more broadly shared. They include the maintenance of strong macroeconomic discipline, building better human and physical capital, promoting growth in places and sectors where the poor are and the creation of social protection and promotion systems that enable them to be shared. That part about social protection and promotion systems is increasingly gaining resonance amongst officials of the bank and other development experts. Another highly regarded economist at the conference wondered if it was not an attempt at a “latin-americanization” of Africa; a not-so-veiled reference to the likely motivation of the esteemed economists for wanting to experiment with conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in Sub-Saharan Africa because of the relative success of a similar programme in Latin America (Brazil in particular). Its research showed families systematically invested part of the CCTs they received in human and physical capital and even saved as well. It is thus likely the Bretton Woods institution is now convinced the same policy could be adapted for Africa. Simply put, the World Bank reckons CCTs are a real policy option; in addition to sustained economic growth and increased agricultural productivity of course. A significant caveat though is that the potential success of such a policy would be contingent on good governance. Incidentally, that caveat may actually be the key to accelerating poverty reduction in Africa. Most (if not all) of past poverty reduction interventions in Africa have failed principally because of poor governance and corruption.

Cash transfers wouldn’t necessarily constitute an innovation in Africa, however. South Africa devotes a significant portion of its yearly budget to social assistance programmes. Its success with these programmes remain mixed with some critics arguing it has created a culture of dependence and remains a significant point of difference between the country’s ruling and opposition parties. According to South Africa’s Economic Policy Research Institute, social grants helped reduce the poverty rate in the country – for its lowest poverty line set at 131.27 South African Rand (ZAR131.27) in 1993 and ZAR497.45 (approximately 50 US dollars) in 2013 – to 38 percent in 2013 from 45 percent in 1993. So, there is evidence that supports the case for CT/CCT interventions. However, in the same period, South Africa’s unemployment rate increased to 25 percent in 2013 from 20 percent in 1994. A balanced view therefore would likely be that it should be one of a bouquet of policy interventions aimed at accelerating poverty reduction on the continent. To one’s mind, however, the focus should be on good governance. It is the foundation that all policy interventions must build on if they are to succeed.

A dimension to this debate that is not enjoying, as much attention is the possibility that perhaps there has been more economic growth inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) than the data suggests. Perhaps, it is not only the GDP data that hitherto weren’t reflective of the actual size of some SSA economies. Poverty statistics may very well be inaccurate on the upside as well. Of course, more could be done to accelerate poverty alleviation. But if the data doesn’t reflect more accurately the true state of affairs, some winning strategies may be unknowingly jettisoned as a result. Thus, as mundane as it may seem, getting the data right is a crucial step towards increasing economic and financial inclusion on the sub-continent. The IMF/World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been working with some of SSA’s statistical bodies to improve the accuracy and promptness of data coming out of the sub-continent.

A case in point is Nigeria (a discussion on Africa inevitably leads back to its largest and most intriguing economy). According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 72.3% of the country’s households buy mobile phone recharge cards every month. The only other non-food items that enjoyed such a priority in household expenditure were kerosene (72.7%) and soap & washing powder (90.9%). With more than 50% of Nigeria’s populationreported to be below the poverty line, it begs the question of where more than 70% of its households find the money to buy that much recharge cards or even find it in their budgets to purchase them in the first place. Much more revealing is how much they spend.

The mean expenditure on phone recharge cards by more than 70% (about the same percentage of its population supposedly living below the poverty line) of Nigeria’s households is 20,874 Nigerian Naira (140 US dollars). Isn’t the much-touted poverty line 1.25 US dollars a day and thus 37.5 US dollars a month? So if we summed up those non-food items that more than 70% of the country’s households spend money on (soap & washing powder, kerosene, and recharge cards), one gets a sense of the typical expenditure of the average Nigerian. The NBS reports monthly mean expenditure of Nigeria’s households on those items as follows: kerosene (6,660 naira (US$44)), soap & washing powder (5,510 naira (US$37)), and as earlier highlighted, US$140 on recharge cards. Thus, Nigerians spend more than 200 US dollars (US$221) on non-food items every month. That is approximately 6 times the poverty line. And one is not aware that they’ve gone hungry as a result.

A consumables, services (or in fact aspirational goods) multinational company thus looking to invest in the country (or sub-continent) before the above data was available would have come to the most erroneous decision that there was not enough consumer spending power to warrant a major capital allocation. This is why some of the international corporates already invested on the sub-continent do their own consumer research; earning bountiful profits as a result of course. And who in their right minds would make it widely known that there was such bountiful harvest to be had in what one widely read magazine once dubbed “the hopeless continent”. Well, the cat is out of the bag as they say. The world now knows of the opportunities that abound in Africa. The narratives (or questions) therefore these days about SSA opportunities are not so much if? But where? When? How long? Is it sustainable? How do I manage risks? So if the world is genuinely determined to reduce inequality and increase economic and financial inclusion on the continent, simple! Invest more. Increased investment in the various sectors of the continent’s economies is definitely one way to increase the inclusivity of its continuing high growth.

A point to note, however, is how the Africa’s economic evolution has been counterintuitive. Typically an economy should evolve from a primary extractive industry base to manufacturing & construction (secondary industry) and eventually services (tertiary industry). In Africa, the extractive industry remains dominant. In countries where some progress has been made, it has largely been in the services sector (with relatively fewer jobs created). The development of a manufacturing-led economy thus remains a continuing struggle for most countries on the continent. It is a significant factor in one’s view for why SSA’s high growth has not been as inclusive as it could (or should) be. So, another measure to addressing the inclusion question is for African governments and their partners to implement policies aimed at building a strong industrial base. The one policy area that has the most potential of achieving this would be a disproportionate focus on ramping up the continent’s power production capacity. No amount of investments in the continent’s power sector is too much. Of course, it needs to be pointed out that it is the labour-intensive type of manufacturing that is pertinent for Africa at this time.

 

Africans have a romantic view of the Chinese; it is not mutual. #afdbam2014, #AfricaRising, #Africa (Author: Rafiq Raji; published 20 May 2014)

We had been kept waiting from more than an hour (that is conservative by the way). The date is 16th of June 2012. It had been a very tiring and long journey. This young and curious African’s excitement knew no bounds. When you dream of traveling the world, China is usually a long shot. So, the fatigue of the journey paled in comparison to one’s joy at finally being provided with the opportunity to experience and learn about one of the world’s oldest civilizations. So, I look around me; we are seated in a waiting area in the Immigration section of the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. I had wondered hours earlier why the immigration official told me to step aside after going through my documents. I had no doubt they were as perfect as they could be. So looking around me, I noticed a common factor. We were all African. In my head, I’m trying to look for another reason why we’d be accorded such “privilege”. My fears would be confirmed after what seemed like eternity. Each one of us was called forward, told to stand in front of a wall, and our picture was taken. Our national passports had pictures surely. And as I recall, there was a visa application process that required you providing more pictures. I would later find out that the Chinese found it necessary to take those pictures because apparently it could be sometimes difficult for their officials to distinguish African faces. I would also find out that some Africans had impersonated fellow Africans in the past to enter the country. Note the emphasis on Africans. It is not likely a mug shot would have been forced on a Briton or American of African descent. It is also likely the Chinese decided on this method for its cost advantages. The raison d’etre for their action is not unique. When you arrive at the Dubai International Airport, the immigration authorities demand a compulsory eye-scan for citizens of certain countries. Let’s just say, I had the road to myself on the way to my hotel. My fellow Emirates Airline passengers were probably long engaged in the activities of nature by the time I finally made it to my hotel.

None of that was going to spoil my party, however. Once I was settled in Shanghai, I couldn’t wait to see The Bund. Incidentally, it was a walking distance from our hotel. The other major attraction for me was the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong. As nice as Shanghai was, however, I couldn’t wait to get to Beijing. I was going to climb The Great Wall of China no matter what. So yes, after a week, off to Beijing at last. I made sure to visit the sites featured in the film, “The Last Emperor”. On the morning after my arrival in Beijing, my first point of call was The Forbidden City. Words cannot describe the sheer scale of that edifice. Of course, you couldn’t get there without passing through Tiananmen Square. And the crowds. I was like a drop of black ink on a white cloth, a familiar place to say the least. We kept walking from one gate to another. It reached a point when you simply wanted to ask, how many more gates? One thing I did observe was that the names of the gates were written in Arabic. Muslims are mostly in the Xinjiang Province, so I’m not quite sure how that came about. I’m sure there are answers to be found in history. Another addition to a long to-do list, I guess.

The Badaling Great Wall is an hour’s drive from Beijing. Of course, the tour operators make it worth your while by organizing educational stops along the way; museums mostly. There is a legend I’m told about those who climb the Great Wall to the very top. I gather you are supposed to live a very long life if you achieve the feat. There is a lift to the top if you can wait in what seems a never-ending queue. I climbed the Great Wall with some bravado. I managed to convince myself I’d be able to make it to the top. Well, I didn’t. After my knees began wobbling, I finally allowed reason to prevail after reaching midway up the Wall, got a friendly Chinese to take a picture and started on my way back down. The return trip wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. There were no steps for the greater length of the Wall. The moral of the legend certainly became writ large. If you could climb the wall, if you had the stamina to climb it to the top, then it is likely you had it in you to meander through the ups and downs of life. It was thus reasonable to expect that you’d live long! We’ll know in the fullness of time, I guess. Back in Beijing the same day, I finally got to rest my knees on one of the benches in the surroundings of the Summer Palace. On my way there, while still trying to get a cab, I was accosted by a Chinese woman who said she was a student and wanted to practice speaking English with me (most Chinese you meet on the street assume a seemingly self-assured black is American or British). Let’s just say, I politely declined. It was the wise thing to do. I had no doubt in my mind the entire trip was documented by the Chinese authorities. Being black and some would say tall, it was hard to be missed. What was my overall impression of the trip? Great! It is one thing to learn about a place in a book or movie, it is quite another to visit. The experience of the latter was worth all the trouble.

“The Chinese are our friends”. Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia is telling Zeinab Badawi of the BBC in April 2014. Africans have a romantic view of the Chinese. In Lagos, Johannesburg and other major African cities, you’ll find posh Chinese restaurants. We love Chinese food (I was hard-pressed to find similar restaurants in China itself!). That esteemed view is not misplaced, however. A civilization that has lasted that long should be admired, copied even. Most African leaders go to China as special guests. They are treated with pomp and pageantry. Whether as students or guests of the government, they returned to their home countries from China, with a favourable view. This is not by accident. The Chinese are some of the shrewdest people in the world. Without experience and knowledge, you do not stand a chance at a negotiating table with the Chinese, however. Africans have been lazy in their relationship with the Chinese. A country of very hardworking people, China is prevailing today because from the very beginning, it understood the singular objective of politics, whether international or local, is to achieve superiority. At the very foundation of this, is first the recognition that no one is responsible for guarding your interests but yourself. Africans cannot expect the Chinese to look out for their interests. In fact, it would be disrespectful for them to do so. So while the Chinese may be accused of neo-colonialism in their relationship with Africa, it needs to be pointed out that all of the hitherto skewed deals with them were not made by force. It was not done under the barrel of a gun. Africa willy-nilly signed away its resources for what seemed like good deals on the face of it, but were really very sub-optimal for the continent. It is the value-chain, stupid! The value chain!

In spite of all these, the Chinese have demonstrated greater will to help lift Africa up than most of our other so-called international “partners”. China-Africa trade reached USD210.2bn in 2013 from just USD10.6bn in 2000. In addition to increased foreign direct investment (USD2.5bn in 2012), it has been sponsoring the setting up of Special Economic Zones in various African countries, a model it used to spur foreign investments at a similar stage of its own economic evolution. China has been investing more in other parts of the world, however. Its USD2.5bn Africa direct investment in 2012 just constituted 4% of its total outward foreign direct investment. What is one’s point? No matter how hard the Chinese try to help us (if you take it their African venture is not self-interested, which it is), Africa would only be lifted up by African capital, African labour, and African innovation! There is no other way. Our friends can only help nudge us on the way. They cannot, however, take us to our destination. They are farther ahead on the road we are all travelling. On infrastructure alone, Africa needs more than USD75bn a year to address its deficit. That is more than twice the USD30bn capital of various kinds the Chinese plan to avail the continent in 2013-15. African financial and multilateral institutions have to start thinking hard about how to intermediate the continent’s own capital for its own development. That is the only way.

 

Who is an African Writer? #ALAconf2014 (Author: Rafiq Raji; published 11 April 2014) 

Those curious about Africa (and indeed any country, continent or culture) look to its literary writers and their works to get some grasp, however ephemeral, of its cultural mosaic. “Contemporary” – if we mean it to be writings by young African authors as opposed to fictional depictions of relatively recent times – Sierra Leonean literature makes writ large the continuing debate about who qualifies as an African writer; especially as it relates to the increasing literary stature of Aminatta Forna.

Mohamed Kamara (Washington &Lee University) in his reading of the works of Aminatta Forna and Yema Lucilda Hunter titled “Constructing a Nation and it’s Memory: Reinventing Sierra Leone’s Past in the Works of Aminatta Forna and Yema Lucilda Hunter” highlights how a nostalgic and determined Aminatta tries to discover the truth about her father’s hanging (a government minister) in 1960s Sierra Leone while inevitably providing a glimpse of that period in Sierra Leone’s history and nationhood. Relying on her journalistic experience, she provides an investigative, unemotional and arguably distant (a recurring theme) memoir that doubles as a reconstruction of memories lost (or perhaps vanishing) about Sierra Leone’s turbulent history. “The Devil that danced on the Water” relies on both written and oral history to document, albeit intentioned as a personal memoir, a period in “Salone” (local parlance for Sierra Leone) nationhood that is becoming increasingly contentious on account of lost historical documents during Sierra Leone’s hitherto long running civil war(s).

However, Eustace Palmer (Georgia College & State University), another Sierra Leonean, points out some historical inaccuracies in Aminatta Forna’s “The Memory of Love.” His presentation titled “Defining the Sierra Leonean Writer: The case of Aminatta Forna” highlights the particular instance (amongst others) of her depiction of mass excitement about the American landing of a man on the moon as an exaggeration. Palmer recollects muted excitement (and perhaps some ambivalence) in Sierra Leone – being as he was resident in Salone at the time – about that great American scientific feat (not that there wasn’t an appreciation of the epoch). Palmer therefore wonders whether Forna’s distant (and sometimes inaccurate historical assertions) but highly regarded fictional depictions of Salone life qualifies her as a Sierra Leonean (and African) writer just because she was born to an indigenous father.

In her commentary, Joyce Dixon-Fyle (Depauw University) argues Forna’s increasing acclaim cannot be removed from her position of privilege. Western-trained, born of a Scottish mother, married to a European and working (residing) in western citadels of literary excellence, Forna’s vantage position gives her significant access to the Western literary intelligentsia and arguably contributes to her acclaim amongst western literary critics. However, there was a consensus (with Dixon-Fyle’s concurrence) on the very high quality of her work. Aminatta Forna writes excellently well.

So, who is an African writer? Arthur Onipede Hollist (University of Tampa) wondered if Palmer’s drift towards a definition that requires birth and a minimum formative existence (that extends to advanced education and some working life) may not be too restrictive; especially since most of Africa’s writers reside, work and teach outside of the continent. What about the non-African but very excellent and highly-regarded Writers of African literature? Would such a definition not exclude these significant contributors? Dixon-Fyle nonetheless thinks there is an indigenous flavour that inevitably eludes the well-researched “African” literary work by a non-African (including persons born to African parents but without any meaningful formative experiences in Africa). The definition of the African Writer remains an open question therefore and a very important one.

Note: 

“Ruins, Remainders, Residues: Sierra Leonean Literature and the (De)Formation of Archives”

40th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association
”Texts, Modes and Repertoires of Living in and Beyond the Shadows of Apartheid”
Venue: Wits Professional Hub, Room 314, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Time: 15:30-17:00 (18:00) Thursday, 10 April 2014

 

Africa is not yet ready for free trade. #EUAfrica Summit (Author: Rafiq Raji; published 2 April 2014)

A lot has been written on why the EU’s open regionalism is really another scramble for Africa. It is curious that none of the stated objectives of the Cotonou Agreement mentions explicitly how the EU would provide assistance to help resolve the supply-side constraints that Africa faces. Especially as it helped former Soviet countries in this regard. These constraints (rules of origin, sanitory and phyto-sanitary standards, poor transport, lack of access to telecommunication infrastructure, low labour productivity, lack of economies of scale, absence of functioning capital markets) make it premature for full trade liberalization in Africa. African countries were and still remain largely unable to benefit from free trade and would probably remain so for a while. The EU and Africa are unequal partners. That is a fact. However, what is heartbreaking is how much African leaders underestimate the amount of leverage they have (and in fact, some are complicit in the distorted arrangement). The EU, albeit a superior negotiating party, needs Africa. It needs Africa’s markets for its goods and services. But it seems some African leaders just find EU aid (and market access for some) so irresistible. Of course, there have been suggestions in the literature that some of them were essentially “persuaded” to accede to EPAs. The literature is awash with examples of the devastating consequences of EU and US dumping on numerous African economies. So, there is no point stressing that angle of the argument.

Although the Cotonou Agreement is a marked improvement from the Lome and Yaounde Conventions {exports to the EU from African, Carribean and Pacific Countries (ACP) actually declined from c. 7% to c. 3% during the period (1978-2002) of the Lome Conventions (1975-2000)}, it is a sub-optimal deal for Africa. The stated objectives (poverty reduction, institutionalisation of democratic principles, respect for the rule of law and human rights, good governance, peace building, conflict prevention and regional integration) are all very well. They, however, pale in comparison to what Africa really needs: Industrialization. African countries need to move up the value chain of industries where their resources are major inputs. Job creation is what would accelerate poverty reduction in Africa. By one’s reckoning, labour-intensive manufacturing offers the best chance of achieving this; at least for now. Not cash transfers or dividend payments like some very admirable and well-intentioned economists at the World Bank/IMF are considering.

Historically, countries that have succeeded in achieving industrialization have tended not to abide by the stated objectives of the Cotonou Agreement; at least during the early stages of their evolution. These countries had commonalities of either war, strong single-party or monarchical/military rulership during the early stages of their industrial evolution. There are a few exceptions, of course. Also, it turns out the African countries that have made some (albeit very little) effort at pushing for more value addition of their resources before exports turn out to be longstanding rulers. The irony is that although they likely made these policy moves for political gain, they were able to do it (in spite of the potential backlash from developed nations) largely because they were African big men.

Truth be said, it is not the responsibility of the EU, US or other developed countries to watch out for the interests of African countries. Leaders of African countries must be butts of jokes in Paris, Brussels, London, and Washington when they visit these capitals with all the pomp and ceremony walking with puffed up pride just to show how independent they really are. Well, if you are really independent, don’t ask me not to negotiate to maximize my interests. I mean, it’s silly. It must be said, however, that there are lots of people in these capitals who are genuinely eager and desirous to see Africa develop. They wear their frustrations on the grey hair that some have developed through decades of hard work fighting and campaigning on African issues. Progress has been slow.

If the EU really wants to help Africa, it should make tangible commitments towards helping these countries resolve the supply constraints that hold them back from enjoying the benefits of free trade. That is an irrational request, however. It is foolhardy to expect the EU to diminish the advantage it has. Trade with Africa may not be attractive otherwise. The task thus falls on African leaders. The beginning of the solution lies not with boycotts and posturing; but to protect selected industries and insist on minimum value addition to minerals and other natural resources before exports. If a country has crude oil, it should insist that the MNOCs build refineries (Uganda’s policy in this regard is exemplary). If you produce copper; well there are many uses for copper. How about producing some of the finished goods in situ. The list is endless; iron-ore, coffee, diamonds, gold, cocoa, etc. But of course, these policies should be backed by resolving the logistics nightmare (and numerous other issues) on the continent.

Thus, as African and EU leaders start their two-day trade summit today in Brussels, let our big men and women bear at the back of their minds that it is not too late to re-negotiate. The solution does not require any complicated legalese. It is simple. Import liberalisation for African countries (as early as 2015) is premature. African countries should protect selected markets and ensure that trade and FDI revolves around value-addition. The postponement of the signing of EPAs by some African regional blocs (and the outright refusal of some African countries to accede to one) should be used as an opportunity to revisit some of the terms in the Cotonou Agreement. Every and any Agreement, no matter how strong or binding, can be renegotiated. African countries should see this Summit as an opportunity to start the process of reviewing the EPAs and in fact every facet of the EU-Africa economic arrangement. If none of the EPAs are signed and no African (or ACP) country makes any unilateral arrangement, the EU would have no choice but to re-negotiate. African (or ACP) leaders have more leverage than they realise. They should use it!

I go to Africa when I want to see some lions! (Author: Rafiq Raji; published 8 March 2014)

Kuala Lumpur, 5th November 2011

I’m waiting at the airport for my Dubai-bound flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when I remember the remark by a senior WASP at a training course I had been attending for the previous six weeks. He was one of the senior investment bankers come to give us a talk about how to succeed in today’s global workplace. So naturally, he’d ask about the backgrounds of the eager beavers in front him: Americans, Asians, Europeans, and yes, Africans! Upon introducing yourself, he made some quip about his experience in the part of the world you are from. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been to much of Africa. “I go to Africa when I want to see some lions!” Smile now, African boy; c’mon smile! That bit about smiling is a dialogue I’m having with myself. Surely, I wasn’t about to let the immaculately-dressed gentleman see my chagrin. To him, that was what quickly came to mind about Africa. Lions! Not people, not opportunities, not even poverty; Lions! A glass half empty interpretation; Africa is all bush where animals live. So, I’ll go there when I want to relax and see animals. I’ll leave the productive stuff for when I get back to Hong Kong or Singapore. This piece on my ruminations on that fateful day in Kuala Lumpur is not going to be a diatribe about that gentleman and his jaundiced view of Africa. Afterall, global media is quick to look for poverty-stricken parts of our major cities. It is unbelievably difficult to find a report on an African city that is complimentary. They have to show a slum, the poverty, as if that were exclusive to Africa. As if when they visit, those are the areas they stay in. You only need to stay a while in the lobbies of the 5-star hotels in African capital cities. You’d see them: the numerous NGO and media types basking in the African sunshine and enjoying choice wines, going about in chauffeur-driven SUVs and you’d wonder why won’t they highlight these part of their trips that they look forward to. No, instead they make the unlikely trip to the slum areas (which actually requires some effort) and present that to the world.

I don’t know that I’ve even happened on a lion before and I lived most of my adult life in West Africa (the lions are in the south I think). So, I’m on the streets of London three years later trying to determine the thought process of that individual some hundred or so years ago, another WASP. This WASP is thinking about his upcoming journey to Africa, a savage land by his reckoning. They go about bare naked in some places, he thinks aloud to himself. Lord Lugard and those of his ilk must have pondered at their misfortune; Africa of all places. What about China, India, Burma? Why should they send me to Africa of all places? I’ve closed for the day and walking to the Moorgate tube station. And as I look at all those white faces, I think to myself: these are not bad people, they are just human beings. I tell myself; do you think the black man would have been able to secure his emancipation without the sweat and blood of white people? The smile of the WASP (also immaculately groomed) who gave up his seat on the tube for the pregnant black lady on the tube comes to mind. Then I remember the unpleasant remarks of that belligerent head-shaved white youth who thought my disapproval of his dog groveling on everyone in the tube was inappropriate. The fact is there will always be tensions between human beings. If it is not race, it would be tribe, class, lineage, education, networks; the list is endless. After all, white people are not responsible for the Rwandan genocide and the numerous inter-tribal conflicts in Africa.

So, what now for this young African? Well, I have my sunglasses on this morning. I tell myself the sun would come up today. The sun will shine bright today. So, I’m going to need my sunglasses to protect me from the glare of the sun even though I still think its winter (I’ve been seeing some people leaving a few buttons open and I’m thinking; very brave, very brave indeed). I tell myself I’ll remain optimistic about the innate kindness of the human spirit. I tell myself I’m the master of my fate. I tell myself I shall prevail. Look at President Obama. I still remember to this day when back in my Politics class at Lagos Business School during my MBA studies, the teacher (very prominent Nigerian political commentator these days) thought the increasingly strong showing of the then presidential candidate was just one of those fools’ parade. It wasn’t an inconsiderate remark. There had been such dreamers in the past. Candidate Obama had a daunting task. He knew like every educated black person does that there would be resistance from all quarters; black, white, conservatives, you name it! He had to; because his heroes certainly didn’t have it easy. I’m reminded about Hilary Clinton’s remarks about the Candidate when she was still vying for the democratic nomination. President Obama prevailed because he didn’t get angry I tell myself. Or maybe he did. Maybe he hid his anger. Maybe he converted his anger like Mandela did. A law professor, he certainly didn’t achieve that height by not keeping his emotions in check. But this is a digression. The venerable investment banker said he goes to Africa when he wants to see some lions. Some lions! Well, at least he got that right. He should go to Africa and lions he shall see! Countries and peoples rising up each day, some as early as 3am in the hope that this day they shall not lack. Today, my children shall feed. My children! They shall wear well-pressed clothes. They shall go to school and become doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, bankers! My children! They shall make me proud. They are lions!

So, I’m on the streets of London again. This time, I’ve alighted the train (the DLR! Talk about that daily commute another day). What is it about Africa? What is holding us back? I’m now at the front door of my flat; quickly change my clothes eager for the view of the River Thames. Seated, coffee mug in hand, I look over the horizon and my mind goes back to Admiralty Way in the highbrow Lekki area of Lagos. Just before I left for London in July 2013, the government of that dynamic city had just finished commissioning a suspension bridge linking two of the most affluent areas of the city: Lekki and Ikoyi. I’m taking a walk up the bridge (the bridge is like a parabola) for the first time, a broad smile on my face. I just couldn’t hide my excitement and great pleasure as I set foot on that bridge. I looked across and saw another compatriot touching the railings of the bridge smiling. He looked over and saw me, another stranger similarly pleased. We didn’t exchange pleasantries. We understood each other quite well. I imagine he thought like I did; this type of infrastructure is not exclusive to Europe or America. This is Nigeria and I’m walking on a “tear rubber” (local parlance for brand new) suspension bridge. This is my country and this was done. Maybe there is hope then. Maybe my leaders shall someday put the people first. Maybe my children shall live in a country the envy of others; including those WASPs who come to Africa smiling but thinking in their heads (bloody stupid Africans!). Just maybe, The Economist would have cause to eat its words about the dark continent. A dark continent! Some nerve. What dream did that writer have to take such a swipe at a people? What hubris made him think to call a billion people hopeless? Who gave him the right to be judge and jury to a people’s future? The supposed balance in the body is no matter. History largely remembers the front cover! But then reality sets in, our fate (largely sorry thus far) has been shaped not by our colonisers but by ourselves. Slavery had willing collaborators among the black rulership in Africa. Brothers snaring each other to enslavement camps to be put aboard America & Europe-bound slave ships. And you see some blacks go about as if our fate is to be forever shaped by that dark part of our history. The black man forgets that Europeans were once savages too. The black man forgets that sometimes you need hubris. The black man forgets that the height of his ambitions is first determined by how much worth he places on himself. What, you see black women burning their hair and skin to look white; wearing hair removed from the heads of Asians, South Americans; and you think to yourself: why wouldn’t they denigrate you? Why wouldn’t they say to your face (these days they whistle): bloody African! I’m writing this as I wait for the clock to hit 12 noon for a scheduled conference call on my beloved country. And I sigh to myself: Oh Africa!

 

 

 

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