I recently asked a business acquaintance how long it took to travel by road between DR Congo’s biggest cities, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi given their recent work there. There was a long sigh, a pained look, then a helpless shrug: “It could take a week or two.” DRC is Sub Saharan Africa’s largest country but this seemed remarkable. A Google Maps search tells you the 1,451 miles (2,335 kilometers) between both cities should take 36 hours, but as my contact noted, it’s not quite that straightforward given poor road networks and other challenges. A similar distance from New York to Oklahoma City, (2,373 km) would take 22 hours, says Google.
The DRC conversation came to mind while reading a report the from London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre. It argues that despite years of progressive international trade liberalization and tariff reductions across the continent, the impact has been limited due to the costs of moving goods internally, within African countries and between neighbours.
The first claim is that the high cost of moving goods from/to ports eats into the benefits of better trade terms. Research shows a one-day reduction in inland travel times could lead to a 7% increase in exports or the equivalent of a 1.5% reduction on importing country tariffs. Other research shows a 10% drop in transport costs could increase trade by 25%.
And as is likely the case of DRC, it is estimated that the cost of transporting goods could be up to five times higher (per unit distance), in some sub-Saharan African countries when compared to the US, as indicated by research from 2015. In Ethiopia for example, it is thought to be 3.5 times more while in Nigeria its said to be 5.3 times higher.
Some of the recent infrastructure partnerships and investments, such as those backed by China, give some hope that it will not always be this way. But the report’s authors caution that just building better road and rail networks has not been enough to win meaningful cost reductions. A plethora of challenges include the price of fuel, labor, equipment, unnecessary regulations, bureaucracy and cartels, among others.
Put another way, it’s great if my agribusiness can get its produce to ports in a day rather than a week because of improved transportation however, that is not much use if it still takes two weeks to get through customs and the other “officials” to get my goods out to international buyers.
So while it might be all rage to bash free trade in the age of Trump and, to some extent, Brexit, there’s is still much for African countries to gain from fully opening up. However to achieve that, to paraphrase the old aphorism, charity really must begin at home.
If you slapped me out my sleep and asked me who will save the African continent, I will outrightly answer, the Cheetah.
There are a lot of Africans who are angry at the condition of Africa: a continent that is not poor; a continent that is rich with natural mineral resources. However, the wealth created by this mineral wealth is not used to lift its people out of poverty.
While many people, governments and organizations want to help the people in Africa, they seemingly don’t seem to understand the nuts and bolts; the cause and effect of activities within this continent. And until they do, I suggest that their withdrawing their support is far more helpful to the inhabitants of this continent.
Don’t get me wrong when I suggest that help shouldn’t be given to Africa. Helping Africa is noble, but it has been turned into the fear of the absurd. I equate it to the blind leading the clueless.
There are certain things that we need recognise. We should know that Africa’s begging bowl leaks. Did you know that 40%+ of the wealth created in Africa is not invested back in Africa? It is taken out of Africa; that is what the world bank says. Yet there are people who think we should pour more money, more aid into this leaking bowl.
As at 2007 (more than a decade ago), corruption alone cost Africa more than 148 billion dollars a year. Capital flight out of Africa, more than 80 billion dollars. As for food imports, Africa was spending 20 billion dollars to import food. All these leakages surpass most targeted aid for major donors.
Back in the 1960s, Africa not only fed itself, it also exported food; not anymore. Clearly something went fundamentally wrong. We all agree with this but the most important question to ask is, Which way now Africa?
The answer to this question begins with another question. Who do we want to help in Africa, is it the people or their leaders/ governments?
Between 1960 and 2004, Africa had exactly 204 heads of states. If I asked you to name good leaders, the number wouldn’t reach to 15. This is a mere 0.07%. It tells you that a vast majority of leaders failed their people. If you look at them, these slate of post colonial African leaders are an assortment of military vampire elites, crocodile liberators, Swiss bank socialists & pack revolutionaries. These is a far cry from the traditional leaders that Africans knew for centuries.
Another false premise is that most people trying to help Africans have is, that there is something called ‘The government’ in Africa that cares about its people, serves the interests of the people and represents the will of the people. A Lesotho chief once said, “In Lesotho, we have two problems; Rats and the government.”
What most academics understand is that government does not exist in most African countries instead, we have vampire states which suck blood, life and any sign of economic vitality out of the citizens. Governments are a problem in Africa. We have vampire states instead.
A vampire state is a government which has been hijacked by bandits and crooks. They use the instruments of state power to enrich themselves, their clones and their tribesmen and exclude everyone else. The richest people in Africa are often heads of states, their families and affiliates. Where do they get their money from? By creating mysterious wealth? No! They wrecking it off the butts of their people. This is not wealth creation. It is wealth redistribution.
The third fundamental thing to consider if we are to help the African continent is to know where the African people are. For instance, take any African economy. A typical African economy can be broken down into three sectors: modern sector, Informal sector and the traditional sector.
The modern sector is the abode of the elites. The seat of government. For many African countries, the modern sector is lost and disfunctional. It is the meritorous, fandango of importance that the elite themselves do not even understand. This is the source of all problems in Africa, where the struggles for political power emanate and spill over to the informal and traditional sector claiming innocent lives. Unfortunately, this is where most of the development aid resources currently go to.
The informal and the traditional sector is where you find the majority of Africans. If you want to help the people, you go where these people are. However, that is not what we have done. As a matter of fact, we neglected the informal and traditional sectors. This is where Africa produces its agriculture. Neglecting these is one of the reasons why Africa cannot feed itself. We have to import food. You cannot develop Africa by ignoring the informal and the traditional sectors. And you cannot develop these two sectors without an operational understanding of how these two sectors work.
These two sectors have their own indigenous institutions. First one is the political system. Traditionally, Africans hated tyranny. If you look at our traditional systems, we organized our states in two types: the ethnic societies who believed that the state was necessarily tyrannical and didn’t want anything to do with any centralised authority. These societies include the Ibo of Nigeria, Somalis of Somalia and the Kikuyus of Kenya. They had no Chiefs.
The other ethnic groups which had chiefs made sure they surrounded the chiefs with councils to prevent them from abusing their powers. In the Ashanti Kingdom for instance, the chief could not make any decision without the concurrence of the council of elders. He couldn’t pass any law. And if the chief failed to govern according to the will of the people, he’d be kicked out or the whole village would move away and set up a new unit elsewhere.
Even when you look into ancient African empires, they were all organized under one particular principle; The Confederacy Principle, which is characterised by a cradle of evolution of authority and decentralisation of power. This is the indigenous African political heritage. Now compare this to the systems established by the modern ruling elites. It is a total far cry.
In the economic system, in traditional African system, the means of production is privately owned. It is owned by the extended family. In the West, the basic economic unit is an individual. An American would say, I am because I am and I can damn well do anything I want, anytime. In Africa, an African says, I am because we are. The ‘we’ implies community; or the extended family system. The extended family system pools its resources together, owns farms and decides what to do or produce – not taking orders from their chief. They decide everything for themselves. When they produce their crops, they sell the surplus to market places. When they make a profit, it is theirs to keep not the chief’s to forfeit from them.
In a nutshell, we had a free market system. We had big markets before the colonialists set foot on the continent; Timbuktu, Salaga, Kandu etc. And women dominated them. So the market was not alien to Africa. This was a different form of capitalism. But immediately after independence, all market capitalism became western institutions. And the leaders said Africans are ready for socialism. Ridiculous! And even then, what kind of socialism did they practice? Swiss Bank Socialism, which allows the heads of states and ministers to rip off and plunder Africa’s treasuries for deposit in Switzerland? That is not the kind of systems that Africans had known for centuries.
So what do we do now? We go back to Africa’s indigenous institutions. This is where we’ll charge the cheetahs to go into the informal and the traditional sectors where the real African people are and help grow their initiatives to world class level.
The Cheetah generation is the new breed of Africans who take no nonsense about corruption. They understand what accountability and democracy is. They are not waiting for the government to do things for them. That is the Cheetah generation. And Africa’s salvation lies on the back of these Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs will help us kill the Hippo generation. These are the ruling elites who are stuck in their intellectual patch. Complaining about colonialism and imperialism. They wouldn’t move even one foot. You ask them to reform the economy and they will never do it because they benefit from the rotten status quo.