Global Justice Now

http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/campaigns

Interesting website and community that has worthwhile campaigns worth looking at. I like their call to Activism which goes like this:

‘Global Justice Now is made up of a network of activists and local groups full of people like you who take action in their communities to challenge corporate power and the policies that cause poverty and inequality all over the world.

Whether it’s stopping water privatisation or unfair trade deals, campaigning by our local groups has been central to making sure the interests of ordinary people aren’t trampled by those of corporations.

Global Justice Now groups do creative street campaigning, lobby politicians, get media coverage and organise local events such as film screenings and talks.’

For the avoidance of doubt :

  • There are policies which some governments adopt which cause Poverty and Inequality. Having been born in a third world country, and having moved to Britain, and seen how deprived and disadvantaged people are treated here, having analysed and compared and contrasted… having observed and learned ‘how the world works’ I know this is true.
  • Similarly there are policies that worsen poverty and make escaping the debt trap much harder.
  • There are corporations out there trampling on poor people, and whose chief motive is the generation of as much profit as possible above all else. These are the kind of companies which are happy to have ‘tax arrangements’ in tax heavens hiding hundreds of billions, while the public purse suffers; with the result that poor people, including single parents, the disabled, old people, the unemployed and other disadvantaged groups are subjected to an austerity onslaught that worsens their situations even further. In a week where Britain’s Labour leader has been unfairly criticised by tax-avoiding business moguls, let me get this one point absolutely clear. Most Activists are not in favour of communism, or anarchy or an end to free market capitalism. Thats not what they want. The main contention of most activists is that the current system is not working for the majority, simply because it’s increasing inequality, and has given a license for certain sectors (banking, corporations) to abuse the public trust. With the government acting like a trafficker in the middle, facilitating the abuse. Thus, in my own case, I’d favour RESPONSIBLE CAPITALISM that has humane socialist elements in it. Elements that allow businesses to make money, but that sufficiently protect disadvantaged and poor; that protects the voiceless, and helps them become resourceful. Not the current system which attacks, demonises and victimises innocent people, and which ironically, works so hard to keep them in poverty. In other words why don’t we have a ‘do unto others as you’d like to be done unto’ system.
  • There are certain corporations who in concert with selfish, corrupt and greedy politicians create a toxic combination that leads to death, violence, crime, poverty and much suffering. Again, if in doubt ask any better-informed African.

Global Justice Now must be supported and commended for the hugely important work they are doing.

 

Emotional Manipulators

Only you have the right to decide the course which your life should take. Nobody else, and nothing else should take that right away from you. You may have excuses to claim that your Faith / Religion absolves you of that prerogative, but I doubt any such excuses will take you that far. I also doubt they will improve your life. From my observations, especially of ‘church communities’ in the UK and Malawi, the chances are such excuses will benefit others, an elite few, more than it does you. Just ask anyone with a half a brain what the average income disparities between the ‘shepherds’ and the ‘sheep’ in pentecostal mega churches look like.

Yesterday I had a chat with a friend who has just encountered an emotional manipulator at his workplace in the form of his line manager. It’s come at a time when he’s going through a lot of difficult things in his private life. And although extremely upset, he’s decided not to ignore it, but go through the agonising complaint procedure at his workplace, with the boss of the manager suggesting that they resolve it internally. But my friend has had just about enough of the BS from the sly weasel and is not about to let the manager go unscathed, especially since there have been at least 16 separate incidents which demonstrate the manager’s manipulative and discriminatory behaviour. So, after being given a new line manager, he rang his union representative and they have scheduled a meeting with his bosses in which his grievances will be outlined, in the presence of a union representative. Lucky for him, he even printed emails and recorded conversations.

Now, I’ve encountered emotional manipulators in the past, even lived with one, so I appreciate how exhausting, degrading, difficult and gut-wrenching such experiences can be.

For  those not too familiar with what an emotional manipulator is, the following links could be helpful:

But how does all this relate to Malawi?

Well, it is possible (and I’ve heard accusations pertaining to what I’m about to write) that some of the bad decisions African leaders continue to make, year in year out, stem from manipulation.

Apparently, there are people who have the president’s ear, who manipulate him/ her into making bad or not entirely helpful decisions. Not only  the president, some manipulate ministers, officials and others in positions of power. The culprits, it is said, are rogue public officials, predatory and wealthy business owners, religious leaders, foreign corporations and officials from international lending institutions, who it is alleged, are interested in keeping African countries in a perpetual state of dependency, poverty and helplessness – a state that enables the manipulators –  and their financial backers- to make huge profits from Africa, at the expense of Africans.

On a metaphysical level, and more importantly – at least for me, healthy and functional families are what has a real chance to rectify the problems in Malawi and across Africa. If these families, or rather relationships are disproportionately plagued by dysfunctions such as have been stated in the links above, it will be harder in my view, for African societies as a whole to be functional, and in turn more difficult to effect any meaninful form of economic development.

 

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

Similar

Flipping the Corruption Myth

Flipping the Corruption Myth by Dr Jason Hickel, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and an adviser to /The Rules
– Corruption is by far not the main factor behind persisting poverty in the Global South.  Original article via Al Jazeera here

* * * * * *  * * = * * * * * * * = * * * * * * *

Transparency International recently published their latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), laid out in an eye-catching map of the world with the least corrupt nations coded in happy yellow and the most corrupt nations smeared in stigmatising red. The CPI defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, and draws its data from 12 different institutions including the World Bank, Freedom House, and the World Economic Forum.

When I first saw this map I was struck by the fact that most of the yellow areas happen to be rich Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, whereas red covers almost the entirety of the global South, with countries like South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia daubed especially dark.

This geographical division fits squarely with mainstream views, which see corruption as the scourge of the developing world (cue cliche images of dictators in Africa and bribery in India). But is this storyline accurate?

Many international development organisations hold that persistent poverty in the Global South is caused largely by corruption among local public officials. In 2003 these concerns led to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which asserts that, while corruption exists in all countries, this “evil phenomenon” is “most destructive” in the global South, where it is a “key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.

There’s only one problem with this theory: It’s just not true.

Corruption, superpower style

According to the World Bank, corruption in the form of bribery and theft by government officials, the main target of the UN Convention, costs developing countries between $20bn and $40bn each year. That’s a lot of money. But it’s an extremely small proportion – only about 3 percent – of the total illicit flows that leak out of public coffers. Tax avoidance, on the other hand, accounts for more than $900bn each year, money that multinational corporations steal from developing countries through practices such as trade mispricing.

This enormous outflow of wealth is facilitated by a shadowy financial system that includes tax havens, paper companies, anonymous accounts, and fake foundations, with the City of London at the very heart of it. Over 30 percent of global foreign direct investment is booked through tax havens, which now collectively hide one-sixth of the world’s total private wealth.

This is a massive – indeed, fundamental – cause of poverty in the developing world, yet it does not register in the mainstream definition of corruption, absent from the UN Convention, and rarely, if ever, appears on the agenda of international development organisations.

With the City of London at the centre of the global tax haven web, how does the UK end up with a clean CPI?

The question is all the more baffling given that the city is immune from many of the nation’s democratic laws and free of all parliamentary oversight. As a result of this special status, London has maintained a number of quaint plutocratic traditions. Take its electoral process, for instance: More than 70 percent of the votes cast during council elections are cast not by residents, but by corporations – mostly banks and financial firms. And the bigger the corporation, the more votes they get, with the largest firms getting 79 votes each. This takes US-style corporate personhood to another level.

To be fair, this kind of corruption is not entirely out-of-place in a country where a feudalistic royal family owns 120,000 hectares of the nation’s land and sucks up around £40m ($65.7m) of public funds each year. Then there’s the parliament, where the House of Lords is filled not by-election but by appointment, with 92 seats inherited by aristocratic families, 26 set aside for the leaders of the country’s largest religious sect, and dozens of others divvied up for sale to multi-millionaires.

Corruption in US is only slightly less blatant. Whereas congressional seats are not yet available for outright purchase, the Citizens United vs FEC ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns to ensure that their preferred candidates get elected, a practice justified under the Orwellian banner of “free speech”.

The poverty factor

The UN Convention is correct to say that poverty in developing countries is caused by corruption. But the corruption we ought to be most concerned about has its root in the countries that are coloured yellow on the CPI map, not red.

The tax haven system is not the only culprit. We know that the global financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by systemic corruption among public officials in the US who were intimately tied to the interests of Wall Street firms. In addition to shifting trillions of dollars from public coffers into private pockets through bailouts, the crisis wiped out a huge chunk of the global economy and had a devastating effect on developing countries when demand for exports dried up, causing massive waves of unemployment.

A similar story can be told about the Libor scandal in the UK, when major London banks colluded to rig interest rates so as to suck around $100bn of free money from people even well beyond Britain’s shores. How could either of these scandals be defined as anything but the misuse of public power for private benefit? The global reach of this kind of corruption makes petty bribery and theft in the developing world seem parochial by comparison.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we really want to understand how corruption drives poverty in developing countries, we need to start by looking at the institutions that control the global economy, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the policies that these institutions foisted on the Global South, following the Washington Consensus, caused per capita income growth rates to collapse by almost 50 percent. Economist Robert Pollin has estimated that during this period developing countries lost around $480bn per year in potential GDP. It would be difficult to overstate the human devastation that these numbers represent. Yet Western corporations have benefitted tremendously from this process, gaining access to new markets, cheaper labour and raw materials, and fresh avenues for capital flight.

These international institutions masquerade as mechanisms for public governance, but they are deeply anti-democratic; this is why they can get away with imposing policies that so directly violate public interest. Voting power in the IMF and World Bank is apportioned so that developing countries – the vast majority of the world’s population – together hold less than 50 percent of the vote, while the US Treasury wields de facto veto power. The leaders of these institutions are not elected, but appointed by the US and Europe, with not a few military bosses and Wall Street executives among them.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has publicly denounced these institutions as among the least transparent he has ever encountered. They also suffer from a shocking lack of accountability, as they enjoy special “sovereign immunity” status that protects them against public lawsuit when their policies fail, regardless of how much harm they cause.

Shifting the blame

If these patterns of governance were true of any given nation in the global South, the West would cry corruption. Yet such corruption is normalised in the command centres of the global economy, perpetuating poverty in the developing world while Transparency International directs our attention elsewhere.

Even if we do decide to focus on localised corruption in developing countries, we have to accept that it does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum. Many of history’s most famous dictators – like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Hosni Mubarak – were supported by a steady flow of Western aid. Today, not a few of the world’s most corrupt regimes have been installed or bolstered by the US, among them Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the warlords of Somalia – three of the darkest states on the CPI map.

This raises an interesting question: Which is more corrupt, the petty dictatorship or the superpower that installs it? Unfortunately, the UN Convention conveniently ignores these dynamics, and the CPI map leads us to believe, incorrectly, that each country’s corruption is neatly bounded by national borders.

Corruption is a major driver of poverty, to be sure. But if we are to be serious about tackling this problem, the CPI map will not be much help. The biggest cause of poverty in developing countries is not localised bribery and theft, but the corruption that is endemic to the global governance system, the tax haven network, and the banking sectors of New York and London. It’s time to flip the corruption myth on its head and start demanding transparency where it counts.

Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jasonhickel

Imagine an African continent…” – Kofi Annan

Among the comments underneath the video on YouTube are:

1. “I want to be optimistic but judging from the butt licking seen at a recent Africa Business Forum (held in Dubai), I can assure you the African has a long way to go. It’s about change of mindset. Nobody is interested in HELPING you, they want your RESOURCES stupid! I almost plucked my lashes on hearing Prime Ministers, Ministers and top African leaders trashing each other and worshiping foreign. Over 50+ years after independence, you still cannot put your house in order! African Union my foot!”

2. “I wish this message is played over over in the bedrooms of these insensitive leaders in Africa.”

and

3. “Bless u Papa”

The issue Annan addresses is one that is critical to Africa’s economic development. Africa will not develop if African leaders are squandering African resources. If they are giving away Africa’s riches liberally. It appears like few African leaders ever question whether the contracts they sign with investors are truly in the country’s best interest. Do they ask third-parties for comment, or solicit views from across the country? Is there even a consultation?

Remember my observations here, about ENI which has been given a 70% interest in a Natural Gas finding off the coast of Mozambique? That’s precisely the unwise decisions which Annan refers to. Surely, there is little justification in giving away such a large interest, when Mozambique has more need for such resources which are essential to help it in eradicating poverty. Mozambique could have bought the required equipment and done the appraisal or exploration themselves. In the current global economic crisis, where jobs are scarce, I’m not convinced that anyone would have struggled to find the right talent, with the right experience to do the job to a satisfactory level of competence. In any case, no Mozambican (or African) company is likely to ever be awarded such a large interest in a natural resource in Italy (or indeed in Europe, America, or in Asia).

It’s simply not going to happen, and the Italians would never allow their government such obtuse liberties. Certainly not to the tune of $10 billion.

How then can African leaders justify giving away that much wealth, when their country folk are poor, and when the technology for mapping, finding and extracting Natural gas is somewhat elementary? And readily available. It’s not Space Science, or Nuclear Physics. But even if it were, in the current recession where governments are pushing for cuts throughout the western world, how many Nuclear Physicists or Space scientists, or Geophysical surveyors or Engineers out there are currently out of a job, and would relish such a challenge for less than $150,000 a piece, saving Mozambican government billions? Did the Mozambican government even consider doing the exploration or extraction itself using employed staff?

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a sobering question. Despite the fact that ENI have already sold part of that stake to the Chinese, do you know where the money they get from this deal will go? As in what does a company that makes billions in profits do with an additional $10 billion or more?

Will it be used to build schools or hospitals in Mozambique, some of which unfortunately look like this:

Or would the majority of such funds be used to multiply ENI’s wealth, possibly to issue dividends to ENI’s shareholders in Italy & Europe (or other industrialised and rich countries), where their schools and hospitals look like this:

Where will the majority of this money be invested? In Italy, in Europe? Or  in Africa?

If you showed the contents on this blogpost to any Mozambican, and asked them where in their view those resources are most required, what do you think they will  answer you?

I’d like to know how much (if any) of the actual monetary benefit ENI receives from this interest eventually remains in Mozambique ( for use in development, for Mozambican banks to make investment in foreign markets, etc). Surely if we are to take what Annan seems to clearly allude, Mozambique is the rightful owner of the natural resource. Why then should they receive peanuts from it? Shouldn’t they receive the lions share?

I’m not saying that ENI hasn’t contributed to social programs in Africa, or in other parts of the world, where they have operations,no that’s not what I’m saying. To the contrary ENI has supported social programs, most recently in Libya.

My point is, if European and American companies display wildly unrestrained greed in the form of behavior that suggests that they do infact own African resources, and African politicians are unable, unwilling or pressured from objecting to grossly unfair deals that are ‘discriminatory’ in every meaning of the word, and clearly unfair; and if civil society is unable to force African governments to renegotiate these unfair contracts (ideally before they are signed), how does anyone expect the continent of Africa to ever achieve economic development??When the resources that matter, and could make a huge difference to millions of lives, are given away so easily, moving only from South to North, or only from South to East, or from South to West??

Similar:

1. Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs

2. ‘The Resource Curse’: Why Africa’s Oil Riches Don’t Trickle Down to Africans

3. Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?

4. Scramble for Africa

5.  Resource curse not the only reason for Africa’s poverty

6. Gazprom Said to Seek Stake in Eni’s Gas Assets in Mozambique

Stocktaking: 24 pressing problems impeding Africa’s Economic Development

problem-67054_640

It is an obvious fact that Africa’s problems are bigger for one country, government or corporation to tackle. That although much has been done over the years in way of addressing some of the problems Africans have to live with every day, including efforts (some of which involved pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into governments, causes, charities and other concerns within Africa) by numerous individuals, leaders, companies and countries, the mantle of developing Africa  was always going to be heavier, the task rather gargantuan and complex, requiring a creative approach.

Neither the Gates Foundation, nor several other high-profile billionaires and millionaires, or for that matter anybody else who over the years has/had expressed strong desire and acted to help Africa, would be able to tackle African problems alone. Not without concerted and determined effort from Africans themselves. Which minimally probably shows that tackling the problems was never a linear equation: You couldn’t pour in loads of cash, then presto! –  a developed Africa comes out the other end.

Thankfully, most of these people and organisations working for the advancement of Africa are smart enough to acknowledge that. Knowing that the problems are deeper, often multi-faceted and complex, giving a challenge that is probably as tricky to resolve as it is inviting. Philanthropists are also practical enough to realise that while essentially it’s a ‘war’ against a long list of challenges, they may never win all the ‘battles’ in that war.

However, what is surprising is that few Africans realise the extent and level of effort that is required to transform their continent, and many take it for granted that civil wars, corruption, HIV/Aids and poverty are the main problems in Africa. In addition, it is disconcerting to note that some philanthropists continue on the same aid path or approach which hasn’t worked the last 50+ years.

There have been many books written about African development [1,  234 and 5 to name a few], many articles too [including 1,  23 and 4 ], numerous videos [like 1, 2, 3], speeches, all of which are informative and worthwhile their time and content. But even they seem to have received a coy reception, certainly have not been given the attention they deserve, their advice not widely embraced by most political leaders and other stake holders on the continent, which begs the question: If the techniques of the past haven’t worked, and the new one’s being suggested are not being adopted, or at least not tried out, why should the old tactics somehow produce different results this time around? Proponents of the old aid model argue that Africa is now at a different place, where factors such as improved telecommunications and transportation links have empowered local people, meaning the old methods of disbursement of aid have a better chance of being effective now than they previously did before – when the integers were absent. This to an extent is true.

But what does bringing development to Africa actually mean? Is increasing the numbers of people living on $2 or more a day development? Or is it eradicating Malaria, Tuberculosis, H.I.V, Cholera, typhoid and other health threats? Is supplying truckloads of pharmaceutical equipment a form of development? Or is building a pharmaceutical company to synthesize drugs within Africa a form of development? What about reducing unemployment and providing more opportunities for further education? Or achieving the kind of relative peacetime  prosperity seen in North America or Europe in recent times? As you can see, all these could be said to be tenets of Development.

What makes the task of ushering in economic development more complex is that not only are the many obstacles impeding the implementation of policies that could transform Africa inter-related, but some of those obstacles do not appear to be obvious to those who have the power to effect change. To put it figuratively, it’s difficult to fight a war, any war, unless all, or at least most of your generals AND soldiers clearly understand the enemy (and their tactics).

Thus, in my view, Africa’s 24 most pressing problems (in no particular order) include:

1 – Far too many imports from outside of Africa and not enough high value Exports to balance the trade deficits. Not only is there a reluctance to delve in to hi-tech industries with potentially large earnings, but it appears like African countries are content to import things from Asia, Europe and the US and few people are asking the questions of:-

(i) whether it is possible to make some of these products within Africa?

(ii) Whether there may be an alternative product on the continent, which can be used in place of a foreign product?

In contrast, most European countries have large volumes of inter-trade amongst themselves, and when the EU has  set carbon emission targets, there’s a growing trend in some countries that something is to be imported from afar only if it can’t be cost-effectively produced locally, if it can’t be shipped, or if it can’t be imported from a nearby country. This point is related to the next point:-

2 – There is not enough trade amongst African countries. Consider this statement:

“…These costs are most acute for landlocked countries, which are heavily reliant on neighbour states to reach international export markets. The World Bank has estimated that upgrading road linkages between the Central African Republic and the DRC could increase intra-African trade by between $10 billion and $30 billion a year.” and here “…At the moment, the vast majority of goods are being imported from abroad. So if anything, rather import those goods from South Africa, and lock in some of the revenue in the region, than import them from abroad.” (Africa’s grand free trade area and what it will mean for business, by Jaco Maritz, www.howwemadeitinafrica.com )

3 – Archaic agricultural practices in much need of efficiency vectors  (i.e. Trucks, ploughing, planting and harvesting machinery, pesticides, availability of cheap manure / fertilisers, modern Silos (not the thatched ones made from sticks, string and mud- which arguably results in loss of a high % of the harvest / yield through rotting and attack from pests [mice,termites, etc]), widespread adoption of irrigation  and such like,  all of which will have significant benefits to African agricultural capacity and the quality of yield–> potentially ending hunger/ food shortages within Africa) [New farming practices grow healthier children]

4 – Bad and underdeveloped infrastructure:

” Distances in Africa are usually great, with rivers seldom being navigable, making long railroads the most efficient alternative. However, many companies have had difficulty maintaining output on the limited system. Rio Tinto, the third largest mining company in the world, has recently demonstrated the effect a lack of infrastructure can have on mining operations. This month it was revealed that the company had to devaluate its coal exploiting operation in the Tete province of Mozambique by 3 Billion US$. All in all, Rio Tinto carried out write-downs amounting to 14 Billion US$, forcing its boss, Tom Albenese, to step down. An insufficient transport infrastructure has been mentioned several times as the central reason for the company’s losses. While Rio Tinto’s coal operations in that area have production capacities of about 10 million tons a year, the respective railway connection to the sea can only cope with between 3 and 4 million tons a year.” – Fabian Scherer, Political Analysis South Africa.

Africa needs bigger, longer, better Roads & Railway lines:- why isn’t Johannesburg connected to Nairobi by high speed rail? Or Addis Ababa to Kinshasa via Kampala by high speed rail? Who is going to create this infrastructure that could prove pivotal in transforming Africa’s fortunes, if not Africans themselves? Isn’t it obvious that creating transportation links [which would provide thousands of people with jobs] between the big cities of Africa will improve trade [opening up national markets to local traders, reduce turnaround times]  and reduce the cost of travel [thereby encouraging tourism and movement of ideas], all of which are positives for spurring economic development?

Africa needs 21st Century Airports [of the standard of King Shaka]  to allow travel between Africa and major international cities and give a positive first impression to international visitors. Not only airports, but modern hotels fit for the 21st century, upgrading the archaic and run-down buildings that define most African cities and constructing newer, more suitable buildings to attract business; we should put an end to unreliable power supply, water cuts and build business centres equipped with modern facilities as those found in western countries; Real investment into the Tourism industry – why should African tourism be expected to be mediocre? Below average and generally not up to scratch? A few years ago, a family friend who had visited Mozambique and Tanzania hinted of her displeasure when she found cockroaches and spiders in some of the rooms in the resorts she and her friend stayed in; the brown stains in the bathrooms, and scents in the rooms. This is even before we get to the aircon. Talk of ‘African standards’, which is really an excuse for not maintaining high standards.

We have to upgrade our infrastructure and facilities to a high standard, only then will we be confident to compete with cities in Asia and South America and other emerging business destinations which are fast becoming popular places of investment. In any case, just because we have been resigned to living with pot-holes, experiencing intermittent power cuts and working in buildings without air conditioning doesn’t mean that investors / visitors will tolerate the absence of such basic things, and return / recommend us to their friends.

5 – Under-educated, incompetent, power-hungry, corrupt and spineless leaders: Africa has too many leaders with no vision, who are extravagant, out of touch with the people and having no sense of urgency regarding the gravity of the problems their countries face and their far-reaching effects. It appears as though there is lack of understanding as to how economies develop within the leadership of some countries in Africa. The reasons for this may include stubbornness, and ignorance of the developmental histories of countries such as Russia, the US, Britain, Germany, China, Canada and Brazil. It may also be because of political pressure from donors, whose aid has strings attached, and arguably restricts the kind of sustainable development policies which are much in need.

Often it appears as though trying to remain in power and acquire wealth are much greater priorities than good governance, and there are few examples of cross-party inclusion in governments. Also, I doubt how many African politicians know the real meaning of good governance.

Unless Africans unite to put their leaders to task, so that they deliver what the continent needs, or else be shown the door out, development will struggle to come by. This point is also related to point 13 below–which is related to points 15 and 19.

This is because it is difficult for Africans to vote out their corrupt politicians when most people in the rural areas -who form the majority in most African countries – live in poverty, and are often ‘palm greased‘ with handouts (including free food [maize], livestock and money) in an attempt to seduce them into voting for the same corrupt officials the continent does not need.

6 – Security: If I can’t send a smartphone via ordinary post from Manchester to Lilongwe without it going missing, what does that say of our security? Irrespective of where in Africa it went off the radar, is that good enough for Africa? How come electronic products destined to the US (or coming from Asia) get to their destinations? Will that be good enough for investors? Doesn’t such influence postage prices to be high — which in itself pushes up the cost of doing business? Africa must improve its security on all levels to attract investment. From ensuring that visitors feel safe to safeguarding our borders against infiltration of terrorists and drugs, there are no two ways about this.

7 – Low self-confidence and lack of assertiveness. If it is true that the oil troubles in Nigeria are costing Nigeria over $1 billion each month,  and have much to do with opposition to foreign corporations, why doesn’t the Nigerian government task the local oil companies to join forces with the foreign corporations under joint ventures to collectively exploit Nigeria’s resources? And in the midst of such theft, why is the increased security to prevent and stop the wastage – and bring to book those who are responsible for theft  – not forthcoming?

8 – Ageism and under-investment in Young people

9 –Lack of sufficient Capital Investment for major projects with potentially large yields [Why Africa May Never Produce a Facebook Groupon Zynga or Google]

10 – Electoral processes that are not free and that are prone to abuse

11 – Media that is not free and that is not representative

12 – Poor Healthcare  and under-investment in Women’s Health: If investors are to invest in your continent/ country, do you have hospitals of a good standard for them to use if they, their families or their staff fall sick? Or are you expecting them to build their own hospitals??? Maybe their own schools and shops?? What is the general state of your country’s  maternity health? Do you have medicines and safe surgery facilities in your hospitals? Competent doctors and nurses?

How can economic development occur when the basic health facilities are not firmly in place?

13 – RegionalismRacism, Nepotism and ethnic discrimination.

14 –   Leaders obsessed with  luxury items

15 – Low standard of Education and low investment in high-quality Education. And it’s not just education for African children. If we send our children to learn in Europe, America, Asia, Russia, Japan and other places,  why couldn’t we create Universities and schools to attract ‘International’ students–those from outside of Africa? Maybe firstly partnerships or collaborations with European and US Universities (Univ of Nottingham in MalaysiaWeill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Virginia Tech University-India, Technische Universität Berlin – Egypt ) could pave the way for speclialist learning institutions on African soil?  In any case, in an information age as we live in, employing and training teachers / lecturers from across the globe wouldn’t be an issue. Further, African born professors are teaching in some of the world’s top Universities across the world, why couldn’t we attract some of them, or at least use their services to train lecturers/ teachers of the same calibre, to provide educational instruction to African and non-African students, within Africa?

In addition, when webcasting technology is relatively cheap and accessible, surely there must be some lecturers around the world who for a set fee, would be open to providing an hour or two long lectures every week, in their subject of specialisation, during term time. This means it may be possible to run a University level course partly using ‘remote’ lecturers who are infact not physically present in the classroom, but are miles away, at MIT, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge, etc.

16 – Export Trade barriers (including protectionist measures by not only Western countries [who are buyers of African raw materials such as agricultural produce and precious metals] but also within regions in Africa). Unfortunately this factor is not entirely of our doing. Use of diplomatic channels or filing complaints at the WTO/ AU could go some way to resolve some of these obstructionist barriers to trade, but there are no guarantees that such would have any success, and essentially it boils down to diplomacy. However, bilateral treaties and widespread membership of organisations such as Fairtrade, including encouraging ‘supply chain ownership’ in certain industries may be viable alternatives. In addition, African companies should aim to have a presence in major cities such as London, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Paris, Tokyo, Rome,  Berlin, Frankfurt, Madrid, and Moscow and aim to float on the stock markets. Another suggestion is the establishment of Trade and Industry organisations (like UKTI) whose sole aim would be to represent African companies in these cities, assisting them with finding markets, vetting of suppliers, etc.

17 – Weak and under-resourced civil society organisations. This point is related to point 19 below. [A practitioner’s view of the UK social investment market ]

18 – Low proliferation/ penetration of information technology including TV’s, Computers and Internet connected mobile phones. While a lot of progress has been made in this regard, there’s still a long way to go.

19 – Misdirected Aid: Instead of providing aid only to charities, or to buy food and medicines for governments, philanthropists must begin to invest comparable sums in sustainable projects across Africa. This factor is related to point 9 above. Entrepreneurs who have the ideas, but not the capital need to be sought and those with sustainable ideas that have a market must be financed. This factor has the added advantage in that you are supporting independent trade (not linked by political ties) and ensuring that if corruption does occur in government — which 9/10 times it will, entrepreneurs are sufficiently resourced to continue providing jobs and creating infrastructure, and are not being victimized on ethnic or political lines. The opposite of this, which is common in Africa, is skilled and experienced entreprenuers being sidelined for not supporting a particular political party, or for not being of the same ethnicity, or clan as the ruling elite.

20 – Jealousy and lack of patronage for home-grown brands: It’s not only hundreds of thousands of people living in Manchester who support Manchester United. Even thousands of those who live in Nottingham, support Nottingham County, or Nottingham Forest. Probably not a perfect example, but in Britain (and many parts of  the developed world), home-grown is considered good. The local pub –not the one in town, the one just around the corner — is often  the place to wind down and have a drink. Irrespective of whether a yorkshire man, or an Irish chap owns the place. It’s the local pub, so a considerable proportion of people who live local will frequent it every now and again. And it’s not just about nationalities. Even the local curry (which will most likely be owned by an Asian) or the local Chinese (owned by a Chinese) is embraced, and favorited,  it’s about buying local. If there are  more than one local Asian takeaway / Chinese, some people take turns to visit each one every so often, or will patronise the one or two who appeal to their culinary tastes. One effect of supporting home-gown is that money is circulated within the local economy.

Unfortunately, in some parts of Africa, especially Southern Africa, this is not always the case. It is more likely that if a lakeshore resort is owned by a European, it will attract more business from Africans than if it is owned by a fellow African. While the reasons for such may be a lot more complicated, its effects couldn’t possibly be positive for African industry. In my view, Africans need to change this mindset.

21 – African achievers are not as visible, even in the internet age. Few high-profile role-models have been resourced or are willing to carry the flag of Africa across Africa with a positive message not only about their achievements, but about Africa itself. Often it’s left to celebrities, a handful of activists, some aid organisations, European rock stars and the foreign media to portray Africa’s reformed image- which they rarely do.

If you need evidence for this, you don’t have to do much: Ask any sample of young people aged between  14 – 18 in any  Town or village across Africa who they have heard of on this list: Koffi Annan, Kanye West, Dambisa Moyo, Will Smith, Youssou N’dour, Didier Drogba, Mo Ibrahim, David Beckham, Bob Marley, Femi Kuti, Haile Gebrselassie, Samuel Eto’o, Alek Wek, Wole Soyinka, K’Naan, Chimamanda Adichie, Omar al-Bashir, and Aliko Dangote.

The answers you get will be revealing, but probably not entirely surprising. It is more likely than not that most young people would have heard of a politician, British celebrity,  American actor/ musician or sports personality than an African businessman who had established a business empire in Africa. So Samuel Eto’o, or al-Bashir would probably be much more well-known than Mo Ibrahim. Further, young people are more likely to listen to Kanye West, K’Naan and Bob Marley, but have probably never heard of Dangote. Which probably means few young Africans know of the achievements of fellow-African outside politics, sports, music or the film industries.

In my view this is not a desirable scenario because it gives a false impression of African success. That the only professions or fields in which an African can truly excel is in the world of Sports, Music or Acting. Also, it deprives young Africans of the story as to how people like Dangote and Mo Ibrahim made their wealth.

Ideally if African achievers spoke out more of their success, and the large media houses broadcasted more of such stories, frequently, there’s probably a higher possibility that such could have an effect on the career choices more Young Africans make later in life, a factor that could influence development on the continent.

22 – Declining work ethic and lack of discipline.

23 – Religious Fundamentalism: Why are Al-shabab and Boko Haram which are terrorist organisations passed off as ‘islamic’ militant groups? And what of the Lord’s Resistance Army, why the semi-religious veneer? Or to put it differently, is it surprising that Mali, Nigeria, Uganda and Somalia, countries who have notorious militant groups also share common denominators of ethnic or religious divisions and extreme poverty? [see here] African leaders must address religious fundamentalism. One solution may be to encourage education and have more educational endeavours in the villages / rural areas. Thus, this point is related to point 15 above, in that as more people in the rural areas become educated, it is likely that acts of religious fanaticsm will greatly reduce.

24. Foreign Corporations:

Dozens of Western multinationals have made millions of pounds in profits from exploiting African bio-resources taken from some of the poorest nations on earth, with not a penny offered in return.” declared Andrew Buncome in the Independent.

It’s impossible to overemphasize this point:- Foreign corporations do not come to Africa to develop the continent. They come to make a profit, and often a very large profit. Usually, this money does not remain in Africa, to be used for development purposes or suchlike, but instead it is wired out to be paid to their own investors and shareholders, eventually trickling into their own economies in Europe, the US, etc. Yet the resource that makes the profits possible is African, belonging to Africans. Why then don’t Africans benefit from it? Because foreign corporations -who have the  technology to exploit those natural resources – do not come to Africa to develop the continent. But to make themselves a Profit. Ask anyone with half a Brain about this sorry fact, and they’ll tell you the same thing.

Africans must learn this simple yet obvious fact. It must be ‘engraved on the palms of every African’

Just as the Chinese (the list is long and includes South Koreans, Brazil, Argentina and others) are now developing their own natural resources and those of other countries, using their own companies, and controversially in the case of China, their own labour, Africans have no option but to gain the much-needed confidence to exploit their own resources using African companies and African labour. There is no other way around this if economic development is to be effected, and you can return to this article in 20 years time, and this fact will most certainly not have changed.

Further, lack of expertise, equipment or experience are not excuses. Equipment can be bought, trainers with experience sought and hired to provide training, and experience obtained through practice in industries as diverse as Mining, Oil extraction and Bio-technology. To put it in a different way, what can African industry learn from National Iranian Oil Company which is run by Iranians, for the benefit of Iran?

Another similar view:

“Africa has lost significant revenue over the years through its failure to adequately capture proceeds from resource extraction on the continent.” – Annie Chikwanha, Resource Nationalism in Africa and Beyond, Africa Protal

And here:

The corporations use the labor and land, the people pay the price. It is absolutely modern day slavery. It is exploitation and makes you think about a 500 year history of exploitation of the African continent from its people during the days of slavery and now its resources”  – Emira Woods, director of Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies.

What more can one say.

Yet if all of the above were addressed, it is not difficult to see how life on the continent could be significantly improved. But that’s not to say that all problems can be resolved overnight. Not at all, but when some of Africa’s problems have been around for over 50 years, surely if the right approach was being undertaken, it would have borne some kind of tangible fruit in all those years?

While an idyllic state of wealth, health and comfort is not achievable anywhere (even Europe has a fair share of ailing economies, let alone Eastern Europe), with even rich countries having sections of their population who languish in debt and poverty, but wouldn’t you say that if most of the above problems were addressed,  most African economies would have achieved some admirable form of economic development?

Similar links:

1. The BRICS and Africa’s growth dilemma

2. Lack Of Clean Water In Africa Documentary

3. Meet The 14-Year-Old Girl Who Developed A Low-Cost Water Purification System