Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mr. Africa Challenges Us to Think Economics

There is someone that I would like to tell you about. His name is Mr. Ogo Sow, he hails originally from Senegal and to his tens of thousands of radio listeners from New York City and across the globe he is affectionately known as Mr. Africa. He is a special advisor and consultant to the Africa Travel Association and was also a special invitee to the African Union's 9th Assembly of African Heads of State in Accra, Ghana. He has many achievements, among them being an African television pioneer, a producer, and a publisher whose work has touched millions radio, but I look up to him for because for many years he has enlightened Western audiences on the untold other side if Africa; while inspiring African expatriates abroad to look back and do something for the distant land that they once called home. Something else that I admire in Mr. Sow is how balanced he is with showcasing the entire continent of Africa, not just Senegal or just that of those who speak his mother tongue-Fulani (in this regard he is kind of like someone else that I admire who is known as African Liz). Recently, he has taken me to the task of participating in some of the round-table discussions that he organizes relating to the African continent. His latest discussion interests me very much and was inspired by a speech made by French President Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy. The question that Mr. Sow or Mr. Africa asks is in light of President Sarkozy's comments made about the African continent, what can Africa do to become economically free. My response is below.

This is a great discussion Mr. Ogo Sow, AKA Mr. Africa, thanks for inviting me. I have also invited others by adding them (in the bcc field )to this message, so that if they would like to participate, they can just jump in. In this instance, I am inviting anyone reading this piece...

Lets look at a statement made by former Mali President and current Chairman of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Mr. Alpha Oumar Konare, "This speech was not the kind of break we were hoping for". So why was AU Chairman Mr. Konare upset? What was he expecting to hear from the French President Mr. Sarkozy? Well let's look at the statement that the French President made for a possible answer.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says about Africa should face up to its own problems he says, "Do you want to end the arbitrary corruption, violence? That money is invested instead of being embezzled. Do you want the rule of law?" Ok, in and of itself, what he is saying makes sense. However, maybe Mr. Konare felt that for a French President to say it was a bit hypocritical. Right now if we were to count the Western Sahara as a country, Africa has 54 countries. Throughout the last 15 years the continent, at any given time, the continent has almost consistently seen six out of her 54 nations in serious trouble. If you look at some of the nations which have had large scale conflicts over the last fifteen years, how many of these nations are in Francophone Africa? Let's try to find the last fifteen years the following African nations have had serious issues or conflicts affecting them-Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Chad, Guinea-Conakry, Central African Republic, Burundi, Algeria, Liberia, Sierre Leone, Angola, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea. Eight out of these fourteen countries share heavy French influence as a commonality. Now this is may not be by design, but it is difficult to ignore this trend. So if the French President says that France will be an unwavering friend, then it seems that accompanying that friendship would be a public policy toward Africa should somehow address this issue, rather than sweep it underneath the rug. However, this did not seem to be the case, judging from the tone of Mr. Sarkozy's speech and French public policy. Maybe this is why Mr. Konare was unhappy.

Me personally, I would like to say that in spite of major problems affecting a small group of countries on the continent, since the 1990's amazing things have been happening across different regions of the continent. Very notably many of these achievements have been in entrepreneurship and governance. This to me signals that Africa has already started to take her future into her own hands. This is probably what Mr. Konare expected the French President to say. That is where I agree with Mr. Konare. However, where I have disagreed with him was on his stance, while serving in the capacity of AU Chairman, towards Zimbabwe. I'll just summarize it by saying that his approach to the crisis befalling the nation of Zimbabwe seems to be very "hands off". This would almost underscore at least part of what France's president mentions. However, dwelling here on the particulars of the speech, appears to be a distraction.

The question of how to bring about economic freedom to Africa is multifaceted. Therefore, the answer should also have several layers.

The following are some of the items that I believe African nations could focus on to begin controlling their own economic destinies:

  • Continuing to embrace and empower entrepreneurs
  • Focusing on service oriented export industries
  • Strong governance
  • Continual investment in infrastructure
  • More intra-continental trade
  • Making education more accessible to economically disadvantaged children
  • The continent re-claiming her own public relations and image, so that the tragedies affecting six countries don't need to dissuade investors from investing in the other 48 nations
  • Finding ways to include the informal market sectors within growth strategies
  • Eliminating the barriers for women in business
I would like to add to this list something along the lines of either the African Union or Africa's regional bodies prioritizing or fast tracking conflict resolution and crisis management/prevention for member nations facing crisis. Then there was the corruption and nepotism, arising partly as a response to overly centralized governments, that Mr. Gavin Chait referenced in his response to this round table.

"I continue to believe that Africa's greatest problem is an over-reliance on central government. For as long as government and aid constitute the bulk of an economy there is no market beyond patronage, no entrepreneurial class, and no respect for ability instead of "connections"

I am not sure how to stop this but have seen Nigeria and Kenya trying to tackle it by closing leaks and adding more transparency measures, but it hasn't been an easy battle. Mainly, what I wanted to mention is this idea that instead of just focusing on the law enforcement and punishment, that reducing the opportunities to participate in corruption presents a more balanced approach and therefore might be more easily attainable for nations fighting corruption.

Of course this is all easier said than done, but the fact that a number of nations have already begun making efforts to tackle one or more of these issues, some with moderate to concrete success is very positive, I believe. To me that list of nations would include-Senegal, Ghana, Liberia, Tunisia, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Namibia, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Benin, Zambia, Ethiopia, Seychelles, the Canary Islands, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Malawi, Madagascar, Libya, Sao Tome, and Egypt (side note: I have been re-reading Africa Unchained and am aware that though some of the nations mentioned above have made small steps, many of them would not make Prof. Ayittey's cut, again they are listed because they have taken one or more of the measures listed above).

Finally, tax collection and fiscal spending. I guess these could have also been included within the good governance category but they are so heavily weighted in this equation that I felt they deserved a specific mention. Tax collection is the one area where many of Africa's nations face difficulty. 1) because the combined informal and traditional sectors are often larger than the formal sector and taxes there are very much noncollectable 2.) tax collection is loosely enforced in the formal sectors. Loose tax collection is probably the easier of the two points within this tax collection piece to tackle, because only good leadership and management are needed to improve tax collections on registered activities. Again, this is one of the reasons that I think that the emphasis on the informal sector should be so thorough. Of course, it also points to the importance of strong governance and leadership. With strong tax collections, governments may undertake stronger educational policies or do more to enable a sound and efficient business environment; which in turn result in better local economies.

Again, I know that nothing is as easy as it may sound, but this was just my way of participating in the discussion.

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook



africa search