Growing African economies that will work for African people

African market
Women at an African market

Tanzania just announced that it will dump English as its official language in schools, opting for Kiswahili instead. This morning, I read this article that somehow appears to suggest that this is a bad idea.

I must say I disagree, and below I’ll try to explain why.

When the colonial powers came to Africa, one of the first things they did was to impose their own languages as the language of learning in their territories. France imposed French in the various west African territories it colonised, Portugal imposed Portuguese, Holland imposed Dutch and Britain imposed English and so on. This had the effect of dividing communities which were otherwise related. The overall effect was to stop any hope of large countries the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever emerging out of Africa. It was divide and rule of the purest form. Fragmentation – a cruel tactic designed to tie the future of those then colonies forever to the colonial powers.

So the english taught was not necessarily to be a conduit of knowledge transfer that would empower the colonies as some people would have you believe. Instead, it was a move to make sure that schools produced compliant subjects which could easily be manipulated, and do the bidding of the colonial masters in Europe.

And that is reason enough in my view for Tanzania to change the official language to Kiswahili, because the motive of colonised Tanzania having to communicate in foreign languages was entirely driven by foreign interests.

Secondly, groups of people often associate and define themselves as an ethnicity on various terms, but one of the most common denominators, other than ancestry is language. You identify as Chewa because your parents are Chewa and they spoke Chichewa, they lived in the land of the Chewa, their village was in the Chewa belt. Therefore you are Chewa.

This is the norm, not the exception.

So as Tanzanians, the question which the above article answers is that Kiswahili is a unifying force in Tanzania. It holds together the people, even though they are made up of 130 different ethnicities.

So why then should they conduct their lives based on an imported language when they have a language of their own?

Who’s interests does having English as an official language of education ultimately serve?

Why teach in English when students could learn in their own African language? Are people not proud of being African?

If the US, Britain or Spain is unlikely to begin teaching their students in Nyanja or Kiswahili which are African languages, why is it somewhat acceptable or expected for Africans to teach their students in foreign languages?!?

In any case, shouldn’t Tanzania develop an economy that first and foremost works for Tanzanians (if you can allow me to temporarily step out of my usual Pan-African shoes), people who are citizens of a sovereign country?

In the above article, the author quotes Ahmed Salim, a senior Associate at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy that works with U.S investors, who makes what I consider to be a hopelessly narrow-minded point:

However, in terms of overall impact, the main challenge will be felt long-term when companies set up shop in Tanzania and are left with hiring staff that are either bilingual Tanzanians or from neighboring Kenya or Uganda. This will somewhat hinder Tanzania’s competitive advantage in the future.”

Now, I’m not saying they should stop teaching English altogether, or that English isn’t an important international language. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead the argument for English is tied to this over-emphasis on foreign investment (money coming from the outside of Africa) to help and rescue Africans, to give them jobs and create an economy – as if Africans themselves couldn’t use their own resources to create economies that work for the benefit of African countries.

Tanzania has many natural resources including natural gas (See the following links Tanzania’s Natural Gas Reserves Almost Triple on New Finds ; Statoil makes another natural gas find offshore Tanzania ;  BG Group touts Pweza as its largest Tanzania gas find ). The country’s economy is growing at a rate of 7% which is quite high and above the international average. If those resources are utilised properly by the government of Tanzania for the benefit of the country’s citizens (as opposed to liberally auctioned-off to the highest corporate bidder) they could be a source of some serious economic development that would create jobs for young Tanzanians, investment into security, and used for infrastructure development, investment in Education, Healthcare and women’s issues.

That investment, derived from wholly Tanzanian owned resources, could be a serious game changer if utilised wisely.

But if some corporation is allowed to own a majority stake, or lions share of Tanzania’s Natural Gas resources, I can tell you now what difference it will make to the Tanzanian economy in the long run:

NONE.

The profits that corporation makes will be wired out of Tanzania to already developed and rich countries. Countries that needs the benefit of the resource much less, and that have billions in cash reserves to fall back on. And those profits will find their way into the fat pockets of already rich shareholders in those rich countries. Ultimately such funds will trickle down to contribute to the tax system of those already rich countries, benefitting their economies.

Meanwhile, poor Tanzanians already struggling with poverty, low incomes, unemployment, high cost of living, government corruption, who do not own property, poor healthcare in hospitals and the lack of medicines, no electricity in most areas, deforestation, poaching and lack of clean water in the villages will not have benefitted proportionately from such natural gas deals. Instead they will have to continue receiving handouts, breadcrumbs from aid organisations – when their country possesses the natural resources that could be used to create wealth for them…all just because of greed of some corporations

How absurd and stupid is that?

So the scare mongering self-serving attitude against Tanzania choosing to teach their students in Kiswahili is wrong, It’s anti-African and I vehemently disagree with such dishonest views.

Africans and other developing countries have been stamped on for too long. We must end this corporate driven theft and madness and begin to create economies which are designed to serve and benefit us as Africans, just as others have been building economies to benefit their own economies, and their own people.

Economic Empowerment

mg2I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m not sorry to be the one that spoils the party. Especially this particular party…because while Malawi is currently heated with election campaign fervour, some of the events happening on the ground have caused one part of me to doubt whether much substance will in fact come out of the leadership that will be appointed after the 20 May elections.

Are we really going to see the transformation being excitedly predicted by each party’s honchos? What kind of transformation will we see? Are the parties really going to deliver what they have promised in their manifestos? Weren’t similar promises made during the election campaigns of 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009? To what extent were those promises honoured? So then, what major transformation came out of the administrations who won those elections?

I think no matter who you choose to vote for, it would be wise to be cautious, and carefully examine each candidate on their merits, and what their track records in terms of actual achievements the last 5 – 10 years (not just the last year or two) have been…

Many a times I have waxed lyrical as if on a soapbox about economic empowerment of Africans, and many a time, I have not exactly got through to the right people. Which is okay. The right people are rarely in the right jobs, they are rarely listening.

But this is an issue that has to be addressed sooner or later, otherwise African countries will continue to struggle with poverty and other ills. Donors and foreign corporations will not tackle the issue of empowerment because it’s not always in their best interests, and they are not good at doing so [See this: Between the Elusive and the Illusionary: Donors’ Empowerment Agendas in the Middle East in Perspective – Mariz Tadros].

In Malawi most NGO’s do not have the power, nor are they sufficiently well resourced to influence the establishment of a nationwide empowerment initiatives that have a real chance to make a big enough impact. It’s all down to the government and MP’s, and for what it’s worth one part of me can’t see enough progress being done after the elections. Maybe I’m being unfair and prematurely judgemental, but I’m yet to be convinced whether any of the major parties truly can deliver what they promise. And this is not only because the practicality of what they promise in their manifestos is questionable but also because the vagueness of some of the promises render them useless.

But for those voters who are listening, and concerned, the important questions every Malawian should ask the candidates of the 20 May elections, before voting, are these:

What will they do differently to ensure that Malawians are economically empowered, and not taken advantage of? And why should we trust you?

This is important especially because it is clear to most Malawians that the tenures of the MCP, UDF, DPP and PP governments in the past have established very little for Malawians to show for. While countries like Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mozambique (where there was a debilitating 15 year long civil war) have powered forward with impressive results, Malawi, despite unsustainable blips of progress, is still languishing in the doldrums.

So, what will the candidates who vie for election to Parliament do which hasn’t been done already in the country’s 50-year-old history?

The reason that this question must be answered is that economic empowerment will not occur if the policies the new government institute turn out to be mediocre (like distributing cattle, chickens, houses or shoes) or the same as what has not worked in the past, and if corruption continues to be tolerated. In a country with 15 million people, the presidency would be best advised to think on a much larger scale, than wasting resources on mediocre projects.

Taking a simplistic general view, for people to be innovative and industrious they require one or more of the following:- an income, education, inspiration, tools/ building blocks (trucks, implements & equipment), and power (literally electricity). So, one would think that when a government articulates how they will provide these as part of a wider national transformation strategy, there will be a much higher chance of transforming Malawi than say distributing a million cows to villagers.

But that alone is not enough. Empowerment essentially means giving one power or authority to do something. So I’d like to see factories built, where young people can work, earn an income and develop transferable skills. And those factories, must be majority owned by Malawians, so that the profits made from Malawi stay within Malawi. Further, instead of giving a mining contract or power generation contract to a foreign corporation – which has its own interests, I’d like a government that promises, and implements a national  mining company, or power generation company, which is government owned, and whose profits are reinvested into Malawi.

That is precisely the kind of visionary leadership Malawians should seek and vote for.

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