Jeremy Corbyn – Socialism DOES Work

Jeremy Corbyn could become leader of the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the House of Commons (UK Parliament), after he received the most nominations from Constituency Labour Parties and unions.

If Corbyn does emerge as winner, after a final ballot that will begin on August 14, then it could represent a fundamental shift towards the left of the political spectrum for the Labour Party.

Listening to Corbyn’s address to the Oxford Union (video below), I get the sense that he talks a lot of sense.

And yet many people (including senior members of his own party) don’t want him to become leader. They say he is ‘too left-wing’ and that such can ‘scare-off voters’.

Lately politicians have been saying some very insensitive things in the media, and it’s not surprising that some are being alarmist about Corbyn.

But how can a person who says there is too much inequality in the UK (and in the world in general), and that something needs to be done to address it (not just empty rhetoric) possibly be wrong by stating what is clearly a fact?

How can someone who calls for workers rights, an end to poverty, re-nationalisation of key industries, increased taxes on the very wealthy, and the scrapping of Britain’s Trident be the devil?

Are you saying you really want corporations to continue evading tax? For utilities to be controlled by profit-driven corporations? For £100 billion to be spent on a nuclear deterrent which will never be used? For the likes of Rupert Murdoch to continue hijacking the media agenda, influencing politics to the detriment of state power? Is that what you want?

In my view, if we had more politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, more leaders like Elizabeth Warren, conscientious politicians like Bernie Sanders  … who are capable of identifying the real issues, communicating effectively how those issues need to be addressed; issues such as corporate tax evasion, unnecessary foreign wars, inequality and poverty… if we had more leaders who are incorruptible and not part of some revolving door,  I think the world would be a better place. Minimally, there would be enough oversight to ensure that corporations pay their fair dues and behave responsibly even when conducting their affairs abroad. Public institutions would be protected, developing countries would not be preyed upon, and there would probably be greater respect for human life.

These are the kinds of  Leaders Abraham Lincoln if he were alive today would count as true friends. And it’s because there are many leaders who are out of touch with ordinary people, whereas a few can see what is happening on the ground, how actions of corporations are affecting ordinary people, how actions of leaders are endangering people, and are rightly concerned.

Why do I say this?

Giving a few examples, since when has it been known that inequality is the real cause of poverty across the world? Since when has it been known that the actions of corporations, including in paying bribes to officials, deprive developing countries of resources which they desperately need to effect development? Since when has it been known that the structural adjustment policies of the likes of IMF and World Bank are counterproductive against the narrative of poverty eradication? Since when has it been known that tax havens and secret accounts facilitate if not encourage corruption?

When all these have been known, why is it easier to start wars, than to fix these things which would do so much towards helping the poorest countries?

WS-pigsReferring to a point Corbyn made about the IMF in the above video, many people underestimate the damage structural adjustment programs (SAP’s) do to developing countries. They take for granted that the conditions the likes of the IMF prescribe put countries in a very difficult position – with no money to spend on the weakest in their societies.

And as you would expect, most of these people who attack socialist policies have never lived or spent any considerable length of time in developing countries, let alone had personal hardship that threatened their existence. They don’t know what poverty is, or what it means to have no money. It’s a bit like Ian Duncan Smith (British Conservative Party Politician who is Secretary of State for Work and Pensions ) calling for people to live on £53 a week, when he’s never had to live on £53 a week, and flatly refusing to do so when challenged.

They just talk because they think they know, when the truth it they don’t really know.

For once, I must say it is refreshing to hear a prospective political party leader of a big economy describe the likes of the IMF for who they really are. Architects of destruction.

On a practical note, it would be helpful if some of the people advocating for SAP’s spent some time period in the countries which borrow from the IMF/ World Bank. Let them go and  spend say 3 – 4 years (not just a couple of days where they pretend to blend into the culture) in Malawi , or in Cameroon, or in Senegal, not living in expensive hotels or exclusive suburbs where all the rich expats are having a dip in their swimming pools. No, but living amongst the people, ku ma line kwenikweni, in the districts where working people such as bus drivers, nurses, teachers and civil servants live. There they will begin to see the effects of SAP’s. There they will find the hatched eggs of the serpent.

This week, a lot has happened. There was the story of Cecil the Lion, then a few days ago,  David Cameron used an animate term (‘swarm’), to describe migrants; describing humans who are fleeing terrible living conditions, using a term which he couldn’t possibly use to describe Europeans, or Americans.

No wonder in the past some activists have hit back with images such as these:-

nhs

Being left-wing is not a bad thing. Being left-wing amidst other things means you care about other human beings, and you are not so narrow-minded, so self-absorbed and selfish, so brainwashed by individualistic ideas (‘trickle down economics’ , ‘survival of the fittest’ and other nonsense) which are senseless, do more damage than good to society, and do not have practical application in the real world. I’m not saying that those who do not identify as being left-wing are these things, but in my view, on the bare minimum, on the surface, thats what being left-wing must be.

I’d like to think many left wingers have a greater appreciation of inequality than their detractors;  that they get it when circumstances beyond people’s control push them to the brink. And these circumstances vary from corrupt African politicians (who receive bribes from unscrupulous investors, in exchange for favourable investment agreements which do nothing for the people of that African country) to selling off a public hospital to a private company (which then lays off staff as a cost-cutting exercise – leaving vulnerable families with no income – purely for profit).

I’ll end with a story I once read of a South African woman. Her parent’s two storey house was confiscated during the apartheid regime, when she was just a little girl. Subsequently her parents couldn’t pay for her education, so she was forced to work as a cleaner. Today she’s still unable to rebuild her life, with no qualifications, living in a country where she can’t earn enough to put herself through school, as well as look after her own family. With little prospects to advance in life other than to continue working, she is stuck in poverty.

And the house? She still remembers it, it’s still there, but up until now her family has not been able to get it back.

Not everyone who is poor is poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Someone please ask Jeremy Corbyn ‘s detractors to go and witness with their own eyes these types of scenarios.

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.

 

SCOTLAND, why destroy an age old institution? …ENGLAND, why the Selfishness?

When you can build on its past successes or rectify the short-comings of a thing, to make it better, more efficient, quicker, etc, why would you destroy it, and start all over again?

The noise is deafening, I’m sure we’ve all heard it by now: ‘Scotland must be free’ they say, ‘Scotland deserves more’ they huff. Across the road, not too far away from these quips, another discussion is developing: ‘Scotland can’t go it alone’, ‘Ofcourse they can!’ another protests, ‘We are stronger together, this is a 300 year old institution’, ‘ No we aren’t, we haven’t benefitted from it.’… ‘Why should Scottish people trust Alex Salmond?’, Scotland this, Scotland that, ‘Scotland must remain in the UK’,…. the Yes camp, the No Camp (which patronisingly is called the Better Together campaign)…bloody hell!

Can everybody please just take a step back and calm down for a second.

We know about all this, about all the arguments on both sides of the issue. We know. I’m not sure we really need everyone from rock-stars to celebrity footballers appealing religiously to  the ‘undecideds’ because, then, the whole message becomes lost in the sheer numerousness of the hysteria, and to personalities. Sunken in an ocean of propagandist fervour. So, there will be some people who will vote ‘No’, because they don’t like Alex Salmond and the SNP. And there will be others who will vote ‘Yes’ because they are somewhat suspicious of Alistair Darling’s eyebrows. And think Cameron is a posh t**t.

C’mon. That’s not how you decide whether to form a new country or not? Surely, that can’t be the basis of such an important decision.

And I’ll tell you why, because if you go with knee-jerk impulses brought on by political hysteria and what is clearly propaganda, whatever decision you make, you could end up with a country that resembles Bosnia and Herzegovina, or something not too dissimilar to South Sudan. I mean, if Scotland votes for Independence, who should stop Shetland (a subarctic archipelago of Scotland), a few years down the line, maybe post-Salmond, to decide to do away with these pesky Scottish. And declare its own country? Or another likely outcome is that soon after a ‘Yes vote’, they decide to remain within the UK? Why can’t they do that?

Readers, that is precisely why when it came to the crunch, in February 1861, when the Confederate States of America tossed out their silly secessionist plan, the United States (the Union) rejected their scheme, and a war was declared a month later.

Because some ideas are idiotic, and must not be accepted.

A vote to decide Scotland’s future is not idiotic. And Scotland is no Confederacy. The UK is not the US, but, to break apart a union that has done so much for so many people, in so many ways, over a period of 3 centuries, may not be the best way to resolve what at the bare bones is a resource and power argument.

UnionJack1We know the merits of the union, the concerns, the scare-mongering, and even the unadulterated truth surrounding some of the issues. Any sensible 15-year-old will tell you what the deal is. But amongst those issues, are a few facts, which I believe must be spelt out again and again before tomorrow 18th of September, and even after that. By anybody who cares, even an alliance of rock-stars, politicians and celebrity footballers.

Fact 1: Scotland has benefitted from being part of the United Kingdom. Whether we can call that benefit proportionate, or whether the benefit has been ‘enough’, or indeed whether there is such a thing as proportionate benefit is a different story

Fact 2: Successive Westminster governments have not prioritized other parts of the country other than London in terms of  ‘development’. It’s not only Scotland that has ‘suffered’, its pretty much everywhere from Hull to Swansea, from Ipswich to Derry that hasn’t seen the type of improvement which London has had. Everybody knows that. London has been the Garfield-like overfed, obese cat, gobbling on much of the cat food while the rest of the cats survived on crumbs that fell out of the fatcat’s plate. While they had just about enough to remain alive, yet the fatcat expected the rest of the cats to carry it around. Perfect servitude.

Too little has been done to rectify this. If more Scots are to treasure this union, this North- South imbalance has got to change.

Fact 3: A fully fledged Federal system of governance would work far better for the Welsh and Scottish economies than the current unitary system. Forget Devolution, if Scotland (and Wales) were to control taxes, the proceeds of their oil revenues, if they were given the mandate to legislate and decide on immigration policy, etc…who would be moaning? Why not just let them have what they wish to have? At some point Westminster politicians will realise that there has got to be a price to preserve this union, and from the look of things, anything other than significant control powers, whether you wish to call it Devo Max, or Mad Max, is unlikely to work. It will only postpone the problem.

Fact 4: Generally big rich countries, which are managed properly, carry more clout than poor small countries. Big countries can wield a lot more influence than smaller countries. Forget nuclear weapons, and the whole opposition to Trident, if you are big and rich, you’ll wield a lot more global influence than if you are small. More people will take notice of you, and it is easy to push one’s weight around.

Besides the US and Canada, think of Russia, India, China and Brazil. One of the main factors determining their influence on the global stage is their sheer size alone. There are a few exceptions (Switzerland, Israel), but not many.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: If what Russia is doing in Ukraine was being done by a country the size of Scotland, or the Size of Switzerland, how easy (even psychologically) would it have been for the international community to isolate it, and come down heavily on it with sanctions? A different example: China can pretty much get away with its behaviour in the South China sea because of its sheer size. Other than that, and the consequential military might, there’s little else that explains China’s actions. If a country such as Malaysia or Taiwan was throwing its weight around in the same way as China is currently doing, few would take notice. And sanctions would have been imposed by now.

Further, if we look back in History, what has been one of the major factors contributing to the fall of the world’s major empires, if not disunity and infighting? The Roman Empire,  the Kingdom of MacedoniaThe Persian Empires, even the Ottomans. In fact if it wasn’t for divisions and infighting over land, power and resource control in the Macedons, I’d probably be writing this article in Greek. Because instead of the respective ‘states’ of each of these ancient Kingdoms innovating and improving technologically, in medicine, commerce and in other areas, bitter conflicts and strife wasted their time. One brother fought against his mother’s son, killing a man who spoke his father’s language. Wars between tribes cost thousands of lives. Instead of improving, they were revolting against each other, and fighting amongst each other with the result that they became greatly weakened; falling behind other lesser countries, and kingdoms, who overtook them…

Had some of the disunited remained united, and focussed on improving and innovating, isn’t there a good chance that they could have weathered the test of time? And survived. Ending up greater than what we now know them to have been?

Fact 5: Westminster Politicians have used unconvincing arguments of Oil and resources in an attempt to scare Scotland. It won’t work. Similarly, the BBC and other news houses have tried to bully Alex Salmond, and have been biased against the Yes camp. Some of this has backfired. If only they were impartial.

Fact 6: If Scotland votes Yes tomorrow, there could be a period of uncertainty (and hardship) because some of the people who are against independence are going to try to create havoc for Scotland (or at least a level of unpleasantness), so that they can return and gloat, saying: ‘We told you so’.

The problem is, some of these organisations and institutions are very big and powerful. If in any doubt, ask Justin Welby will you.

Worryingly, a few of these institutions have leaders who are good chums with the top brass of the present Tory government. Salmond beware.

Fact 7: And, if  there is to be hardship, no-one knows for sure, for how long and how bad it’s bite could be. The Conservatives and Labour governments of the past few decades have had to deal with demonstrations over issues ranging from closure of Mines to Imperialist Wars. At least one series of these strikes were so severe, it brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1974.

How will Alex Salmond and his SNP colleagues deal with strikes and civil disobedience if the price of oil drops below what they would need to maintain an ‘acceptable’ level of debt? How much will such unrest cause the new country? And if it transpires that the SNP can’t be trusted any more, who will be trusted?

Further, with all the talk of fracking and finding alternative / cleaner sources of energy,across the world, and considering some of the forecasts on price of crude oil, who can say oil prices will not fall?

Fact 8: Even if Alex Salmond says Scotland has a potential to be wealthy like Norway (which I hope is true), unfortunately he doesn’t control the neo-liberal outfits (IMF, World Bank) which lend money to smaller, poorer countries, and which may be instrumental to Scotland in its early years as a country.  Often these institutions favour the kind of strict fiscal policy that would be in the briefcase of a chap such as George Osborne, and not some happy-go-lucky lets-spend-it all monetary policy which characterised Gordon Brown’s era as chancellor and Prime minister. And that is a huge cause of concern because then the questions which every sensible Scot will be asking will include: Are we going to end up like Greece which has instituted  tough austerity measures and thus crippled its economy. Or are we going to end up like Ireland – which is still reeling from the effects of the Eurozone crisis? Or shall we be the new Iceland (whose currency has struggled to regain people’s trust since the credit crunch). Are we going to end up like Spain – with massive unemployment – or like Cyprus, where our government forcibly confiscates our hard-earned cash from our bank accounts?

Sorry chaps, but nobody knows for certain.

Fact 9: If you are tired of illegal wars, corporate tax evasion and an elite club running the show, what you have to do is group together, and make a lot of noise through demonstrations and other means until your cause is given the attention it deserves. Together with thousands of other disaffected working class people. The one thing you do not do is decimate your numbers. Because then you are doing what Karl Marx said was counter-intuitive to a revolution. In any case, who says in 100 years time the SNP would not have become an elitist party, and we’ll be back to square one? It’s happened before, most recently in the last century, in Mexico, where a revolutionary party, the National Revolutionary Party (NRP) that in 1929 had united the people, had by 1988 (barely 60 years later) morphed into an autocratic and brutal regime that would terrorise the opposition and neglect Mexicans. Their terror only came to an end  in 1997 – when the NRP was ousted. Today, most Mexicans know that some of the negative effects of those 70 years of rule can still be felt in Mexican society.

As regards Scotland, already there has been a lot of arguments over who gets to keep what. A typical divorce scenario: Should we share the embassies? How much of the army and its equipment can Scotland keep? What about the British pound, can Scotland continue to use the pound? What about Debt, surely Scotland will need to be apportioned a part of the national debt – with few assets how will that affect its liquidity, a factor the institutions I mentioned above may need to consider before extending a line of credit? Can we share the queen? Can we share the overseas territories? All sorts of issues that need negotiating and resolving… but none of which have any concrete assurances.

Fact 10: The Race to the bottom scenario that has been preached by George Galloway is a certainty. Why would George Osborne (or indeed his successor – who is likely to be from the Labour party) allow Uk corporation taxes to be high, when just over the ‘border’ in Scotland, they are low? Already they want to appease corporations, and have been accused of being a soft touch on tax evasion by big businesses. So if Scotland cuts corporation tax, that right  there would be a sizzling gift to the English exchequer. And sadly, it will be the working class in both countries who would suffer.

To me, it’s a misplaced issue that has been blown way out of proportion and dealt with in a shambolic manner by both sides. But again, I’m not Scottish so my opinion is probably irrelevant. Having said that, I happen to dislike many of the Westminster club, for pretty much the same reasons as I’ve listed above. Which makes me an outsider (with an outsider’s view) in so far as ideology is concerned.  So, maybe, when it could be your last chance of doing so, and while Scotland remains in the UK, get yourself a bottle of Scotch then show your Scottish friends this article. Hopefully, some of the level headed ones in the Yes camp will reconsider their decisions.

Good luck.

Researchers Call World Bank Poverty Figures Too Low

According to the study, five percent of all children in Vanuatu live in poverty as defined by the World Bank. But 17 percent live in poverty as defined by a national food and basic needs benchmark. Absolute poverty, where people are deprived of two or more basic human needs, affects 16 percent of children in Vanuatu, say researchers. The study was published in the Journal of Sociology.

Researchers Call World Bank Poverty Figures Too Low via Voice of America

Con Artists: Deception, deception and more deception

The typical con artist of the 21st Century is a puppet organisation whose employees have important sounding job titles, wear suits, have well manicured fingernails and sport pricey haircuts. None of that amateurish I have a gun give me your money or I’ll blow out your brains twaddle.

This morning, I found myself reading a hilarious article that suggested that the World Bank (of all the neoliberal outfits out there) was fronting some initiative designed to help Africa in preventing pricing irregularities of its minerals, in the process saving the continent billions of dollars?

Yeah, essentially that’s what it says…which is… how do I put it….dishonest, or at least not entirely truthful, if one is to be mild-mannered.

Yes, it will be good for people to know the actual price of their country’s minerals, but who exactly are we talking about here. Aren’t the prices of commodities evident and freely available to the public on international markets? Aren’t the people working in Natural resource departments of government agencies somewhat a bit more savvy (and knowledgeable) than the local man on the street? All you need is a computer (or even a mobile phone) and an internet connection. Don’t tell me government ministries of natural resources across Africa don’t have access to an internet connection to enable them to check the price of Platinum or Rare Earth Minerals on the international market…or are too incompetent to do so?

Which is why I think this initiative is merely a distraction. Having a map of your country’s natural resources and the cost thereof doesn’t immediately translate into physical or tangible gains. It doesn’t mean that you, the native, controls, owns or has the real benefit of those natural resources. Or does it?

At the most this is a PR stunt designed to mislead, a nefarious ploy to distract the people’s attention from the unfair, unethical and illegal state of play, where African resources are owned and exploited by foreign corporations who have no interest whatsoever in improving the lives of African people. It’s purpose in my view is simply to provide an illusion that something is being done, when the fact remains that nothing of any real substance is being done. It’s as hollow as announcing to the world that the UN is considering a resolution against Switzerland and other Tax Havens, to stop them receiving illicit funds from third world / developing countries, and then doing absolutely nothing else other than that annoucement….no action, zero! Meaningless.

So, you can mineral map the whole world if you like, but the locals in third world countries will still remain deeply afflicted by poverty, often going without, or with very little; there will continue to be poor or non-existent healthcare facilities, hunger and disease will continue to run amok, corruption will remain high, wars will tear the landscape and displace millions … as in the backdrop, an alliance of tycoons and wealthy billionaires multiply their wealth – their catalyst, a resource that should be owned by Africans, and yet isn’t.

How many African companies have contracts to mine minerals in North America? How many have contracts for oil extraction in the North Sea, or off the coast of Australia? What percentage of Canadians own Multimillion dollar companies registered in Canada? Similarly, what Percentage of Nigerian/ South Africans / Malawians own multimillion dollar companies in their own countries? Those are the questions the World bank or indeed any serious commentator should be asking, because addressing the disproportionate imbalances or anomalies in those questions is what has a far higher potential to reverse capital flight from Africa and third world countries. That’s what has a higher chance of improving the plight of the people of Africa. Not mineral mapping…or some silly PR stunt.

It can never be right, whether you have a mineral map or not, no amount of sugar-coating or window dressing will ever put that unfair state of play right. The truth is there has been a clearly indisputable economic unfair advantage gained by western countries (helped by wars, bad policies and stupid African leaders), and something serious must be done to reverse and rebalance the playing field. Half-hearted deceptive stunts fronted by agents of the neoliberal right will only harm the little sincere good that others are currently working on.

If you really want to know what this is all about, the ending of the article itself says it all:

BDs2

 

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?

KiZerbo200

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.

Infrastructure

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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
infra-messo
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?