How COVID-19 is likely to slow down a decade of youth development in Africa

How COVID-19 is likely to slow down a decade of youth development in Africa

Unemployed Liberian young men seeking daily jobs at the industrial district of Bushrod Island, Monrovia, Liberia. EFE-EPA/Ahmed Jallanzo

Wim Naudé, University College Cork

Until COVID-19 hit, the quality of life of youth (age 15-24) in sub-Saharan Africa had been steadily improving. According to the World Bank, by 2019 the youth literacy rate stood at 73%. Gross secondary school enrolment rates increased from 13 % in 1971 to 43 % by 2018. Youth unemployment rates have remained fairly stable, at around 9%, even below the world average of 13.6%.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty among young workers declined from 60% in 1999 to 42% in 2019. Moreover, the youth literacy gender parity index, measuring the ratio of females to males ages 15-24 who can both read and write, has improved significantly, reaching 93% in 2019. And for this first time, the unemployment rate of young women are similar to that of young men (9.4%).

As an economist interested in entrepreneurship and technological innovation, I recently contributed to UN’s 2020 World Youth Report. In particular, chapter 4 of the report concerns how the youth can leverage new digital technologies for social entrepreneurship to advance sustainable development. Though written before the COVID-19 pandemic, the message may have become even more urgent. This, because COVID-19 may slow down or even reverse the positive trends in youth development noted.

There are fears that the pandemic will result in a lockdown generation, characterised by structurally higher youth poverty and unemployment.

Lockdowns, by slowing down the spread of the disease, generate benefits that “accrue disproportionately to older households”. But, the costs of reduced economic activity are disproportionately born by younger households. They bear the “brunt of lower employment”.

Reinforcing inequalities

Younger people, especially young women, are more intensively employed in sectors such as hospitality and entertainment. About 80% of youth jobs in sub-Saharan Africa are in the informal sector. These sectors – hospitality, entertainment and informal – have been among the worst affected.

Lockdowns also interrupt schooling and education. In one calculation, this could generate global future “learning losses with a present value of $10 trillion”.

The closure of schools will reinforce social and economic inequalities and exclusion. Youth from more well-off households may be less affected, for instance in having access to private internet and laptops.

While these impacts are troubling everywhere, in Africa they are magnified due to the high rate (21%) of youths who were already not in employment, education or training before the pandemic struck. The 8th sustainable development goal requires of all countries that, by 2020, they substantially reduce this rate.

Given the complications introduced by the pandemic, how can this development goal be best achieved?

Youth entrepreneurship

With formal employment growth sluggish at the best, countries are pinning their hopes on entrepreneurship. But, entrepreneurship support policy remains a notoriously complex topic. This is especially true when it comes to young people.

Younger entrepreneurs are on average more likely to fail, and older entrepreneurs’ firms on average perform better. This is often due to market failures. Banks do not have information about the quality of younger entrepreneurs (who often lack collateral). In education, meanwhile, the market will under-supply in the absence of subsidies.

Where these market failures are prevalent, the youth may fail to obtain finance for their ventures or accumulate enough skills. Supporting youth entrepreneurship would, therefore, require not policies to focus exclusively on entrepreneurship per se, but to fix market failures elsewhere in the system.

The benefits of catalysing youth entrepreneurship could be huge in Africa. With the world’s youngest population at a time of unprecedented innovations in digital technologies across the world, the African continent has a unique opportunity. It has two key advantages: digital savvy and a willingness to take risks.

Young people may have a comparative advantage in adopting and using new digital technologies. Moreover, many African countries have not only leapfrogged in the adoption of mobile communication tech, but have been experiencing an upsurge in tech entrepreneurship.

There is a deep underlying entrepreneurial reservoir in Africa. As much as 80% of youth labour market participation is in household enterprises or as self-employed activities; only 20% in standard wage employment.

Digital entrepreneurial ecosystems

Youthfulness itself should not be a serious liability for entrepreneurship anymore.

Given the scarcity of resources on the continent, turning potential into reality and best addressing the market failures mentioned will require countries to prioritise investment in, and regulation of, their digital entrepreneurial ecosystems.

It will require redoubling efforts to expand access to new digital technology and infrastructure, including the data needed on which to build new products and services. It will also require investing in information and communications technology skills – fixing market failures in provision of public goods and education.

Increasing digital absorption in this way will pay good dividends. As I argued in chapter 4 of the UN’s 2020 World Youth Report: consider for instance, that countries that do better to absorb digital technologies also tend to have a lower share of youths not in employment, education or training.

The direction of causality between digital adoption and utilisation of the youth is likely bi-directional. Better adoption of digital technologies is likely to engage the youth in either learning, education or employment. Better engagement of the youth is likely to lead to faster adoption of digital technologies – propelling a virtuous cycle.

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to halt a decade of progress in youth development in Africa, at a minimum a three-pronged approach is now urgent. This entails bridging the digital divide; investing more in youth education in information and communications technology and science, engineering and mathematics fields. It also requires building digital entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Wim Naudé, Professor of Economics, University College Cork

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Which African leaders will truly emulate the achievements of John Pombe Magufuli?

Presidents John Pombe Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania, 1959 – 2021.

Since his passing, quite a lot has been said about the life and works of Tanzania’s recently deceased president. And by most fair and sincere accounts, John Magufuli did have a tangible, measurable, commendable and signficant impact on Tanzania, taking the country along an admirable trajectory from a low income country up to the point Tanzania is now firmly considered to be a middle income country.

And most Tanzanians loved him for it.

And yet across Africa, although such success stories inspire millions and should in theory be common – they don’t happen very often, owing to a long list of failures, among them poor and uninspired leadership.

But if John Magufuli – who it must be said didn’t come from some grand or otherwise priviledged background that gave him special advantages – can achieve what he did in as short a space of time as 6 years, why can’t other African leaders do the same?

Power & Status

It is no secret that many leaders in Africa are drawn to political leadership for other reasons. They are not overly concerned about the problems their countries face, or the poverty and hardship. The overriding intention is not so much to provide good and transformative leadership in the way Magufuli did, instead a worrying number of African leaders are more bothered about power and status, leaving a leadership void in those countries, and consequently affecting the scale and pace of development.

These are the people who like to attend heads of state meetings of SADC, UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc. complete with stays in pricey hotels; they like to have smarmy business executives of dodgy companies attend state house to meet them – because it can be spun into an investment story; they love to be seen on the front covers of newspapers, to be interviewed by the likes of Al Jazeera, CNN or France 24 – making all sorts of grandiose promises, which years later, can’t be backed by any tangible achievements; they love to have the doors of their Mercedes Benz limousines opened by well dressed, neatly-shaven and altogether reverent bodyguards – who make them appear more important than they actually are; they like to attend every insignificant function that comes along, where they can be seen to be doing something or to please supporters – even when the impact of such functions on a national level is negligible and a single junior minister could have been dispatched to it. Increasing the salaries of top military officials or the trip to the UN General Assembly means more to such leaders than funding the education and welfare of poor kids in their countries’ ghettos; they like to see a band of protocol-obsessive allowance-seeking hand-clapping minions nod approvingly at everything they say, flanking them at press conferences, worshipping them on social media, inflating the sizes of their convoys, and generally putting out a false and deceptive apperance of competence and authority. For these kind of leaders, a picture taken with Barack Obama at the White House or with Bill Clinton or Richard Branson at some international conference means more than actually getting down to the hard work of resolving the youth unemployment crises in their own countries. They will talk endlessly of courting investors and trying to attract investment at these high level international gatherings, but years on – absolutely nothing comes out of it.

That love of glamour and status is more about pomp (the same english word where pomposity comes from) and let’s be absolutely clear when we say it is not leadership, and is exactly the kind of excess leaders like John Magafuli, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and even Julius Nyerere would despise.

Centralisation

It doesn’t matter how talented, knowledgeable and practical you think you are, you can’t adequately cater to the needs of millions of people on your own. Even if everyone within your cabinet was churning out tons of raw productivity, even if everyone in the ministries was ontop of their work, even if all government departments were working with superhuman efficiency and at 100% capacity, it’s still not enough to adequately cater for everyone’s needs from good healthcare and housing to employment and skills development, if things remain centralised.

Centralisation is a progress killer in African countries because everyone expects the president, the minister, the technocrats, the guy at the top to sort out everything for everybody. But the guy at the top doesn’t have superhuman powers to do justice to all the needs and requirements of the people he/ she leads or is supposed to represent. And his/ her priorities often are not the same as the priorities of the people in need.

If the impact of our Governments across the African continent is to be revolutionised, if we are to achieve more tangible things in less time, we need to begin to think beyond one man or woman being the person who authorises and pushes through some project or another to completion.

We need to democratise development to the point where we openly and unreservedly bring into the equation those people (or groups) whose lives are affected by governance failings, or under-service that’s not been prioritised, and empower them to be able to make a real difference in their circumstances, be it allowing them to organise themselves, to raise money, buy equipment, or build the infrastructure they need etc. without having to constantly seek authorisation from the central government.

In Malawi it means projects like the Neno road, a new international airport in Mzuzu, the new hospital promised to Michinji, and the Kapiri-Mkanda road among a long list of project promises should be treated as urgent infrastructure projects, and should be escalated, and a stringent implementation schedule set.

District officers and communities involved should be tasked with a new implementation schedule, provided funding that’s closely monitored, and subjected to regular monthly audits to strictly enforce the implementation schedule. They should also be free to solicit their own funding to add to that effort, and any failures, unexplained mishaps or delays should have serious consequences for all involved. That is the kind of thing John Magufuli would be proud of, and we’ve all seen the videos of his similar hard-hitting approach.

The way we fund, monitor and roll out major projects, and the implementation timelines need to be changed fundamentally, for projects to start being executed timely, and for them to be completed on budget.

Party allegiance vs allegiance to the country & the constitution

President Chakwera in Malawis Parliament

One of the qualities which is common in transformative leaders is that they are not afraid of stating the truth and offending powerful people.

In some cases this can be a negative quality and can lead to a leader’s downfall, but in most cases it is a good and necessary quality to have because a great leader needs to have a strong spine. He or she needs to be able to say No, when the situation calls for it. This is important since not everyone who will try and approach or influence an African President (however dignified the title of the influencer is, or however laundered the reputation of their organisation may appear) does so from a good or sincere place. Simply put, not everyone who talks to an African President has noble intentions.

Unfortunately there are so many examples of African leaders capitulating or giving into bad ideas, bad or exploitative deals when pressured, when they should infact have stood their ground firmly and said No.

Now here, I’m not talking about issues like COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines which scientifically have near global consensus on how to manage and deal with, in order to stem the spread of the pandemic.

What I mean is if a leader knows or has been made aware of the toxic influence or otherwise corrupt nature of say one or more of his own ministers or officials; he / she must act, and crack hard to decisively rectify that anomally. Even if individuals in his / her own party thinks the scandal should be ignored.

Similarly, a great leader who wants the best for his people should not allow his country to be heavily indebted to other countries or to international institutions. And if they find the debt when they get into office, they need to aggressively devise as a matter of urgency a workable, practical and stringent plan of managing and paying off the debt.

Old thinking vs 21st Century thinking

Employees at WhatsApp HQ

This fundamentally is about new wine and old wineskins.

The world is not what it was 40 or 50 years ago. While a Nelson Mandela, or a Kamuzu Banda, or a Jomo Kenyatta, or a Robert Mugabe were great and necessary needs for Africa 40 or 50 years ago, our countries at this moment have fundamentally changed and have very different needs and wants to the needs of the 60’s and 70’s; the kind of needs which cannot fully be tackled by using approaches or methods devised by African heavyweights dinosaurs.

That’s not to downplay the achievements of these great men, or to ignore the many rich lessons enshrined in their lives. Not at all. But having said that, many of them weren’t able to deal with everything properly. For example many such great leaders didn’t manage to eradicate poverty in their lifetimes, so even back then their successes had limitations.

A modern thatched house outside Lilongwe, Malawi.

Instead, our countries in Africa need leaders who understand the dynamics of the 21 Century; who ask questions such as:

what 20 practical things can we do to maximize the chances of the next WhatsApp being founded in our country?

The Africa of today needs young and dynamic leaders with vision who will pioneer projects for better connectivity, cheaper and affordable modern housing, attractive & inspired infrastructure, and well connected networks of affordable public transportation (modern trams, trains and road networks). Our countries in Africa need cheaper logistical costs for importation of desirable foreign goods, cheaper logistical costs for ease of export of the country’s processed goods without making them too expensive on international markets, State owned and run multi-billion dollar projects that will not only create thousands of jobs, but will bring forex – several of the kinds of things which we are now beginning to discover Tanzania was working towards. The list is rather long.

You can’t do that kind of thing effectively if you are still thinking of how to maintain a well-equipped secret police, or if your focus is just on winning the next election. You can’t do that if your parastatals and large public companies aren’t run by anyone under the age of 35, or when you don’t have enough women in leadership roles in such companies…

Birmingham City Library

It’s the difference between on one hand promising to build a stadium (whose long term impact on a poor country is debatable), and on the other hand working to build high quality modern libraries in each district and to bring free high speed internet to poor citizens and their children – most of whom can’t afford the often high data costs charged by private companies currently operating in African countries.

Continuing the spirit of Magafuli will require a fundamental shift in the way governance has been done in Africa for a long time. It will require true selflessness beyond party, tribal or national lines. It will mean breaking against party, regional and historic allegiances and doing what is best for everyone, not just the biggest or most powerful side. It will mean negotiating hard for the interests of the people, and not being intimidated by foreign powers or external pressure on matters of national or regional importance.

Magafulism has raised the bar extremely high for African leadership, and was well overdue. For now it remains to be seen just how many current African leaders will truly rise up to the challenge?

This is the main reason Malawi wants to be friends with Somaliland

Somaliland’s Parliament Building

If you were presented with a picture of the rather unassuming building of Somaliland’s Parliament for the very first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place was in fact the site of Prakash Patel’s Tandoori Curry Bazaar in downtown Limbe.

Yes, looks are not everything, but the building is reminiscent of a glorified third-rate Bengali restaurant in a dusty part of town than the bonafide parliament building that it actually is. It looks more like one of those places where families go to after a sweaty day in Church, for Sunday dinner – complete with Biryanis, Chicken Kormas and Lamb Vindaloos.

So, what on earth is Malawi looking for in Somaliland?

Shouldn’t we instead be cosying up to the Singapores and South Koreas of this world? The glitzy success stories whose ‘breadcrumbs’ can catapult our tiny economy into the 21st century….no?

I mean, if we are serious about implementing a tried and tested formula of economic development which other countries have been using to develop their economies for decades then surely an official trip to New Delhi or Jakarta sounds more like it?

There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to the real reasons why Malawi is interested in Somaliland, and I won’t tire you by rehearsing those reasons here.

The adminstration of Somaliland has put out what to me sounds like regurgitated diplomat-speak.  A cut-and-paste statement that is too generic to be meaningful or taken seriously. The government of Malawi too hasn’t provided a convincing reason for its interest in Somaliland. In any case if the issue was truly about Somaliland seeking support from Malawi for it’s national recognition on the world stage, then surely it should have been officials from Somaliland visiting Malawi, and not the other way round. As the Chichewa proverb goes, phiri siliyendera nyani koma nyani ndi amene amayendera phiri (A mountain doesn’t follow the monkey, it’s the monkey that follows the mountain)

What’s surprised me from the commentary about the visit in Malawian publications is to see almost no one pick out the most probable reason why Eisenhower Mkaka (Malawi’s Foreign Minister) visited Hargeisa – the capital city of Somaliland, which I’m quite sure most Malawians hadn’t previously heard of before Mkaka’s visit.

I think the real reason Lazarus Chakwera’s government is looking to befriend Somaliland is to do with Oil. Yes, it’s all about Petroleum. Why this is the most likely reason is because in recent years, there’s been quite a lot of talk about investment into Somaliland. Only last year, the London headquartered Genel Energy announced it had increased his stake in the SL10B13 block in Somaliland to 100% , after acquiring a 25% state that had been previously held by East African Resources Group. That block alone is said to comprise several interests each containing at least 200 million barrels of crude oil, with some analysts estimating that there’s at least 1 Billion barrels of oil underneath that one block. That means Somaliland as a whole could have significant petroleum reserves, possibly of the size comparable to those found in several of the neighbouring countries.

And that’s a big deal.

Further, when friends are hard to come by as has been the experience of Somaliland (which is still regarded as an autonomous region within Somalia, and hasn’t been officially recognised by any country) any sort of trade can make a significant difference. As other marginalized states (including sanction-laden states such as Venezuela & Iran) will tell you, any takers of your output including oil in circumstances where other countries are afraid of the consequences of trading with you can be a lifesaver.

In addition, Somaliland in 2016 signed a 30 year contract with the United Arab Emirates’s DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, to manage and expand its Berbera Port. Last year, a US$400 million road project connecting Ethiopias border town of Togochale to Berbera was launched, a route which some analysts say will be an alternative transit point for imports and exports out of Ethiopia. There’s been several other significant and notable investments…

But if the oil quantities are as significant as some think, its only a matter of time before a refinery is constructed. Already in the south Ethiopia is looking at building it’s first oil refinery. This follows the shelving of a Blackstone Group LP-backed fuel pipeline project 2 years ago. Thus, given the frosty nature of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s not inconceivable for Petroleum from Somaliland being refined in Ethiopia in the near future, before being sent back to be shipped from Berbera to destinations across the world.

Malawi needs oil at as cheap a price as can be found. Thus if you can sign contracts with ‘friends’ who are relatively new to the oil game to sell you oil at ‘friendly prices’ (as opposed to Market rates) in exchange for support regarding the friend’s sovereignty, then theoretically everyone stands to benefit. Malawi gets its relatively cheap oil at prices it can afford without having to deal with the baggage of the likes of Nigeria, Somaliland gets some Forex, and a measure of the international recognition it very much craves, there’s a boost to intra-African trade. Everyone’s a winner!

Why does South Africa like to needlessly invite the anger of other Africans upon itself?

Listen to this article here.

If you were to allegorize all of the largely self-inflicted scandals in which the South African state has been embroiled in since 1994, into one being, you’d be forgiven for arriving bang on bullseye at a spoiled child brat; one who despite plenty of warmth & affection bestowed upon them, doesn’t fully appreciate the sacrifices others made (and continue to make) on their behalf.

And here I’m not referring to the antics of Msholozi (Nkandla, Guptagate, to name just two), nor the other character failings like that time Jacob Zuma absurdly claimed that having a shower protected him from H.I.V; or that dizzyingly ridiculous episode when Thabo Mbeki, an intellectual among Presidents (not just African Presidents), falsely believed that HIV treatments could be poisonous, so withheld proven, life-saving anti-retrovirals (ARVs) from those in need; a lot of H.I.V stories I know, but stories nevertheless that caused real embarrassment to Africans the world over.

No, I’m not talking about all that. I’m also not referring to the embarrassing disasters, like that time during Mandela’s memorial, when the A.N.C clumsily solicited the services of a fake sign language interpreter who was, “signing rubbish” (according to many deaf people who watched the live broadcast) next to international dignitaries – the likes of Barack Obama.

What I’m referring to instead is the vexatious and totally unreasonable behaviour of some people within South Africa who do or say things that no one sensible can ever put a finger on, but which have far reaching consequences, not least tarnishing everything that’s good about brand Africa.

Like that time when the Zulu King Zwelithini sparked xenophobic violence (some say the correct term is “afrophobic”) against immigrants living and working in South Africa, leading to the death of at least seven people ; Or last year’s attacks that killed at least 12 people, and forced the South African government to issue an apology to Nigeria & Ghana. Cyril Ramaphosa even apologised for the violence at Mugabe’s funeral, a pacifying act that turned boos to cheers…as if the special envoys sent to the countries whose citizens were mostly affected by the xenophobic violence – Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the DRC, to mend relations weren’t a sufficient enough diplomatic gesture. I’m talking about the brawls that keep breaking out in South Africa’s parliament (there was at least one in 2017, and another in 2018) . Then there was that almighty near-miss in 2015, when the whole world watched in horror as Oscar Pistorius nearly … nearly escaped justice.

That’s even before we get to the uncomfortable topics – like the drink-driving and associated high motor vehicle accident rates in the country, the gender violence, in particular the killing of women; violent crackdowns like the Marikana Massacre, the huge societal inequalities… the list is rather long.

And so, when just over a week ago it was revealed that some military officials at Waterkloof Air Force Base had crafted a situation that forced President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi to delay his departure from South Africa for 7 hours, over an outrageous suspicion (involving one ‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri and his wife skipping bail), that shouldn’t have been levelled in the first place, Malawians across the world got really angry.

Here, I must declare an interest. Being a Malawian national, this fiasco was particularly insulting for quite a number of reasons. I must also state that for reasons that will become clearer below, I fully support the statement released by Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, a few days after the fiasco.

Firstly, whatever the transgressions of Shepherd Bushiri and his wife – and yes they must face justice in a fair trial if compelling evidence of wrongdoing exists, it was extremely stupid of whoever decided to delay the plane’s departure, to drag President Lazarus Chakwera into that hoo-hah. That action alone speaks volumes of South African authorities; the foolishness of those who became suspicious and thought that the Malawian President would stoop so low as to help a wanted person / fugitive escape justice knows no bounds. They’re a liability to South Africa, and the proper functioning of South Africa’s institutions.

Secondly, when it is the case that a leader like former Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir, who had an ICC arrest warrant hanging over his head for genocide in Darfur, visited South Africa in 2018, and pranced around the country unchallenged without so much as a cotton thread tweezered off his garment, how dare South Africa’s police go as far as search president Chakwera’s plane…!? How disparaging is such rabid behaviour!?? Incredible… simply astonishing. What happened to diplomacy?

Now, I understand that South Africa’s police is not a perfect institution. I mean, the country recently fired its Deputy Police Commissioner, because of corruption. Yup, the second chap in command of the police was involved in a corruption saga, and was showed the exit door. So I understand that there is a bit of a quality/ standards problem there. But just because you have nincompoops in your crime fighting forces doesn’t mean that you should transpose the apparent lack of integrity that afflicts some of your institutions onto other countries. Let’s be absolutely clear, we’re not all crooks, and assuming so is extremely ignorant.

Thirdly, I very much doubt that the Hawks would have done exactly the same thing had another leader, say Vladimir Putin, or Angela Merkel been the visiting dignitary instead of Chakwera. And that’s a big problem in South Africa’s national psyche. Imagine that the Bushiri-type saga involved a German or Russian fugitive. It’s almost unimaginable that South Africa’s police would have marched the German or Russian entourage out of the plane, back to the airport concourse, passport in hand, for these so called “security checks”. They definitely wouldn’t have searched their plane, gone through their luggage, and dehumanised the officials of another sovereign state. No chance. You know why, because of all the reasons that anyone with half a brain can think of, it is extremely unprofessional to do so. But doing it to Malawi’s president reveals the kind of attitudes those officials hold towards fellow Africans.

Which begs the question: why do some South African officials seem totally incapable of freeing themselves from from a propensity of generating dishonour? From a tendency of ‘crafting’ high drama?

As an outsider, this erratic and at times self-sabotaging behaviour coming out from the rainbow nation is not only perplexing but extremely annoying. More so because South Africa happens to have the word “Africa” in the country’s name, but at times they behave as though they aren’t even African. And if some foreigners look at all the unhinged behaviour, no wonder some of them disrespect the rest of us (“Shithole country” etc). That sort of behaviour gives Africa a bad name.

Mind you, this is the second largest economy in Africa, this is the land that produced greats not only of the stature of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, but also the likes of Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, Albert Lithuli, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Trevor Noah…and Elon Musk, internationally recognized personalities the world over who command a lot of respect, for some to the point of a cult following. You really really want to stand back and ask: Where has the excellence gone, what the hell is wrong with these people?

If this all sounds somewhat remote to you, let me try a different angle: If you are an African, do you get pangs of embarrassment or slight discomfort, when someone who is not African, anyone who is not African, during conversation veers into that troublesome topic of … the stereotypical but nevertheless real phenomenon of the Nigerian scammer? That cringey feeling! Like, oh here we go again.

Some apologists say South Africa is a young democracy still in its infancy. That despite the relative economic development, the country is still but a babe learning from it’s mistakes. That with time, things will be ok. As optimistic and soothing to the ear as that may sound, I’m not sure I buy the argument entirely. Unlike countries like South Sudan – which have also had a tumultous and violent history as South Africa has had, but whose national polity arose from a tiny city-state province, South Africans gained their freedom at a point when institutions within their country had already been established and were already arguably strong; with some of the leading Universities in Africa, sprawling cities, a sound legal system and a mature financial system. Thus, the mere addtion of democracy (i.e. majority rule) to that equation ought not to, ordinarily, lead to too much dysfunction. So something else is going on.

Other sympathisers say South Africa is still trying to catch up; that the country is still in transition. The proponents of this argument say that while other African countries have had decades-long headstarts to properly educate their peoples (without discrimination), and many more years to cement their various versions of Pan-Africanism, Black South Africans couldn’t get the kind of quality education necessary for the rebuilding of a stable, functional and fair society for a very long time. And so, the dysfunction and blunders associated with the post-Apartheid South African state are just a natural if not inevitable consequence of that deficiency; what in Chichewa we would call “Chimizi” for lack of a better term. Similarly, the Afrophobia is but a dredge of the hatred that was once thrown at black south Africans by Apartheid. But even this explanation is not entirely convincing.

I think some South Africans just don’t want to learn. I also think too many South Africans don’t know as much of their country’s history and the role other African countries played in securing South Africa’s freedom, as they should; that there is this lazy, ignorant, drunken almost schizophrenic tendency in some people in South Africa to always blame others for their own failures or misfortune.

You see it the way some South Africans hate Zimbabweans” a friend told me recently. “Instead of getting up and actually working as hard as the Zimbabweans who they like to blame, they find it much easier to just hate and blame them”

Another friend said South Africa’s problem is its misplaced sense of superiority:

Too many people in South Africa have this high-mindedness that they are better than other Africans. And that creates a problem especially when the people you’re looking down on happen to be the very same people who helped you gain your freedom

STEPPING DOWN TO STEP UP: WHY MALAWI SHOULD FOLLOW IN MADAGASCAR AND CABO VERDE’S FOOTSTEPS


A RECENT REPORT BY THE INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES (ISS) ARGUES THAT MADAGASCAR AND CABO VERDE HAVE EVENED OUT THE ELECTORAL PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS BY LEGISLATING THE STEPPING DOWN OF AN INCUMBENT PRESIDENT PRIOR TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.

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These two cases are singled out as they are anomalies in Africa’s political landscape, which is marred by what the ISS’s report has termed ‘Incumbency Abuse’.
In Malawi; no elected president had ever lost a re-election, since the nation became a democracy in 1993; until this year when Peter Muntharika lost to opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera. Often, incumbents have won by a meagre percentage (38.57% in 2019, 36.4% in 2014) not representing the choice of the majority of the eligible voters.

While the First-Past-The-Post electoral system partly explains this, a large reason for these candidates being re-elected as opposed to an opposition candidate winning the election is the incumbency advantage their position gives them to garner resources for political campaigning.
The report highlights that mandating presidents seeking re-election to step down before going to the polls removes an acting president’s access to state resources for political campaign uses.

In 2015, Malawi’s then deputy Mayor for Mzuzu City, Frazer Chunga, was cited in an article by The Times Group saying his official car had been grabbed by the regional committee for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which former President Peter Muntharika heads, for campaigning use.

Such abuses would be easily mitigated by legislating the mandatory stepping down of a president seeking re-election prior to elections. Additionally, this would put all candidates on par, with the exception of an incumbent being able to show what developmental goals (if any) have been achieved nationally during their tenure.
Furthermore, the ISS finds that instituting a mandatory stepping aside of an acting president would assist in “addressing negative perceptions of voter manipulation and vote-rigging which have contributed to post-electoral violence and political instability on the continent [of Africa].”

This is of high relevance to Malawi as the country has gone to the polls for the second time in two years on the 23rd of June 2020.

Since Muntharika was announced re-elected in May 2019, Malawi had experienced a year of public demonstrations let by CSOs including the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), who claimed that the last elections were rigged and highly manipulated by the incumbent. Thousands of citizens joined the HRDC in support of the protests, culminating in the Constitutional Court nullifying the 2019 poll in favour of fresh elections.

Thus, the stepping down of a president to avoid even the perception of tampering with the electoral process would go a long way in promoting post-electoral peace and stability and insuring that issues of malpractice are resolved independently.
The report however, does state that the stepping down of a president before an election, is not a fool-proof mechanism to mitigating the problem of incumbency abuse. Presidents are still able to control systems, making them work in their favor though not being in power. This being said, systems can always be improved, checked, and completely rewritten. As such, while being a concern, it does not negate the call for presidents to set aside their presidential duties until post-elections.
In a nutshell, with rising impunity and incumbency abuse in the African continent, the recommendation of the ISS for other African countries to follow the examples of Madagascar and Cabo Verde should be seriously considered by policy-makers if Africa is to truly work towards free and fair elections for all.

And while Malawi has broken the cycle of an incumbent president never losing, the ushering in of the new regime should not be viewed as the solution to all incumbency abuse. Let us see if when the time comes, Chakwera will be able to step down, to step up.

Should Malawi’s next Government have a Code of Conduct for Political Advisers?

lady holding a card with words Code of Conduct written on it

I’m reviewing the code of conduct of special advisers to the UK government.

It’s an interesting read which lists in quite some detail a lot regarding the role, status and transparency with which special advisers to the UK government should operate. It also talks about how contact with the media should be handled, and how involvement of politics in a private capacity can be undertaken.

As a form of background, Special Advisers in the UK are classed as temporary civil servants in the different legislatures of the countries that make up the UK, and are thus exempt from being appointed based on merit. However, that doesn’t make them exempt from accountability or scrutiny over their actions.

So you might ask what does that have to do with Malawi? Well, since Malawi has seen quite a fair share of controversy and other drama involving political aides, presidential advisers and even a president’s bodyguard, considering an election is just around the corner it seems topical to venture into this topic at this time.

Anyhow, among the stipulations of the Code of Conduct are that Special Advisers may:

  • give assistance on any aspect of departmental business, and give advice (including expert advice as a specialist in a particular field);
  • undertake long term policy thinking and contribute to policy planning within the Department;
  • write speeches and undertake related research, including adding party political content to material prepared by permanent civil servants;
  • liaise with the Party, briefing party representatives and parliamentarians on issues of government policy;
  • represent the views of their Minister to the media (including a party viewpoint), where they have been authorised by the Minister to do so; and
  • liaise with outside interest groups (including those with a political allegiance)

In working with Civil Servants, Special Advisers can

  • convey to officials Ministers’ views, instructions and priorities, including on issues of presentation. .
  • request officials to prepare and provide information and data, including internal analyses and papers;
  • hold meetings with officials to discuss the advice being put to Ministers; and
  • review and comment on –but not suppress or supplant –advice being prepared for Ministers by civil servants.

It’s important to note that when undertaking their duties, Special Advisers are not doing so in their own capacities, but on behalf of their minister / the government.

However, Special Advisers may not:

  • ask civil servants to do anything which is inconsistent with their obligations under the Civil Service Code or behave in a way which would be inconsistent with standards set by their employing department;
  • authorise expenditure of public funds or have responsibility for budgets;
  • exercise any power in relation to the management of any part of the Civil Service,except in relation to another special adviser;or
  • otherwise exercise any statutory or prerogative power.

All important and necessary stuff . Necessary because when it is broken, there are usually consequences. Obviously, the UK’s troubles are not like the problems we face in Malawi. In fact you might say their problems are rather tame, than some of the allegations special advisers have been accused of in Malawi. And that’s why the part of public funds is in bold.

The Code of Conduct goes onto say that:

Special advisers are able to give direction to such civil servants in relation to their day-to-day work for them, and their views should be sought as an input to performance appraisals on the basis that these are written by other civil servants. However,special advisers should not be involved in the line management of civil servants in matters affecting a civil servant’s career such as recruitment, promotion, reward and discipline, or have access to personnel files of civil servants.

It also says the following:

Special advisers are bound by the standards of integrity and honesty required of all civil servants as set out in the Civil Service Code.

Special advisers should not disclose official information which has been communicated in confidence in government or received in confidence from others. The Preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life.

Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy,through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets. They must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department

Special advisers are required to declare details of gifts and hospitality received in accordance with the rules set out in their departmental staff handbooks. Departments will publish,on a quarterly basis, information about gifts and hospitality received by their departmental special advisers and details of special advisers’ meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, editors and senior executives.

It goes on and on.

Now, given the perilous history of political advisers and presidential aides in Malawi, and what we know of how such people have behaved, especially in terms of amassing unexplained wealth, or otherwise being caught up or named in one scandal or another, shouldn’t Malawi’s next Government ensure that there is a strong and functional Code of Conduct for Political Advisers?

I think it is of the utmost urgency for Malawi’s next government to have an effective Code of Conduct for Political Advisers. It should be drafted with a view to curbing the corruption that has embroiled Political Advisers in Malawi’s history. The Code of Conduct must be drafted by an independent panel of legal professionals and CSOs, and must be reviewed every 3 years to ensure it is functional and fit for purpose.

Further, and in the interest of curbing corrupt practices, a new supranational body, the National Fraud Agency (NFA) with powers to levy fines, powers to cancel contracts which are not in the best interest of the country, and with powers to impound, detain and forfeit goods, and to go after foreign property of officials or citizens (which is suspected of being bought using the proceeds of corruption) should be established specifically to look at the issue of declaration of assets, to scrutinise government spending, tender awards and contracts, and to prevent extortionate prices being charged for goods supplied to the Malawi government. The NFA can work with the Anti-corruption Bureau, but it has to be independent of the ACB, and parliament and PAC should establish a framework that decides how the NFA’s powers are to be exercised. This is important to make sure that the theft of public resources that has occured in the past in one guise or another, perpetrated by public officials including ministers, should be firmly put to an end.

Thus, such a Code of Conduct together with an NFA would encourage transparency and accountability, and would establish a high standard of ethics in Malawi’s politics. It would also ensure that if wrong-doing occurs, a course of action that swiftly and resolutely rectifies the situation can be implemented. It means unscrupulous officials can be cut off from the business of government sooner than later, and cannot run away abroad with the proceeds of corruption. It means every political adviser would know in black and white exactly the type of dutiful conduct which is expected of them.

Why African Governments should Strongly Condemn the Xenophobic attacks against Africans in China

The last couple of days have brought depressing headlines that show Africans living in China being persecuted, in some instances at the hands of the police, as a new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hits parts of the country.

This is unfortunate news because China seems to have been trying to build economic partnerships with several African countries based on mutual respect and a win-win cooperation.

There’s also an irony here because not too long ago, Chinese nationals and other Asians were complaining of suffering physical attacks and hate speech amid xenophobic calls by some political pundits in several countries for Asian migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Indeed the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus trended on twitter a few weeks ago.

Thus, at a time when there has been calls against calling the Coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’, or the ‘Chinese virus’ as some have been doing, with people across the world standing in solidarity with Asians who were experiencing this hate speech, it’s disheartening to see Chinese people attacking Africans in this demeaning and insensitive manner:

In the weeks since COVID-19 has been circulating, Asian-Americans and Asians around the world have noted a spike in discrimination and xenophobic attacks. Public transit riders have encountered hostile interactions and people simply walking down the street have experienced microaggressions — which I prefer to call veiled aggressions, because there is nothing “micro” about them for the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Marietta Vazquez, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & General Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine; Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last few decades China has worked hard to court African countries by presenting itself as their alternative economic partner in a global competition against western countries. Using loans and infrastructural development assistance promises among other measures, bilateral agreements have been signed and investment into various sectors across African countries has followed.

China even hosts a summit for Africa (called Forum on China–Africa Cooperation) every three years.

Indeed such has been the level of Chinese incursion into Africa that in some places even obscure villages have Chinese communities numbering several hundred people.

Generally, Chinese investment into Africa works as follows: China gives African countries cheap loans (and or buyer’s credit), access to relatively cheap equipment and technology, help in infrastructure development such as building roads, railways, factories, hospitals and stadia, but without the IMF-type conditionalities, and without any paternalistic intervention in the recipient country’s domestic politics. In return African countries give China raw materials (of which minerals remain a significant part) and a growing market where Chinese companies can flog their wares, or offer their services. What is often left unsaid (but is perfectly understood) in these transactions is that African leaders should not criticise China in public.

Thus, with such strategic investment and presence on the African continent, a presence which China is keen to emphasize as not interfering in the internal state affairs of African countries, and which is not colonialist, you’d think the Chinese government would be at least careful about how it handles matters regarding African people.

However, looking at some of the videos coming out of China in recent days, it’s disappointing that the authorities, including the Chinese police seem to be partaking in the actual harassment of citizens of African countries.

And unfortunately, it’s not the first time that foreigners in China have been viewed as a threat to public safety. In 2016, local officials in Beijing ran an awareness campaign cautioning Chinese citizens against dating foreigners, who they said could be spies.

While the police in China may struggle to understand that human rights of all people must be protected, given the repressive nature of the Chinese State, and given China’s well-documented intolerance of freedom of speech, but surely they must know that repression of foreigners is out of bounds.

It’s one thing to be fast and loose with your own citizens, quite another to do it to someone else’s people.

This is why African countries must stand together in being firm against China to explain what exactly is going on. It’s not good enough to merely express “extreme concern”, when your country’s nationals are being attacked and harassed in this way. Not in a world where Africans the world over suffer demeaning insults and discrimination on a daily basis for all manner of things.

Thus, Foreign Offices across the African continent who have knowledge that their citizens have been affected should summon Chinese Ambassadors in their countries to explain what is going on, and why the police are not clamping down on the xenophobic attacks?!? They should also request an explanation of what will be done in terms of restitution to those who have been affected, and within what timeline. This should be handled as a matter of urgency.

Usually China is quick (some will say ‘harsh’) at dealing with civil disobedience and clamping down on unrest. Indeed there are many examples throughout China’s history one can pick from. So why are we not seeing Chinese police officers protecting Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for example?

Further, over the last 40 or so years China has been accused of many things, mainly by politicians and companies in western countries. Among the accusations is the allegation that China is lax on infringement of intellectual property rights by its citizens. But in recent times, the country has been trying hard to clean up this reputation, however unfair the perceptions that remain may be. In particular, there have been promising strides against counterfeiting and strengthening of China’s intellectual property laws, with admirable progress worth shouting about.

But the current xenophobic attacks stand squarely to undermine any such glimmers of hope. China will struggle to win the world’s hearts and minds with such grim headlines. And the criticism is not western media bias as some Chinese officials have been keen to dismiss them as. The stories of residents being kicked out of their apartments are real, and there is video evidence available across social media to prove they occured. They smack of illegality and the trampling of civil liberties in the face of the authorities. Blanket denials will not help China’s cause.

Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic will require a global united front. It will need not only lockdowns, a range of personal hygiene measures, social distancing, respirators, masks, protective personal equipment and a vaccine, among other things. But it will also require firmly and truthfully stamping out the darker impulses of human behaviour when faced with calamity; it will mean clamping down on physical attacks and hate speech against minority communities. And since the overwhelming evidence of the origins of COVID-19 points to Wuhan in China, the Chinese government above everyone else ought to be at the frontline of the effort to protect minorities.

Saulos Chilima & the Devil

There comes a point in a leader’s life when they have a critical choice over an important matter. The decision they make defines them forever.

Saulos Chilima & wife
© AFP. Saulos Klaus Chilima, accompanied by his wife, Mary, waits to be screened at Lilongwe High Court, where judges later annulled the May 2019 election,Lilongwe, Feb. 3, 2020.(Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

There is a little known African proverb which says Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

It’s a metaphor which has been interpreted to mean people can achieve great things as a group rather than as individuals even when faced with danger; its the classic proverb meant to encourage collective action against innumerable or otherwise monumental challenges, even when there is danger (symbolised by the crocodile) and an obstacle or uncertainty of large proportions (i.e. the river).

But the metaphor can also be invoked to mean if someone undertakes an action together with a majority, they are unlikely to face the wrath of the masses (symbolised by the crocodile) sometime down the line since when making the decision, the person didn’t think only about themselves but took the decision (i.e. crossing the river) together with the crowd.

However, the kind of ‘crowd’ (and more generally partners) one chooses to mingle or intertwine themselves with when faced with a challenge matters.

While some crowds can elevate you, and propel you to greater heights far beyond your original standing, other partnerships can pull you down or even destroy you altogether (‘feed you to the crocodiles’). Knowing one from the other can be the difference between survival and catastrophe.

Malawi has recently experienced a monumental and historic moment in its democracy. In a landmark judgement, Saulos Klaus Chilima & Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera v Arthur Peter Mutharika & Electoral Commission, a unanimous bench of the High Court of Malawi sitting as a Constitutional Court nullified the country’s May 2019 elections and ordered that fresh elections be held in 150 days. Malawi is the second African country to nullify a presidential election, after Kenya. The court further held that a proper interpretation of section 80(2) of the Constitution of Malawi requires that presidential candidates garner 50% + 1 votes to be duly elected, effectively striking down the first past the post system for presidential elections.

However, now that the Constitutional Court has clarified the 50% +1 issue, it means it will now be difficult for any political party to win an outright majority in an election. It means parties must enter into alliances to be able to form a government, as is the case in many other countries around the world.

Critically, it also means Saulos Chilima and his United Transformation Movement (UTM) party will most likely become the kingmakers. This gives him a lot of influence because it means whoever he decides to work with will have to offer concessions or policy promises which appease the UTM block, which only has 4 MPs in Malawi’s 193 member Parliament.

There has been speculation that Saulos Chilima is open to working wth the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Peter Mutharika, the same party from which he resigned in 2018. In particular, several sources have told me that senior advisers around Chilima think it is feasible and not preposterous for UTM to get into an Alliance with DPP to contest the upcoming fresh elections, which the Constitutional Court ordered should be held within 150 days of its judgement.

Mind you, this is the same DPP which has been called by some Malawians as “our common enemy”. It is the Same DPP which has presided over numerous corruption cases, over accusations of nepotism and cronyism; a government that tried to intimidate those protesting in the streets and labelled them terrorists, shielding police officers when they committed sexual assault and raped women and girls in Msundwe. The DPP government has abandoned our hospitals in Malawi as people die because of inadequate medical care and lack of medicines while party cronies swim in unexplained wealth, and can afford medical attention abroad; this is the party that said nothing regarding an attempted bribery of the judges presiding over the Constitutional Court case – resulting in an unknown magistrate quashing the warrant of arrest of one of the suspects of the bribery (later the warrant was restored by a High Court Judge).

But most of all, the DPP government has presided over a corrupt, rotten and unprofessional electoral body, the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) which the Constitutional Court revealed conspired with DPP to defraud the people of Malawi, of a free and fair election.

Is that really the kind of party Chilima now wants to associate, let along re-align with?

When Saulos Chilima left DPP, he insinuated many things about his old party’s excesses. Among the things he said were the following words, which many thought pointed to the rot within DPP. In an interview with Reuters News Agency, Chilima said: “I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on”

I have been vice president for the last four years. I’ve had no support within to fight corruption, so the best way is to run for the highest office and then take corruption head-on

So contrast those words with the murmurs that a UTM – DPP alliance is still on the cards, and it’s easy to see why some of his supporters are livid.

Whether he realises it or not, this is the moment when ‘the dark side’ attempts to coerce an upstanding leader who up until now has made more right moves than wrong ones; this is the moment dark forces attempt to seduce someone into lowering their political standards against their better judgement, with potentially catastrophic consequences; a wanton and reckless decision devoid of any wisdom or forethought, one that would destroy their reputation, including any good fortune, high esteem held or respect the public had of them.

Here, a bit of context is necessary in that most of the people around Chilima have never held political office, either as elected representatives, or by being appointed to an official role besides an elected representative. So you’d think some of the advice they give will at best be taken with a pinch of salt.

But Chilima’s predicament is not unique to him or indeed Malawi. Many other leaders throughout history and in literature have been faced with challenging situations of one type or another.

This is the moment narrated in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus no doubt exhausted and hungry from fasting forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, is taken by the devil to a very high mountain and showed all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. The devil says to him in Mathew 4 verse 9: “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” to which Jesus replies: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”

When Geroge W. Bush was president, the unholy cabal of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other hawks convinced the malleable Bush with feeble if not dodgy intelligence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). A decision to go to war led to the deaths of over 300,000 Iraqi civilians, (500,000+ people according to other estimates[Washington Post]) and forever labelled ‘Dubya’ , as he was nicknamed, as the US president who took the US into a phoney war. Not only did the Iraq War completely destroy large parts of Iraq, but it spurred hatred against the US in the region, and directly led to the rise of extremist groups, including that known as ISIS.

This is the moment Nick Clegg, former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats Party made the ultimate political error by allowing the UK’s Conservative Party under David Cameron (with whom the Liberals were in a coalition government, following an election that produced a hung parliament) to overrule his most important policy commitments on University Tuition fees; a mistake so grave it angered his party’s core supporters who punished the Liberal Democrats at the next election (held in 2015); his party’s MPs were fumigated from parliament like rats flushed out of a rat hole. They lost a whopping 49 seats and Clegg resigned as leader!

This is the moment in July 2011 when faced with demonstrations in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Karonga, Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered a crackdown instructing riot police to fire teargas and live bullets in confronting them, leading to the deaths of 18 people. Malawians never forgave Bingu for that one single act.

It is akin to the moment Aung San Suu Kyi, once celebrated internationally as a champion of democracy, ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation in Rakhine state in Burma, and did little to act and protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims, even after a UN fact-finding mission investigated the allegations and found compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

Malawians have been taken for fools for a long time, and their peaceful nature and hopeful trust in strong-men (“abiggie”), abused by politicians of all colours; the kind who make false promises (“I will turn Malawi into Germany“) that can’t possibly be fulfilled.

But if there is one certain thing the recent protests in Lilongwe and across the country have shown, it is that Malawians will no longer be taken for fools. Going forward, no one will take the people of Malawi for granted anymore: Not donors, not foreign election observers, not local political parties, not local party leaders, not chiefs, not foreign investors, not Chinese investors …. NO ONE!

So, whatever Saulos Klaus Chilima decides to do now, whether to listen to the blue imp perched on his left shoulder whispering falsities into his left ear, or whether to heed the red imp on his right shoulder – the tambala wakuda – he can be certain without a shadow of a doubt of one thing: that the Malawian people are watching his every move. And that what he does next will most-definitely be his legacy that will define him forever.

The Eagle in a Storm

The following is a post (and ‘afterthoughts’) from the Facebook Page of Strive Masiyiwa, the Zimbabwean billionaire and  businessman wh is an inspiration to many Africans.

From reading the advice in his post, you have to wonder why many of our leaders in Africa are not thinking or approaching governance and development with such principles/ attitude:-

The Eagle in a storm (Part 2a).
__Changing our “wealth creation model.”

Ever since I started school, my teachers taught me that our country was “rich” because we had many minerals, and we’d recite the list of minerals. By the time I finished secondary school, I not only knew my country was “rich,” but that Africa itself was “rich” because we had so many natural resources.

Even though I didn’t study geology, I could almost tell you where all these precious minerals and other resources were found: oil, diamonds, platinum, gold, copper… in places like Congo, there were names of some things I couldn’t even pronounce.

__Yes, Africa is so rich!!!

As a young student, if I thought about what the global buyers of Africa’s natural resources then did with them, it was only ever a superficial thought. But I soon realized something didn’t add up…

__Sometimes it almost seemed that the “richer” a country, the poorer the people! But how could this be?

“1+1=2”! My primary school teacher drummed it into my head, right?

Then I got to secondary school and one day the teacher came in and said, “You know, there are situations when 1+1 does not always add up to 2.” ?!

“I’m here to talk about mathematics,” the teacher said. “It’s time to put away the arithmetic; this is senior school!”

“Senior school!”

I didn’t end my study of mathematics in secondary school. I also studied it at university where I majored in engineering.

What was it the Apostle Paul said about putting away childish things?!

Let me return to the wealth of our nations: I left university in the early 1980’s. In those days, it was not China that was rising into an economic giant, it was Japan! It was rising and overtaking every European country, until Japan was second only to America… It was so spectacular!

I first met a Japanese person when I was in my twenties and already working, yet I read every single book I could find about their prowess.

“Tell me about the minerals of your country?” I asked my Japanese friend.

“We have no minerals to talk of,” he said emphatically and proudly.

“What do you mean you have no minerals?”

As we talked about the Japanese rise, I was reminded of my lessons in mathematics!

And so I had discovered it was possible for a nation to be “rich” without minerals!

“We buy your minerals as cheaply as we can, and then we turn them into high-value products.”

“You mean you exploit us?”

“That’s not the way we see it. After all, what would you do with them if we didn’t buy them? Do you know what we do with your platinum or your oil?”

Then he added:
# “Our wealth creation model as a nation is not based on raw materials and minerals.”

“WEALTH CREATION MODEL?” What do you mean “WEALTH CREATION MODEL???”

Deeply troubled (even insulted) initially, I knew there was something more to learn if I avoided becoming emotional. The conclusions I reached changed the way I look at wealth, and totally empowered me. It changed my mindset.

The Tentmaker once said that our greatest battle is always in our minds… changing the way see things, particularly if we have held on to a certain perspective for a long time.

I hope it will do the same for you.

***

Afterthought 1. There’s a story told about a young Christian who was praying one day, and he asked God, “Why did you create the Universe?” And in his heart he heard God say to him, “Son, your mind is too small to contain my answer.” He’d ask the question again and again, making the subject of his interest ever smaller: “What about an ant?” Again the Lord answered him, saying, “Your mind is too small to contain my answer.” Finally frustrated, he picked up a peanut. Then (as the story goes) the Lord said to him, “let me give you a list of just 100 applications of the peanut that are yet to come!”

What do you know of the cocoa bean and its uses today? There are billion-dollar industries waiting to be created with the raw materials of your country, that the world doesn’t even know about today.

***

Afterthought 2. If you’re a school teacher, why not ask your students today to draw up lists of all the innovative things that are made from your country’s raw material exports.

__In just this alone, you will have taken the first step to changing our wealth creation model. If they’re in high school, ask them to draw up a list of nations that are very successful and yet do not have natural resources. In this you will change their mindsets about wealth creation.

***

Afterthought 3. If you’re a policymaker, ask yourself what incentives your country has put in place to encourage entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors to develop exciting new products and services, and to invest in industries that use your raw materials? What policies encourage investors to come in and set up industries that rely on those raw materials? What tax breaks will you give me if I set up a manufacturing business that uses the oil, platinum or cocoa of your country?