Everyone wants a piece of Africa by Andrew Cartwright
02 - Sep - 2017 17:53:30

I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree

A small cabin build there of clay and wattles made

Nine bean rows shall I have there and a hive for the honey bee

And live alone in the bee loud glade.

                                    W.B. Yeats

 

 

The simple life, a simple self sufficient local economy, the way of times gone by. It is easy to reject out of hand some of the early economic principles that fuelled economies hundreds of years ago. Yeats above yearned for the uncomplicated stress free lifestyle which has its merits but clearly is not either sufficient or desirable for most.

 

Now the talk is of wealth creation, sustainability, GDP, imports, exports, balance of payments and the invisible economy. The goal is largely the same however, to create an environment where people can live comfortably and contentedly and have the opportunity to grow. The question is how can a village, town, city, country use the resources that it has at its disposal to provide people with everything that is required to satisfy modern day lifestyle aspirations without overspending or diminishing to nothing those very resources that currently produce the capital to run the economy?

 

Large and mature economies with strong foundations built over generations can sustain and grow their economies by huge investments in all sectors using tax revenues and borrowings that are readily available to those that have 'A' ratings. This scenario is not dissimilar to that which one may find in dealing with one's personal economy. Banks are happy to lend money at realistic interest rates to those that have adequate security, track record and wealth behind them i.e. those that do not need the money, but the majority of us find borrowing to start up something can be far more challenging and prohibitively expensive.

 

Structural barriers

Institutionalised Obstacles

You might fight them

But you'll get blamed for their existence anyway

The World is a locked-down Caste System

People don't have

Much economic wiggle room

Any more.

                                                                   Daniel Steven Muskowitz

 

Maybe there is still a case for simplicity, simple life simple needs and self reliance rather than dependence on the rules of so called experts to determine ones existence.

 

Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains

                                                                        Rousseau

 

So what of Africa?

 

Ever since the 'scramble' for this vast and great continent began in the 1800's with Queen Victoria's and King Leopold's respective governments leading the onslaught it has been clear that Africa is a rich source of commodities that the world craves from pineapples and tropical fruits to coal, gold and diamonds, more recently joined by oil and gas reserves. Unfortunately colonisation and the first 'rape' of Africa was followed by post independence infighting and the second 'rape'  that still continues, this time perpetrated by economic exploitation and individual Government self harm. Strong words but look around. Today more than 65% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa live on less than two dollars a day that is more than 600 million of the estimated 900 million in the region.

 

My take on the economies of much of Sub-Saharan Africa is that they are works in progress all too often hampered by the very people that are given the responsibility to advance and make things better.

 

Africa currently has some of the fastest growing economies in the world but most are coming from a base so small that the statistics are distorted. It is easy to equate growth with wealth. Nonetheless this cannot be ignored or minimised.  It should be noted that more than one third of deaths in children under five in Sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed to malnutrition.

 

Even so this economic growth has attracted attention from the major economies who are not looking for long term sustainability and further development of these individual countries or to help alleviate the nutrition issues but for short term personal greed and political influence in the region.

 

This then is the problem defined very simplistically. Everyone wants a piece of Africa but it seems they are unwilling accept any responsibility for its development  except on their own draconian terms. It's a bit like the playground bully who sees the poor child with a bag of sweets. He uses his muscles and allies to grab what he can leaving the little guy cowering in the corner. Even if market prices are paid then revenues can easily get 'lost in transit'. As a result investment in public services is not able to be maintained to any standard. Individuals and local corporations see no benefits from paying taxes which are perceived only to disappear into Government coffers never to see the light of day again. It is a vicious circle that needs to be broken by strong government and realistic and fair foreign investment policy.

 

Since the industrial revolution 'Western' economies have had a chance to grow organically from birth. Through infancy, childhood, adolescence to become mature confident adults with a solid domestic economic base. Alas many emerging economies in this fast-track age are not given the same time to mature through the traditional evolutionary process but are forced into the competitive and ruthless economic world while still in infancy and made to sink or swim. It's like taking an infant from primary school and putting him/her in University without the building bricks of a rudimentary education. This is possible with nurturing and altruistic aid but this is seldom given and if offered comes with an impossible price tag.

 

Much of Africa has rich fertile soil which has been abandoned as poor farmers seek their fortunes in the concrete jungles of cities searching for:

 

The card that is so high and wild

They'll never need to deal another.

                                                            Leonard Cohen

 

Unfortunately there are very few such cards and the odds are very much stacked in favour of the dealer. Casinos don't go bust only gamblers!

 

One thing I know to be true, long after oil, gas, coal and other finite commodities run out people will need to eat. I believe African economies would do well to prioritise the rural economy, maximise the benefits of climate and soil thus becoming not only self sufficient in the basics but also providing a solid platform for export and therefore revenue for other investments. This then will mean that Africa does not go 'cap in hand' to mature economies asking for favours but on a basis of level playing field, economy to economy for mutual benefit. Only in this way can they benefit from the resources that can only be exploited by the mature economies because of expertise technology and financial 'clout'.

 

An example of this is Thailand, the world's largest exporter of rice. When venturing out of any major city in this country of sixty million people one will find every available hectare turned over to agriculture, normally rice but also fruits and vegetables. The proceeds from these revenues have developed the tourist industry followed by major road rail, underground and skytrain systems. Thailand cannot boast oil or gas but fully utilises its strengths to provide a thriving economy.

 

My plan would be to make the Minister of Agriculture the most prestigious appointment after the Prime minister in any African Government followed by the Minister of Transport.

 

 

In Geneva these geezers talk trade

Top notch deals and agreements are made

Poor countries get rowdy

So decisions get cloudy

Thus progress of rights are delayed.

                                                Oliver Hill Smith

 

Food for thought Africa!

 

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