“As I travel across Africa, I notice two things about how we’re growing. I see the sparkle in the eyes of a few. I get a sense of disenchantment and exclusion from many, many more.”
These are the exact words of the African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina. Before Africa goes on wild parties and festivals to celebrate the exponential economic growth the continent has seen thus far, a rain check is necessary. Real growth lifts the standards of living for everyone and inequality is a demon every growing economy has to exorcise if everyone is to benefit from the gains.
The African economy has been growing in leaps and bounds with every single year without any foreseeable mitigating factor in the horizon. However, what is growth if it is not for the ordinary people? Africa is facing fundamental moral questions that the developed world has failed to answer. In 2011, the United States of America was confronted by the seeds inequitable growth had spawned by way of the Occupy Wall Street protests. In some decades, Africa could be battling numerous “youth quakes” of this nature if equality is not factored in now when development is just starting.
In a report to the Ghanaian President, Justice Yaw Apau, the Sole Judgement Debt Commissioner in Ghana alluded to political consideration and cronyism in the award of contracts as key causes of needless judgement debt payments that have haunted the state’s government. This came after President John Mahama had instituted a judgement debt commission to investigate the numerous and needless to say, suspicious judgement debt payments in the country. The first step to achieving equitable growth would be fighting the cancers of cronyism and nepotism in governments. Corrupt dealings that put personal relations and political support ahead of all else are costing the ordinary citizens. Nigeria’s own corruption agency estimates that the country has lost out on between $300 to $400 billion of oil money due to cronyism and corruption. It is clear that if the government had acquired this money, it could have gone a long way in lifting the standards of living for everyone but instead, it is in some already rich tycoons’ pockets. What is $400 billion if it does not benefit the people, some of whom had to be moved to facilitate for the resource extraction?
Going forward, Africa should focus on giving innovative start-ups the head start they need. Small companies that have the innovation and drive to see through big projects should be accorded the chance to take up tenders and big projects in the continent. Jonathan Berman said Volo was awarded the chance to establish the first consumer credit bureau across West Africa by using biometric solutions and credit algorithms to redefine who gets credit. Instead of just giving projects to large corporations because they have done it before, it is necessary to run the continent’s affairs with at least a hint of meritocracy. This promotes smaller but sharp brained businesses to grow thus enriching the lower classes to rise up the societal ladder. In particular, the issue of tenders in different governments has always been a bone of contention. In most cases, tenders have been shrouded in bad faith considering the impact of cronyism in decision making. In Zimbabwe, there is a case of a project that Brainworks Capital, a private equity group, got without tendering. The then minister of indigenisation and local empowerment is said to have simply contracted Brainworks yet the project should have gone to tender. Fortunately, the minister no longer holds that portfolio because such underhanded dealings could only have benefitted him and his cronies.
The African Development Bank says that the ingredients for inclusive growth are boosting agricultural production, helping small businesses, better quality and relevant education, encouraging the private sector, improving investment climate and addressing gender and regional disparities. Agriculture is inseparable from African economic success considering its contribution to the African economy. Agriculture is said to account for more than 48% of the employment in Africa. Boosting production by implementing more technologically savvy farming practices and actually paying for the produce will go a long way in levelling the playing field in the economy. Government owned entities like the Grain Marketing Board of Zimbabwe that do not pay for all the produce they take are counter-development and do nothing for equality. It is particularly sad when the farmers are not allowed to sell to other parties that actually pay up. What is agricultural growth if it does not serve the farmer?
Better quality and relevant education as identified by the AfDB is also part of the mix that could make Africa the equality haven it should become. The impact of education can never be overstated in Africa. The time is now for curricula that embody the future Africa wants to see. Zimbabwe is in the process of changing its school curriculum into a higher form that is relevant for the technological village the world has become. With effective educational tools, gender and regional disparities can be done away with in the process. A child in the rural and most remote area of Africa should be equipped with an education that does not prepare him to be just a worker but a business owner, a mover and a shaker.
In November 2010, Sipho Pityana of Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) warned that South Africa was witnessing a transition from the politics of social justice, liberation and public service to that of personal wealth accumulation, concentration and hegemony. This could ring true for the rest of the continent if people do not make conscious efforts to incorporate equality in the developmental mix. Economic growth should be for the people.