Practical Community led Activism

Now that the UK general election is over and done with, people this side of the world can get back to work, and begin focussing on the difficult issues facing Britain.
Among the terms that have been used by some commentators lately (often referred to together with the notion that the UK needs a federal system), is ‘Community led Activism’. This is probably very similar to the much talked about concept of a Big Society.

But what would Community led Activism actually look like? You hear it talked about, but few take time to really spell out how it would relate to everyday life.

I was curious, so after some thinking, probing about online, and studying various articles on the subject, I’m inclined to think any form of Community led Activism is incomplete without the following ingredients:-

(i) Change management strategies

(ii) Local ownership of change

(iii) Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices; and

(iv) Regular evaluation.

Community-led-ActivismBefore we open up churches as centres that are eligible to administer healthcare, before we begin community projects that serve communities while giving jobs to local people, and before our cities’ libraries also become art galleries, music venues-cum-coffee shops that operate for profit to raise money for communities, (as well as having free services for the most disadvantaged in society), before we increase local food production, before we have cooperatives in charge of local generation of green energy, before we bring back manufacturing from China, before we begin opening up parts of the greenbelt and brownfield land for building of affordable residential accommodation…

internetbefore we invest in information technology education to empower young people to be equipped with the necessary skills for the digital economy,..before all that and more, there has to be a general function that powers Community led Activism. Think of it as a macro level approach, underneath which everything else sits.

The best way to explain this is to look at a number of areas in which the above four ingredients may be useful.

Lets take Education for example. If you want to have devolution of powers from London to communities so that they get authority to decide on Education Policy as they see fit, there must be change management strategies employed in each of the communities concerned. This may come in the form of a new culture instilled at the devolved locality which establishes an effective management system to oversee, administer and evaluate the new policies, and move away from what hadn’t worked. Since the people who are already working in the environment are stakeholders, it is crucial that they are not maligned or resistant to the new proposals.  In fact Educational Authorities (or whoever is eventually given the responsibility to run the scheme) would need to embrace any new changes (and from experiences of the past this is not always easy, as Michael Gove’s stint as Education Secretary proved. See another link here).

Thus, change would need to be brought forward from the bottom-up (as opposed to top-bottom). Just as well, because Local ownership of change is also an essential ingredient. This is important since there will be localities which are happy with their current systems – which deliver desired or at least satisfactory outcomes, and so need not be interfered with too much. For such communities, Local ownership of change is empowering as they don’t have to do what they do not want; as will be for localities which have special needs by virtue of having different circumstances, and so which need slightly different solutions to the schemes/ solutions which others in the same country are adopting.

Similarly, for communities whose Education sector is lacking in some ways (be it in performance levels, funding or otherwise), if change is ‘owned’ at local level, then people are empowered to be able to find solutions that are tailored to the needs of their community. Since it is in the best interest of the community for certain results to be achieved, that change will be embraced quicker and more willingly if it is ‘owned’ at local level, and driven not by consultants hired by HQ, but by the stakeholders at local level.

But what about Introduction of practice guidelines / best practices? Well, lets take Job Creation & Employment legislation for example. Practice guidelines lay down the rules, to ensure there is uniformity across a region/ country. Employment legislation protects employers and employees across a jurisdiction (be it a state country or region) from abuse or unwarranted harassment. If a community seeks change in the labour market, for example to improve conditions for workers, then practice guidelines will be needed once that change is achieved (or even before) to ensure that the desired change is sustained, and is not short-term. Practice guidelines ensure consistency. They help everyone know what their particular roles are, and when such must be undertaken. And in relation to Employment legislation, guidelines at community level will enable employers and employees to know what their responsibilities are towards each other in the general scheme of things, without necessitating a change in the law at national / state level. This means if there is a problem in an industry that is concentrated in the North west of England (or say in a specific industry such as the hotel insustry), guidelines can be rolled out affecting the north-west (or that specific industry), without tinkering with the law at national level, thereby not interfering with the practice elsewhere.

Finally, there is the matter of Evaluation. This is important, because it means improvements or new policies can be reviewed, and if they are not doing as well, a better solution or alternative found. It allows the community to ask: Are we really doing as good as our research stipulated? And if not, why? It enables you to change course when new policies at community level are not having the desired effect.

You can apply the above ingredients to Residential property development, Healthcare, Tax policy, Welfare, Immigration, Pensions, Sustainability and Conservation… the list is endless, and I believe it is possible to make some good progress; even in a country which some people think is suffering a hangover of the politics of fear.

Leadership for the Africa we Want – Kigali, May 2014

Sponsored by the African Development Bank.

Shorter version focussing on points made by Thabo Mbeki and Benjamin Mkapa:-

My Comments

  • Education has not been a priority for most countries across Africa. As a consequence, Africa doesn’t have enough high quality and decisive leaders and effectors capable of transforming not only their own countries, but the continent. Thus, Africa needs to develop and entrust young people with the knowledge that will empower them to be agents of change. Agents of change capable of prioritising what the continent needs.
  • Further, African people are disunited. Most African people have been divided on political lines such that they often fail to distinguish when our economies are failing because of external influences (or external cause) – which calls for supporting the leadership – and when a national leader’s policies are failing – which calls for criticism.
  • The Neo-liberal Institutions such as the IMF have fed African governments a crippling poison of conditionalities that work for them and their backers but that has made it extremely difficult for sustainable progress to be made across Africa. Before countries like Great Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand had market based economies operating under market forces, there were long periods of a planned economy in these countries. In fact in Britain, it was only beginning the 70’s and 80’s that state-owned companies were privatised. Before that most infrastructure (not only in Britain) from Railways, Hospitals, Factories, Utilities (Energy companies, Water companies and Gas companies), Mining, Telecommunication companies belonged to the state (or the state was a large and active player in such industries). And that ownership provided employment, tax revenues and dividends to the State. Yet when the likes of the IMF and World Bank came to Africa, they told African leaders that the state must not own anything. The reasons they gave was that it was inefficient for the state to be in business. They were right to an extent but only because the inefficiencies came as a result of the inherent limitations which those state companies possessed. Specifically, these parastatals were not run efficiently as profit-making businesses in a business sense:- you had the wrong kind of leadership calling the shots (not innovators of the calibre and ingenuity of say Lord Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson or Sir Philip Green). So how do you expect an organisation to be profitable and innovate if it’s run by the wrong people? Secondly, there was little investment in employee training – so lifelong and transferable skills in tune with technology were not being passed down. To see understand this anomaly consider this: What percentage of over 60’s who were civil servants in the 70’s and 80’s or who were working in government institutions at the time of the privatisations of major UK industry were comfortable with using computers and other technology at the time or even today? Most were not, and even now only a small percentage is conversant with technology. The reason :- Because when they were working for  these government-owned businesses, there was little or no investment into their skills development. In other words when technology was changing, they didn’t have the skills to keep up. Further, there was little competition between these companies and other independent companies so not enough incentive for innovation. No surprises then that parastatals were inefficient and didn’t perform particularly well. But since we now know all these things, as I clearly articulated here, I don’t believe that its impossible to run a government-owned company profitably in this day and age.
  • Ageism is a real problem in Africa. So is Regionalism and Tribalism. Until we begin to entrust people with responsibility on a merit-based criteria (and not by how old they are or from which region they come from, or what religion they are) we’ll struggle to find an edge.
  • Advanced Business Training If Steve Jobs had a business school which he run, what kind of graduates would the school produce? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think formidable ones. Africa needs to train its young people to be formidable in business…
  • Capital Without money Africa can’t advance, because where will the tools of development come from? Financial Investment in young people (and I’m not talking minute $1000 – $2000 type business loans) is a necessary tool to development.


Malawi cancels $145 million arms deal with SA firm: report

Original article here (via Times Live)

Malawi cancels $145 million arms deal with SA firm: report

The agreement between the Malawi Government and Paramount Group has been abrogated. That is all I can confirm and say,” Gondwe told Saturday’s Nation newspaper.

The paper quoted a source within the finance ministry as saying the government of President Peter Mutharika told the firm the deal was “illegal and expensive”.

More on original article here


I think President Peter Mutharika must be hugely commended for doing this. The relationship between Paramount and Joyce Banda was unhealthily close. The whole fiasco regarding the arms deal, and the jet bartering and the comments from the UN had an air of dishonesty and special interests about it. I don’t believe the arms deal was to the benefit of the people of Malawi, and Joyce Banda was wrong to associate her government with these guys. As I wrote here, most of these deals benefit people other than Malawians.

Having said that, I wonder what it will cost the country to terminate the contract? Wait, was there a contract? Or was this another gentleman’s agreeement? We will need to know how much it costs the country, and why the president calls it ‘illegal…’. Presumably, the get-out clause is a better devil than paying $145 million? Although what you don’t want to happen is to spend additional millions of dollars you don’t have in court cases fighting a contract that is impenetrable.

I hope President Mutharika will make do on his promises to clean up government in Malawi, and not waste time with propaganda or fighting opponents. I hope he does away with all such useless and ‘illegal’ commitments Malawians never needed. I’d like to see Mutharika revisit Kayelekera, and ‘abrogate’ the unfair Paladin deal. I’d like to see him push for the completion of the Shire-Zambezi waterway, which his brother Bingu Wa Mutharika began – it will lower the cost of goods in Malawi. I’d like to see Malawians realise real benefit from the Vale railway line. I’d like to see Malawi University of Science and Technology open and begin training students in areas which the country is lagging behind. I’d like to see the restrictive and backward thinking regional quota system for university entrance abolished, and in its place an improved open merit based system established. It will be good to see more Universities built across Malawi, and there are many donors who will support this initiative. The proposed mini Chinese city could have huge benefits in terms of stimulating trade and entrepreneurship for both China and Malawi, the president must pursue the agreement, and see its completion. Why can’t we have our own oil refinery? As the Zambians have done (see another link here). There are many ideas the government can adopt to generate income and raise funds outside of taxes. Over a year ago, I helpfully listed some here.

But most of all, I’d like to see president Mutharika get to the bottom of the Cashgate scandal , prosecute all who were responsible for the theft, and close any remaining loopholes in IFMIS. Malawi can never move forward if people continue to steal from the government – and get away with it.

So far, so good. Well done Mr President Sir!

Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?


I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.