People often go through the process of “sharpening their elbows in the morning”, whether it’s for a job interview, for an upcoming event or just to get through a difficult day. The process of mental preparation is the same, though varied.
Africa like many developing continents was once called a basket case; even India was called the same some years ago. However if we remember that Europe only developed technologically and gained some sense of stability 200 years ago, and unity just 50 years ago puts things into perspective. Yet the outbreak of war in the Ukraine shows how delicate this balance can be. For a continuous period of growth and prosperity, development needs to have been in place over a long and sustained period of time.
Development is much more than just growth, one has to consider such measures as the ability to fend for oneself, afford healthcare, education, and other basics such as employment and whilst the ability to choose is a privilege, it should be a constitutional and respected right in itself. Measurements of growth and poverty are done using GDP and PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) indexes. However poverty has social, political and economic causes, effects and implications, so while it would be impossible to have a perfect measurement, yet these variations need to be put into perspective.
Africa is growing and six of the fastest growing countries in the world are African. Though, growth is mainly due to export of primary products, and not due to services, manufacturing or technological invention, so is artificial as this prices of primaries always fluctuate, leading to stagnation, regression and dependence.
I think the place to start for African development is to invest in the informal sector, develop manufacturing and services, invest in power generation, seek investment from non traditional sources, and deal with its terrible leadership problems. Legalising the informal sector is a place to start, for example providing them with cheap access to loans, credit, banking and services, providing them with facilities and so on.
After all the informal sector makes up to 60% of many African economies, is labour intensive, cheap and mobile. The woman who plaits hair for a living or the body painter, whom, through her innovative designs is able to send her children to school, welders, hawkers or those who sell carvings or beads to tourists should not be penalised, they have to make a living somehow. Look at how China and India industrialised using cheap mass unskilled labour; this is definitely a place to start.
African economies are very different, complex and one size fits all, models of growth don’t work, as experience has shown. Safety nets are essential for development, protecting infant industries, easing in modernization slowly, due process of law, creating an enabling environment for trade, industry, investment, and end such bottlenecks as bureaucracy and so on.
However development can only start from the bottom up, and needs to be sustainable. Careful long term planning needs to be implemented and the end of monopolies, in order, to not only foster growth, but to improve standards through healthy competition.
We also need to deal with our haphazard infrastructure. But are we ready for such change? Poverty is not just a physical manifestation of need, it’s also a state of mind, and sadly to say, many Africans fall into this category.
Change can only come about when people say enough is enough, they then cannot be shut out or down, and Gandhi said something similar. Nothing will change, unless we cooperate; people must make their voices heard.
Dependence on aid won’t work, we need to innovate and become prescriptive and not reactive. We need to sharpen our elbows in the morning before we leave the house; too much is at stake for us to leave things to chance.