Towards the end of the last century upbeat change was around us as technology broke down borders and globalisation moved full speed ahead. Military regimes and coups were receding from the African continent. In Nigeria, 1999 saw the withdrawal of the military into their barracks and the installation of a civilian administration headed by a retired general of the army. In the early 2000s telecoms revolution debuted in Nigeria and with it information technology, Nigeria has not been the same again.
Africa indeed stirred as the OAU became AU and the presidents set up organs like NEPAD for implementating further change on the continent, all these in first decade. The Economist magazine adopted the phrase, Africa; The Hopeful Continent a far cry from their earlier description of Africa as the wound on humanity’s conscience and an Hopeless Continent.
Home in Nigeria, elections were held with regularity and power changed hands from an incumbent to the opposition party. Nigeria and other African countries were some of the fastest growing economies in the world and the giant of Africa Nigeria was crowned largest economy in Africa. Our business men stepped beyond the borders of Nigeria into other African countries. Prominent amongst them were Nigerian banks, Nigerian Telecoms giant Glo and the Dangote Group.
Unfortunately the rising Africa of early 2000s was a mirage built on another mirage of soaring prices of commodities. The real emerging nation was China as they became manufacturers to the world and grew at double digits. This caused a surge in the prices of commodities for which Africa is known. By virtue of the low economic base of many African nations the continent still has most of the fastest growing economies in the world but that is where the good news ends. Power houses like South Africa and Nigeria have slipped into depression.
Economic thinkers like Prof Kingsley Moghalu in his book Emerging Africa queried the Economist magazine assertion of a rising Africa. He pointed out that nothing had changed qualitatively as Africa still engaged the world only in raw materials and not finished goods. So what is Africa emerging from or rising to when human cargo has assumed centre stage as contribution to the world. In Nigeria emigration and human trafficking has since become more intense as we lose important genes to the West in a Japa syndrome.
This syndrome is an upgrade of the former trade in enslaved peoples. In return we get remittances in place of bottles of gin, guns and mirrors. This is Nigeria’s situation as we are about to step into the 2nd quarter of the 21st century. There are some sweet spots as we hope to start the export of refined petroleum products and fertiliser. Also the African Continental Free Trade Area to unite the continent gained traction. However for it’s too early to celebrate considering our poor records with NEPAD and regional bodies in Africa.
In 2013, the AU gave the pubic a look beyond the second quarter of the 21st century by launching AU Agenda 2063. Seven goals were highlighted and a ten yearly audition of progress was put in place. A Nigerian group also took a look into the future for what they called “Imagine Nigeria” with beautiful imageries and pictorials. With significant apologies to the egg heads who compile these reports I regard them as wishlists that do not make riders of us. Such visioning has been done from 1980 in a Lagos Action Plan and NEPAD of 2001 yet things have remained the same in my country Nigeria. Oil remains the main way we engage the world and our infrastructure is built by foreigners.
Juxtapose with China; No High Speed Rail HSR in 2003 to over 40,000 kms of HSR in 2023. Electric Vehicles EVs nil in 2013 to the leading EV maker in 2023. China dominates processing of all ores from copper to lithium ore and rare earth minerals. All these visioned and delivered. Not so Africa not so Nigeria, we do not know how to turn our wishlists to horses, we simply make them and go to sleep.
How do the Chinese make their dreams come true while Nigerians nay Africans don’t? We might take a look our visioners. The visioners are being reactive and not from the depth of their souls. So in reaction to our squalid conditions they react. Those who react on our behalf are our non-revolutionary intelligentsia who are just earning their pay. Entrepreneurs, pioneers, and those who conquer frontiers are what we need and you don’t find them in commissions set up by the African Union or Nigerian government.
A lack of capabilities. China has in house capabilities we don’t so our raw materials are taken to where they can do stuff with them and finished goods are shipped back to us. This was the story 100 years ago and its the story today with slight variation of a defective import substitution policy.
The quality of the aspirations is suspect, we want transcontinental roads or national rail networks but run to China to provide them for us at a debilitating cost. No talk of African or Nigerian Engineering being developed to stellar levels like Orascom of Egypt. Nothing like making simple tricycles or motorbikes and transitioning to sedans like India did.
The African choice of the vehicle to deliver on their dreams is also part of the problem. Most often Africans expect the delivery to be done by their bureaucracy led by some messiah and it doesn’t work that way. Nations with top notch bureaucracies like Japan and mandarins of China have their bureaucracies step aside for their adventurers their entrepreneurs to deliver the goods. In Africa it’s always some politician who must deliver the goods. And all the politician does is put the cart ahead of the horse and commission some white elephant project built by foreigners to much acclaim.
We need to identify and address some intangibles that are holding us down. Let’s consider our education and Human Capital Development. In my time as I was being equipped to contribute my quota to national development it was about getting a mealticket nothing more nothing less. Where ever you were going to work or what ever you were going to do it was about putting food on the table nothing higher. Mine is the generation that enjoyed student loans with no intentions of paying back as it was regarded as taking our share of the national cake.
We recipients of human capital development were in it for getting good jobs, mealticket, not for applying our knowledge of science to fashion tools or develop our curiosity so we can innovate. Curiosity? Do you find that in books or lecture notes that are regurgitated to earn a first class degree. Yet Israel is showing how to use human capital development to turn a barren land into lead exporter of agricultural products. Also to innovate and become start up capital of the world. Yes we have to upturn this facade we call formal education if we want the next quarter of the century to turn out differently from the first quarter of 21st century.
How do we use our history to really motivate us to greater heights? Definitely not by whitewashing our history. How can we tell our history to our children to say “No mas’ No more” to slavery or anything that smacks of it.To say never again. How can we use our history to change our trajectory and gain the respect of other races, after all respect is never given it is earned! Races and nations use historical instructions of the young to challenge them to higher heights, but it can be a two edged sword from which wrong lessons are taught and learnt.
So, if I were to give goals for next twenty five years they will include the following; Converting our wishes to horses by building capabilities and “Doing It Ourselves” DIO. China is able to deliver on it’s dreams because they don’t have to wait on others to do stuff for them. Nigerians and Africans get indebted to others to get their dreams to reality. 2) We have to reverse the millenial long brain and gene pool drain. Urging African Carribeans, African Brazilians and African Americans back to the continent. 3) Deemphasize the role of government bureaucracies as vehicles to deliver on our dreams to be replaced by adventurers mavericks entrepreneurs such that we can lure Elon Musk back to the continent.
The first quarter of the 21st century has been China’s and China is being expected to overtake the US economy by 2027 in nominal GDP terms. The star of the next quarter of the 21st century is already racing away, India and India is now 5th largest economy in the world and at the rate they are growing will soon be the third largest economy by 2030. Whither Africa wither Nigeria? Tip toeing as usual.