Category Archives: Development

The Futility of Fighting Corruption in an Inefficient Public Sector: The Nigerian Case

By Matthew Ayibakuro

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A sloth (right) aptly depicted a frustratingly slow public servant in the animated move Zootopia (Credit Disney)

I have just returned from spending my summer back home in Nigeria.  This is the third consecutive summer I have done so.  It is not difficult to tell that a lot has changed in Nigeria over the last one year: a new political leadership, a currency in free fall, an economy in shambles, unpaid public servants and an uneasy excitement about the government’s anti-corruption campaign.  In the midst of all this intrigue however, some things managed to remain unchanged.  The people are still resilient, resourceful and hopeful, churches and other places of worship continue to attract sufficient attendance and the public sector remains as inefficient as always.

From going through immigration and customs at the airport to trying to process a document of any kind in a public office to bidding for public contracts and indeed having any form of interaction with the public service in Nigeria, it is all so easy to tell that this is a country at peace with inefficiency.   This has been the case for so long that it now appears that successive governments just do not care about it anymore.  Most steps taken in this regard have often being half-hearted and never seen to a logical conclusion.

At a time when the economy of Nigeria is facing its most difficult times in decades and having to consider expedient structural changes that are long overdue, there is probably no better time to consider dealing with the size and inefficiency of the public service in the country.  Sadly, the country continues to be gripped with the hysteria of fighting corruption in a rather deluded and mistaken belief that winning the battle fight against corruption will solve the mammoth and variegated challenges of socio-economic and political development in the country.

Beyond the “Fight Against Corruption”

As I have conducted researched on anti-corruption measures in sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of years, I have become more convinced of the incongruity of the expression “to fight corruption”.  Dealing with corruption is not just a “fight” you win by landing a deadly blow and then move on to others issues.  It is a lot more complicated than that.  This is a fact that the international development community which thrust the anti-corruption agenda on countries in the global south in the late 1990s is painfully realizing now as it begins to ask fundamental questions of the supposed fight against corruption which should have been asked a long time ago.

It is therefore in the best interest of countries like Nigeria to understand what really would drive development in a country like Nigeria beyond just supposedly fighting corruption when a lot more strategic issues are amiss.   For instance, Nigeria ranks at No. 169 in the World and 36 in Africa in the latest Doing Business index of the World Bank that measures the ease of doing business in countries.  This indicator takes into consideration the ease with which businesses can undertake activities like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

These are all services provided by the public sector and it tells a lot that the country ranks so poorly on the index.  Whilst it is now fashionable to blame everything going wrong in the country on corruption and political parties appear to be in a fruitless battle of trying to establish which is more corrupt and should therefore carry more blame, there is very little a fight against corruption can do to remedy a situation like this.

Those fighting corruption can spend all their days in the ring and their nights in the gym; they can fly to their conceited coaches all over the globe seeking training and assistance and getting pats on their heads all year round in their bid to defeat corruption.  It will all amount to nothing in the long term if fundamental issues like an inefficient public service are not dealt with.

The Cost of an Inefficient Public Service

It is not my intention to trivialize the need to deal with corruption.  However, it is important to contextual this in the broader objective of achieving development.  Without an efficient public service that understands how to do things right and also do the right things, whatever resources saved from dealing with corruption will end up re-embezzled or wasted without achieving the desired development outcomes for citizens.  The cost of an inefficient public service, in terms of discouraging foreign investment, frustrating entrepreneurship and wasting valuable human and material resources will, on the long run, outweigh whatever benefits even the most fervent anti-corruption campaign may provide.

Nigerians are resourceful people.  Their entrepreneurial drive coupled with the wealth of the country in resources and its sizeable market which provides inherent incentives for foreign investment can propel this country out of recession and onto prosperity.  But first, its slumbering public sector has to be awoken.  It is time for the government reconsider its approach of fighting-corruption-is-the-answer-to-all-our-problems and get its priorities right.

 

“From Whose Decisions to Whose Actions?” Reflections on UNCTAD 14, Youth Participation and Development

By Matthew Ayibakuro

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Photograph with the Secretary-General of UNCTAD,  Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi on the first day of the Youth Forum

It has been just over two weeks since I joined over two hundred youths from all over the world in Nairobi for the Youth Forum of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.  The conference was aptly themed, “From Decisions to Actions” with an apparent focus on the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the UN in September last year.

As youths, we had been invited for the first time to UNCTAD to contribute to the discourse on the key issues of education, more and better jobs and state accountability, with the ultimate objective of “Shaping the World we Want”.  But did we really achieve this goal?

A fortnight after leaving Nairobi, as I look back on what was, without doubt, an enriching experience, I realise that our participation in UNCTAD 14 will surely shape the world we want, but not in the ways we expected when we were selected for the conference and definitely not through the major activities or outcomes that UNCTAD itself organised the youth forum around.

UNCTAD Provided the “Form” for Youth Participation

As is the case with most instances of social exclusion of groups in society, a few years down the line, many might be asking how and why it took most UN bodies like UNCTAD 50-60 years before creating space for youth participation in its discourses.  However, UNCTAD deserves commendation for taking the first step in this respect in Nairobi.  And this was indeed a first step in most ramifications: the organisation of the youth forum reflected this in the piecemeal manner the agenda and activities were undertaken and in the fact that there was no predetermined plan for youth participation in the main events of the Conference.

But this was a good first step nonetheless.  Participation is often comprised of “Form” and “Substance” very much akin to UNCTAD 14’s theme that distinguishes “Decisions” from “Actions”.  And by inviting us to Nairobi, UNCTAD had taken a major step in providing the “form” for youth participation in development discourses.  It would however be mistaken on our part as youth, and also from UNCTAD’s perspective, to magnify this beyond what it really was: a formal recognition of the role of youth, nothing more; nothing less.  Looking back now, I realise we were never really going to change the agenda of UNCTAD or indeed that of the United Nations on the key issues we discussed in Nairobi, neither were we going to significantly impact the policies and programmes of our governments back home with the outcomes of our conversation.

So Where does the “Substance” of Youth Participation Really Rest?

My understanding of the essence of my participation in UNCTAD 14 and positively of youth participation in fora of that nature came full circle in the evening of July 20; the penultimate evening of the youth forum.   Due to my research interest, I had been working with the sub-group on state accountability at the forum and on that evening, for about seven hours (5pm to 12 midnight) over fifteen participants drawn from countries as diverse as Uganda, India, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, Namibia, Australia, South Sudan, Great Britain, Dominican Republic, Liechtenstein and Nigeria worked together on what was to be the Youth Declaration on state accountability.

We discussed, argued, voted and reached consensus on the use and expression of paragraphs, sentences and even words as they describe the world we want on the broad range of issues bordering on state accountability.

Back in my room that night, I put down the first thoughts of this reflective piece.  The substance of our participation in the forum rests, not in the declaration that was presented to UNCTAD the day after, but rather on what we had made and would eventually make of the space created by UNCTAD for us to meet; to understand the experiences of youth in our various countries, to learn from the process of creating consensus in a room with people from all over the world, to create and sustain life-long networks between ourselves.  They were, in reality, the factors that would shape the world we want on the long run.

In a fitting coincidence, shortly after listening to Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of UNCTAD who put together a final cocktail dinner for us on the final day of the forum and to whom we will always be grateful for commissioning the forum in his time, I had a fascinating conversation with one of the delegates, a young artist from South Africa.  She took the trouble to explain how her art was all about providing spaces for people to meet, to dialogue and create connections.  She convinced me never to disregard the importance of such spaces in fostering good in the world.  And so we must all recognise and appreciate UNCTAD for providing such a global space for us to meet.

Going Forward: Bridging the Gap From Decisions to Actions

Like artistic spaces, neoliberal theorists often argue that government should have as limited a role as possible in the economy, by concerning itself only with creating an enabling room for private enterprise to thrive.  In the same vein, how we thrive as youth with the space provided us by UNCTAD is left to us.  It is our prerogative now to use this space to continue the conversation, to forge a common voice and demand for more spaces, to proffer and build solutions and thereby  bridge the time-lapse between decisions and actions as the world moves towards realising the SDGs.

To create the needed impact therefore, our approach has to look beyond just influencing how governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions move from decisions to actions, to how we can make use of the spaces created to reach our decisions and take our actions and shape the world we want in the process.

 

MALE CHAMPIONS: THE MISSING PIECE OF THE PUZZLE FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA

By Matthew Ayibakuro

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On Tuesday 8th March, the world marked International Women’s Day 2016: Various events were held in New York, Geneva, Ethiopia and elsewhere, numerous speeches made, Facebook posts and tweets put up and somewhere in the National Assembly in Nigeria, a Senator moved a motion asking Nigerian men to marry more wives, claiming that “the first care of a woman is marriage” and that marrying more than one wife is “a sign of respect for women”

Although the motion did not go through, and some might claim that it should be taken in good humour, it is important to note that this was taking place just a few days after another senator had, with benighted pride, referred to the need to marry Nigerian wives as a way of patronizing “made in Nigeria” products. There is absolute nothing funny in either the inapt coincidence of these statements made on the floor of the Senate or indeed in the timing.

What concerns me most however is the fact that other rational senators in the National Assembly did not speak up against these statements on the floor of the Senate, and as usual, most reactions condemning these statements came from women or women groups, with men satisfied to play a neutral role on issues bordering on gender equality once again.  As considerable strides are being made all  over the continent to secure the rights and protect the interests of women at political and institutional levels, perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle is the emergence of male champions for gender equality.

CELEBRATING THE PROGRESS MADE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA

In the last couple of decades, considerable progress has been made on gender equality in Africa.  Facts show that, as of February 2016, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world with women constituting 63.8% of members of its lower house and 10 of the 26 members of the upper house.  The top ten countries in this respect also include Senegal (ranked 6th) and South Africa (ranked 8). Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America lie at an abysmal 48 and 95 respectively.  Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi are also in the top 20 in the ranking of countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions.  The use of quota systems in most countries has been instrumental to making these gains.

At an institutional level, the African Union declared the years 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s Decade, with 2016 in particular being the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.  In 2015, the African Development Bank Group produced the first African Gender Equality Index offering “a snapshot of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women” with the major objective of providing the needed findings that will spur leaders, policymakers and civil society to start dismantling the barriers preventing women from contributing fully to the continent’s development.

These institutional efforts have also translated to reasonable success on the ground.  Statistics show that between 1990 and 2011, almost 20 African countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment, with others making good progress.  There has been a 47 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates with similar progress in other areas like employment and access to healthcare.

However, most studies show that a lot still needs to be done in furtherance of gender equality on the continent.  There is a palpable disparity in progress made between different countries in the continent on most of the issues mentioned above.  But perhaps more importantly, there is still the prevalence of religion and culture-based prejudices against women in most countries; prejudices that are echoed in the statements of the senators referred to at the start.

GENDER EQUALITY: A MATTER OF NATURAL JUSTICE AS WELL AS DEVELOPMENT

The fact that most men are content playing a passive role on the issue of gender equality is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the foundations and ramifications of gender equality in society.  This explains why, even though the right to equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex is guaranteed in most constitutions, most men would show indifference to this right, in comparison to discrimination on grounds of colour, religion or ethnicity for instance.  It is hypocritical that men would take a stand on discrimination in society on almost everything else, but not the institutionalized discrimination of women in their homes and offices and places of worship.

Discrimination against women, like any other form of discrimination questions the very conception of justice in society, but it also has ramifications for development in the continent. Women have always been economically active in Africa, albeit often as farmers and petty entrepreneurs, and in these roles they continue to contribute enormously to the welfare and life prospects of their families and children in particular.  But this is changing slowly as women are beginning to occupy strategic roles in both the public and private sectors, and as the continent strives to harness its resources for development, bridging the gender gap and unleashing the full potential of women political, socially and economically could yield profound and enduring results for development on the continent.

In the light of this, the conversation on gender equality needs to progress from connotations of social norms, cultural formations and spirituality, traditional or otherwise: It is an issue of justice in society and like most issues of a similar nature in society, indifference on its own perpetrates the injustice.  The patriarchal nature of present-day society mean that, without the involvement of men, progress on gender equality  will continue to saunter.  This is true in Africa, as it is in every other part of the world.  The United Nations #HEFORSHE campaign was initiated in recognition of the important role of men in attaining gender equality.

There are fewer ways for us to be champions to our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives and our nieces that to play our role in creating a just society where they can all ‘equally’ realize their full potential and contribute to development in society, than in advocating for gender equality.  This is my #PledgeforParity.  Over to You…

 

 

 

 

From MDGs to SDGs: Does it Matter? Will it Matter for African Countries?

MDGS AND SDGS

In the last 15 years, so much has been said, done and undone about the notorious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the eight goals globally agreed upon in the year 2000, with the target year of achievement being 2015. In less than two months therefore, it will be time to say goodbye to the MDG rhetoric and say hello to a new global agenda for development: the Sustainable Development Goals.

What exactly is the difference between the MDGs and SDGs? How significant is this transition and will it matter to the development needs of a continent like Africa?

THE MDGs: So Close, Yet So Far

The MDGs agreed upon by all member states of the United Nations in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

The final 2015 report of the United Nations on the attainment of MDGs notes that ‘unprecedented efforts have resulted in profound achievements’ but points to the fact that ‘despite many successes, the poorest and most vulnerable people are being left behind’.

Expressed in simpler terms, progress made towards attainment of MDGs is best described as variegated, so say the least. There is an appreciable level of disparity in the levels of achievement of the different goals, but more important is the practical ramifications of reported successes.   For instance, the UN report notes that primary school net enrolment rate – a major indicator of MDG 2 on achieving universal primary education – in developing regions of the world reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Specific mention is made of Sub-Saharan Africa having the best record of improvement in this respect, having achieved a 20 percentage point increase in net enrolment rate from 2000 to 2015, compared to just 8 percentage points in the preceding decade.

Whilst progress of this nature is being celebrated and probably should be, what it does not tell is the fact that a sizeable number of countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa have primary school completion rate below 60 per cent. An African Development Bank report notes that, as of 2014 almost 22 per cent of the region’s primary age children are out of school, a third of primary school students drop out without acquiring minimum basic competencies in mathematics and reading, whilst the skills and quality content of the education systems in most countries remain questionable.

Without denying the credit due the global community in terms of the celebrated success of the MDGs, caution and reflection, rather than outright celebration is probably the best way to go. The fact is that, only a couple of targets under the MDGs, such as increase in official development assistance and access to piped drinking water was somewhat achieved. All other targets were either narrowly missed or missed by a considerable margin by 2015.

THE Era of the SDGs

But all that is old story now, 2015 is almost gone and it will soon be the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new set of universal goals is expected to be achieved by UN members in the next 15 years. Unlike the 8 MGS, this time around the list is made up of 17 broad goals, which I recommend you go through, if you have the time to do so.

Within the 17 goals are a further 169 targets to operationalise the broad goals. Advocates point out that unlike the MDGs, SDGs are a product of wide consultation involving a working group with membership from 70 countries, alongside global thematic conversations and door-to-door surveys. If all goes according to plan, the attainment of these goals will herald the end of global poverty by 2030.

But things like this hardly go to plan. The goals are already being criticized for being too broad and it is not difficult to see why.   The unwieldy nature of the wording of these goals makes them difficult to understand, especially for those for whom they are created. It would appear that the need to achieve some form of global consensus for the goals have overshadowed the practical implications of the goals themselves. It is intriguing to see how the measuring of all 169 targets will go.

Concerns Already?

If the conference held in Addis Ababa in July on the financing of the SDGs is anything to go by, it is difficult to see what difference the transition or transposition of MDGs with SDGs will make any difference. This is because, even though the goals have increased, there was no commiserate commitment to increase funding for the SDGs. The best result from the conference was a mere ‘recommitment’ to the rather stale UN target for developed countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their GNI on aid, which was set more than 40 years ago.

 

IF Not MDGs or SDGs, Then What?

There is little controversy that the world has changed reasonably since the MDGs were first agreed upon in the year 2000. It would however be patronising to consider this change as drastic or to attribute it wholly to MDG programme. In the same vein, it would be mistaken for the developing world in particular, to put their hopes of ending poverty or development generally on the SDGs.

There are many global issues that need to be addressed side-by-side the pursuance of SDG goals. It is no news that climate change affects the poor more than anyone else, so events in Paris in the next couple of weeks, in terms of candid commitments by western countries at the climate change conference will prove pivotal.

The injustice of the world trading system under the WTO to developing countries continues and the lacklustre commitment at the global level to fight tax evasion and transnational corruption are just a few of the issues which will continue to significantly impact development.

Without resolving these, no Porsche-sounding three letter words will really end global poverty and lead to sustainable development. Developing countries must avoid the temptation of being carried away by flamboyant global initiatives and understand where their priorities should lie.

IS CORRUPTION REALLY THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES?

By Matthew Ayibakuro 

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, with countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt. Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

Infographic of 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, showing countries in Africa as some of the most corrupt (coloured red). Are research findings like this occasioning over-concentration on corruption?

It is almost impossible to go through any material on development in Africa without coming across the word corruption.  Hardly any speech on development of countries in Africa would come to an end without the mention of the “C” word.  It is the go-to word, the toast of academics, analysts, practitioners, politicians, anyone really.   In fact, irrespective of the country or sector you are interested in on the continent, when asked what the major challenge is, you cannot go wrong by starting your answer with the almighty “C” word.  Anything else comes after the big “C”.

However in a continent where most countries multi-ethnic and are still grappling with achieving sustainable economic growth in an unfair global trading system, maintaining political stability, confronting terrorism and other security challenges and dealing with social inequities, amongst others, is corruption the only impediment to development in countries in Africa?  In fact, is it even the major challenge?

The current state of the discourse on the subject or corruption in Africa is a demonstration of how the narrative of a subject can so easily be refashioned and redirected with reckless abandon.  Until the famous speech of the then president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 1996 when he referred to the cancer of corruption as a major barrier to development which had to be dealt with urgently, corruption was considered one of the many challenges to development.  As far back as 1988, the Africa Leadership Forum identified some of these challenges to include capacity building, food security, efficiency of trade investments, regional and sub-regional economic integration, food security, inequality and poverty.

Post-1996, following Wolfensohn’s speech at the annual general meeting of the World bank, the Bank and other financial institutions have led the way in making corruption the major focus of development efforts.  Budgets for good governance-related development assistance has burgeoned at an alarming rate.  Everyone else has followed and  there are no signs of this narrative and therefore focus dwindling anytime soon.

Elections in most countries in Africa are growingly becoming about corruption and little more else.  The most recent presidential elections in Nigeria provides a perfect example with the opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari essentially riding to power on the promise of eradicating corruption.  Very few appeared to have taken note that the election was held at a time when the economy of Nigeria was in dire straits following the slump in oil prices, the value of its currency was also in free-fall and its economic prospects for the rest of the year, at least, looked uncertain.  All these challenges were however overshadowed by the issue of corruption.  That Nigerians elected Buhari is yet another indication of the popular belief that the end of corruption would automatically translate to development.  The economic woes of the country remain and four months after the election, there are no indications in terms of policy to steer the country to economic safety.

It would be foolhardy to deny the importance of fighting corruption in countries in Africa.  However, doing so at the expense of most other pivotal issues challenging development on the continent might prove to be even more costly than corruption itself on the long run.   The challenges identified by the Africa Leadership Forum referred to above remain relevant and visible today on the continent as they were decades ago, and whereas fighting corruption is intrinsically linked to solving some of them, most others have little or nothing to do with the corruption.  Questions are being raised on whether some African countries have even successfully shaken off their colonial legacies and how this might be impacting on their development.  More global issues impeding development of countries on the continent like the unfair imbalance in the multilateral trading system under the WTO also continue to impede meaningful economic growth.

The majority of people who prioritize the fight against corruption appear caught up in the challenge of deciphering the myth and the reality about the prevalence of corruption on the continent.  Between the consistent headlines and sleek research findings of organisations like Transparency International, it is hard to criticise their conviction.

But it is time for African countries to recognise the fact that achieving sustainable development and having a chance of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of development goes beyond just fighting corruption. Ignoring the many other equally vital issues would be at the peril of countries on the continent.  Those who succeed in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption, might just wake up to the fact that corruption was probably just a little more than a needle in a haystack in this prodigious field of development.

THE BRICS AND AFRICA: Why the Apathy?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

BRICS-Toon

Could the BRICS provide  a viable alternative to African countries too?

When Jim O’Neill coined the term “BRIC” in 2001, many would not have foreseen the word becoming anything beyond a witty-sounding macro economic term destined to be cited in academic papers and make conference speakers sound erudite.  However about a decade and a half later, the countries comprised in the acronym – Brazil, Russia, India and China – now referred to as BRICS following the inclusion of South Africa in 2010 have seized the opportunity provided by the coinage of the term to pursue their individual and collective economic and political objectives.

The numbers reveal why the BRICS are important enough to occasion O’Neill’s prediction that they would become the economic powers of the 21st Century.  Between them, these countries boast 42 percent of the world’s population, 26 percent of its’s land territory and 27 percent of global GDP.  The potential economic benefits of cooperation amongst these countries are enormous, not just for the BRICS, but also for the global economy.  In this respect, the agreement by the BRICS to create a New Development Bank following their summit in Brazil in 2014 was of significant note for developing and developed countries alike.  There are also political implications of cooperation amongst BRICS.  Two out of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia and China – are BRICS countries and the group has engaged in the discussion of issues like the Libyan crisis and issues relating to the Iran nuclear situation at its summits.

But what about Africa?  How should countries on the continent act and react to the emergence and policies of the BRICS?  Should they even be concerned at all?

Perhaps, the starting point should be considering the position and role of the only African country in the group.  Since joining the group in 2010, South Africa has significantly grown the size of its bilateral trade with other BRICS countries, with China leading the way.  This is however attributable to South Africa’s membership of the group and not a result of a particular policy on development cooperation with an African country or countries by the BRICS.

Like I noted in my last blog, it would appear that in this case too, countries in Africa are content playing a passive role, rather than taking proactive steps to seize the opportunity provided by the BRIC countries as an emerging alternative to the established global economic order that has failed perennially to genuinely promote growth on the continent.

Two decades after the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and about 15 years after the much-celebrated Doha round of negotiations, it is crystal clear that the WTO has failed woefully to achieve the purposes for its formation, at least on the part of developing countries.  The unfair imbalance in world trade that prompted anti-globalisation protests that culminated in the formation of the WTO, amongst other measures remain entrenched and continue to perpetuate a global trade system which completely sidelines developing countries in favour of the economic and political interests of global powers.

In the light of this, it would be expected that countries in Africa would embrace, without prompting, any alternative system, like that provided by the BRICS to further their development goals.  It is curious to find that African leaders like President Buhari of Nigeria attended the G7 summit in Germany with a sizeable delegation to ‘solicit the sympathy’ of leaders there, whereas there was hardly even negligible media coverage of the BRICS summit which took place in Russia just a few weeks later.

No matter how much aid is given to African countries or what piecemeal trade incentives are included in bilateral trade deals between countries on the continent and globals powers like EU countries and the US, without fundamental changes to the global economic system, no significant development that has the potential to breach the massive gulf between developing and developed countries can be achieved.

Although, the BRICS are not looking at expanding their membership anytime soon, countries in Africa should be willing and ready to participate in such expansion when it does happen.  In the meantime, they should look to take advantage of the BRICS New Development Bank when it becomes fully operational.  

Also, in addition to the prospects for trade and development cooperation, countries in Africa can learn valuable lessons and gain insights from the fact that some of the BRICS countries, with China being the most outstanding case, have achieved unprecedented levels of growth by adopting alternative models of development, distinct from the predominant liberal economy model promoted and thrust upon African countries by the west with negligible results over the years.

A central theme of Paul Collier’s book, The Bottom Billion discusses how most countries in Africa were left behind by the boat of development that was responsible for the growth of most erstwhile poor countries especially in Asia decades ago.  The fact remains that every couple of decades, major economic events around the globe occur which have the potential of tilting the world economy in favour of certain regions or countries with particular attributes. These may ostentatious events like a recession or subtle like the witty naming of a group of countries as BRICS or MINT by a clairvoyant economist.

Taking advantage of these situations require good use of intellect, foresight and proactive action, and in the current state of global relations, countries in Africa must be ready to take advantage of such situations to stand any chance of achieving development that will lifts it population out of poverty.

BETWEEN BUHARI’S WISH LIST AND KENYATTA’S RALLYING CALL: WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OF AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON AID?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Leaders of the G7 Countries, their Partners and 2015 Class of Darling Country Leaders, including President Buhari of Nigeria

Last month Germany hosted the meeting of the Group of Seven countries, often referred to as the G7 Summit.  These countries consider themselves the most powerful industrialised countries in the World.  It used to be group of eight of course, but Russia is suspended.  The merits of this group in world order and its legacy remains debatable; a debate that I do not wish to engage in at the moment.  But every now and then, certain countries are invited to dine with this group of the high and mighty.  This year Nigeria was was one of the fortunate chosen ones.

Of course Nigeria had to consider itself one of the charmed ones going to the G7 Summit, especially at this point in time.  After all, it is the newest darling of the democracy-crazy west.  The country had just concluded general elections where the ruling party had been toppled by an opposition party that had not only won the elections, but did so with a campaign strategy shaped by western consultants.  These G7 countries could not have wished for a better scenario.  Even before his inauguration, President Buhari was the guest of David Cameron to Downing Street, where the Nigerian leader promised, amongst other things, to do all he could to secure his country’s borders, thereby ensuring that Britain would not have to deal with the infestation of African migrants to Europe. This is very crucial to Cameron’s commitment to limit migration to Britain at all costs.

And by the way, that is apart from the fact that he remains very committed to aiding development in Nigeria and Africa in general.  Britain is one of only a handful of countries that fulfils the target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income on aid every year.  So, in the same vein, shortly after the inauguration of President Buhari, the British Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond who was in Abuja for the ceremony, told the President that they were ‘waiting for his list’ of things he needs help with at the G7 summit.  Helping in this way is better, certainly more convenient.  Why deal with a problem on anyone’s terms when you can do it on your terms?  That would be irrational, stupid even.

Buhari’s Wish List and Kenyatta’s Rallying Call

Thus, the expression of the President of Nigeria going to the G7 summit with a “wish list” was born.  I found it amusingly theatric the first time I read about the wish list.  It reminded me of a scene from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I could almost visualise the G7 leaders seated around a table like Don Corleone and then President Buhari walks in expectant and respectful.  He would then speak in low tones about how he needed this for that and that for this.  He would explain how this person was the hindrance and that situation was the problem.   The G7 leaders would nod with empathy and say words like, “We will help you.  Just make sure you do not do this and that.  It is bad for the business of the family and our partners”.  Buhari agrees and everyone comes out with smiling faces for the cameras.  Back in Nigeria, Buhari extols the ‘tremendous sympathy’ of the G7 for the region.

I wonder what faces they would have had on when just a couple of days later, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta made a rallying call for African leaders to give up aid, as “the future of our continent cannot be left to the good graces of outside interests”.  This contrast of opinions and approach from leaders of two of the biggest countries on the continent tells a bigger story.  Between Buhari’s wish list for help and Kenyatta’s rallying call for an end to aid, one wonders what exactly is the strategy of African leaders for aid, and if there is even one at all?

What is the Strategy of African Countries on Aid?

There is a large amount of literature on development assistance.  There are those who call for an end to aid like Kenyatta.  Others criticise the practice of conditionality that accompanies aid, whilst yet others who support conditionality, go further to argue that the conditions are often the wrong ones or that they are not monitored or implemented properly.   The one homogenous feature of all these opinions is the fact that they all talk about the strategy of donor institutions and countries.  There is little or no talk about the strategy of recipient countries.  Surely it is time for this to change.

In recent terms, there is a general impression that there is another scramble for Africa; principally for its resources, but also for its potential and opportunities.  Unlike the previous scramble for Africa, the history of which is best forgotten but never will be, this time it is not just the Europeans.    The East in the form of China in particularly is increasing its presence and prominence in Africa.  It  professes to have an agenda different from that of the West in terms of aid and general development cooperation.  It does not care about the much publicised and berated issue of conditionality.  It will deal with African countries without necessarily telling the various governments what to do, as the Europeans and Bretton Woods Institutions have since the 1980s.

The important thing is that the Europeans apparently know what they want from their dealings with African countries on aid or otherwise.  The Chinese also do.  The question then is, do African governments know what they want?  What is their strategy generally in dealing with donors. Do they have one in dealing with China?   Have they had one in dealing with Western donors over the years?  If so, has this strategy being reviewed in the light of the relatively recent involvement of China in the equation?  In what ways are the governments of countries in Africa planning to leverage the new scramble to deal with Africa for its benefit?

It would appear that in 2015, as it was decades ago, most African leaders are still content playing the role of passive aid recipients, without necessarily being proactive on the issue of development assistance.  They appear to be just lying there with open arms, beneath the decision table, collecting what crumbs that fall to them, totally unperturbed about the implications of the decisions taken at the table before aid is given; the strategies, the motives, the significance.

Making the Most of the Moment

The new scramble for Africa is an obvious testament to the opportunities that the potential of the continent provides.  But it is also an opportunity for governments of countries on the continent  to become active in deciding its fate in dealings with willing development partners.  With leaders like Buhari taking a list of demands for help to the G7, I can only wonder how many leaders in the continent understand the strategic nature of this moment in the history of the continent.

It may sound fashionable to show an understanding of the basis of western aid, no doubt endearing to be critical of it.  But I reckon it is now time for African countries to put all that aside and become proactive in dictating the terms upon which it would cooperate for development with the West.

Whilst doing this as individual countries might yield reasonable results, no doubt a continent-wide effort is required.   The African Union needs to take the lead in this regard.  It needs to put together its own set of conditions under which donors should be required to deal with the continent in a way that benefits the countries in the continent, not just conditions that the donors consider beneficial to the continent and/or themselves.  Such strategic policy document should serve as a framework within which individual countries may then negotiate the terms of development assistance agreements.

How Africapitalism Could be the Next Pan-Africanism

By Matthew Ayibakuro 

Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Tony Elumelu is Credited with Having Coined the Term "Africapitalism" and Continues to Champion the Ideology.

Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Tony Elumelu is Credited with Having Coined the Term “Africapitalism” and Continues to Champion the Ideology.

It is just over one week since the conclusion of the Oxford Africa Conference, 2015.  As always, it was a gathering worth attending in its own right.  With political leaders, top academics, entrepreneurs, consultants, students, NGOs,  entertainers and innovators all in attendance, the Conference ex-rayed developments in Africa from the widest range of perspectives possible, within the context of the theme: “A Continent on the Move: People, Politics and Business Across Borders”.

As would be expected from a gathering of this nature, plenaries and panels discussed various thought-provoking subjects that appealed to different sections of attendees.  One of such plenary sessions was themed Africapitalism and Entrepreneurship as a Catalyst for the Development of Africa”.  As I listened to Tony O. Elumelu, a Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist articulate the idea of Africapitalism and its implications for development in Africa, it was easy to see how strategic this ideology could be for development in the continent.

AFRICAPITALISM – CONCEPTION AND COMPONENTS

Africapitalism refers to an economic policy which posits that the private sector in Africa has the power to transform the continent through long-term investments, creating both economic prosperity and social wealth.  This is premised on the belief that the private sector has the potential to solve the many lingering development challenges of Africa more effectively than public sector-led action, international development assistance or philanthropy.

In the last decade or so, much has been made of the “rising Africa”.  There is another rush for opportunities and prominence in Africa.  China is providing finance and is involved in infrastructural projects all over the continent.  Europe is trying to restructure its strategy for the continent, and Obama and the Americans even had a summit last year specifically to discuss trade and investment, or perhaps, to ensure that they were not left out of the rising Africa.

Whilst globalisation and business sense entails that Africa must trade and cooperate with other continents and countries on a wide range of issues, there is  probably no better way to show that the continent is indeed rising than for Africans to finally take the driving seat for their development.  This is an idea that has been mused for a long time, but there has hardly been any concept or ideology that has comprehensively grasped its operationalisation until now.

Entrepreneurship and innovation is already flourishing on the continent.  Multinational corporations are beginning to emerge with the likes of Dangote and Elumelu himself leading the way.  Africapitalism, properly articulated, can provide a rallying ideology around which private-led development by Africans can flourish.

AFRICAPITALISM – SIGNIFICANCE 

There are two reasons why the concept of Africapitalism is and will be important for development on the continent: the rational and the emotional.  On the rational part, the perennial failure of the public sector to drive development in Africa means it is only rational to consider the private sector as a viable alternative.  By now, I am sure that the world and Africans themselves are tired of complaining about the failure and/or inability of leaders from all parts of the continent to engender meaningful development in their various countries, despite the wealth of resources in most of these countries. Bad governance and corruption appear insurmountable.

Philanthropy and international development assistance has also failed to make any reasonable impact on the continent.  Thus, over time, a lot of Africans have grown increasingly suspect of aid, western aid in particular.  It is therefore just about the right timing for the private sector to take over the drive for development in Africa.  Africapitalism succinct captures this mood.

And talking about moods, the second aspect of the importance of Africapitalism has to do with it’s potential to unleash an emotional drive amongst Africans to take control of their development.  In the same way that the ideology of Pan-Africanism built solidarity amongst Africans so many years ago, Africapitalism could be the next concept that, not only unites Africans, but inspires the continent to finally realise its long-acclaimed potential.  I certainly felt that way as I listened to Tony Elumelu at the debating chamber of the famous Oxford Union.

ARE THERE CONCERNS?

It would amount to overselling the idea not to recognise the concerns that must be taken into account in pursuing Africapitalism.  For all its popularity, capitalism has always had its detractors.  It is often said that private sector-led development might lead to growth without development.  Concerns of inequality and irresponsible practices occasioned by capitalism has led to the emergence of concepts like corporate social responsibility, shared value and inclusive growth.  Hence, the ideology of Africapitalism must make paramount the components of creating social wealth and social enterprise.

The state of infrastructure in the continent poses a threat to the success of Africapitalism, especially with respect to power, education and transport.  This is an area that should ordinarily fall to the role of government in providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.  But failing this, entrepreneurs need to consider investing as much in infrastructure as in any other part of the economy.  Admittedly, infrastructure projects require mammoth capital investment.  However, businesses can engage in smaller-scale infrastructure projects, whose benefits, when aggregated, can have as much impact as the traditional large-scale infrastructure projects.

Whilst I am sure many would prefer to leave the public sector and its failures behind as the continent looks forward to this drive for private-sector led development espoused  by Africapitalism, this is practically impossible.  Government must play its inexorable role of providing an enabling environment – regulatory, institutional, infrastructural and otherwise.  Indeed no entity can play the role of checking the inevitable excesses of unbridled capitalism like government  can, and it must live up to the task of steadying the ship of development as it is propelled on by the private sector.  For political leaders in Africa, simply carrying out the basic job of governance properly will no doubt be a good start.

WHY ALL THIS MATTERS

It is estimated that by 2050, the population of Africa will more than double from the current 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion people, with the population of Nigerian alone expected to surpass that of the US.  By then there would be about 1 billion Africans of working class age with over 50% of people living in cities and consumers in Africa spending almost 2 trillion dollars.  Currently, 60% of the world’s total amount of uncultivated arable land is located in Africa with more than 52 cities on the continent have a population of at least 1 million each.

These are statistics that tell of the challenges that will confront the continent in the near future.  But more importantly they tell of the enormous opportunities that the continent provides for businesses in particular.  Until recently, these are statistics that governments, development organisations and businesses  outside Africa would look at keenly in formulating strategies to access the continent for profit, relevance or otherwise ‘help’ the continent.

Understanding and putting into operation Africapitalism provides an ideology and drive for Africans themselves to  harness and take advantage of the enormous potential of the continent to achieve long-overdue development, through private sector-led enterprise.  It might just be the next Pan-Africanism.

The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria: Examining the Underlying Blindspots

By Matthew Ayibakuro

Nigeria_election_2015.svg

Map of Nigeria Showing States that voted for Muhammadu Buhari (Red) and Goodluck Jonathan (Green) at the 2015 Presidential Election

The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria has been hailed as the most free and fair election yet, that the country has witnessed since its return to democracy in 1999.   Apart from the conduct of the election, the actions and reactions of the major contending political parties and especially of their presidential candidates have made headlines around the world.  As expected, the encomiums have been pouring in from all over the world.  But do these headlines tell the whole story about the just concluded elections in the most populous black country in the world?  Is Nigeria, by the singular fact of this election, now a model of democracy in Africa?  Has it now heaved out the many demons that have bedevilled its democracy up until this moment?  Is Nigeria now strategically placed to  achieve development through democratic governance?

The Significant Positives

It is beyond doubt that there are many positives to draw from the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria.  It was freer and fairer than any previously conducted in the country.  Despite the many challenges, the use of card readers and permanent voter cards during the election was itself a milestone which, if leveraged upon, provides a lot of promise for future elections in the country.

Perhaps the most positive development for which the 2015 presidential elections would be remembered is the phone call by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan to the winner Muhammadu Buhari, conceding defeat and congratulating the latter, even before the results had been officially announced by the electoral body.  This action was surprising as it was unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and indeed of the continent of Africa.  It left the opposition shocked, and the supporters of the president overwhelmed.  The ghosts of post-election violence that was predicted were immediately expelled even before they had a chance to surface.  The country got the praise for it.  Democracy got the medal, and in the midst of all this, it could easily be forgotten that this was the singular act of one man, not his party, or his supporters; I doubt if any of these groups would have approved.  Whether or not the opposition would have done the same is anyone’s guess, but no harm done. The country is peaceful, and our ratings for democratic governance for 2015 would skyrocket when they are released, no doubt.

There are however many salient trends that emerged from the elections that have the potential of detracting rather than enhancing democratic governance in Nigeria; trends which should probably be making headlines too, or at least providing a cause of worry for Nigerians, and everyone else who is interested, or at least claims to be interested in strengthening democracy and achieving development in the country.

The Underlying Blindspots

A look at the above map showing the voting pattern by states in the country, show the deep lying divisions in Nigeria.  These divisions are not based on progressive factors like performance of current and past governments or on levels of development in various parts of the country.  They are rather drawn clearly on religious and ethnic lines.  To deny this palpable fact would mean adhering to sheer hypocrisy.   The muslim-dominated northern states voted en masse for Muhammadu Buhari who is a muslim, whilst the largely christian southern states did the same for Goodluck Jonathan, a christian. The BBC graphically portrayed the ethnic colouration of the election when it reported that the election was a tale of two hats: one representing the north, the other representing the south.  It has not been this obvious for a long time.  There were a few variations here and there, but these were way too insignificant in the context of strengthening democratic tenets in the country.  The voting pattern  makes vivid ethnic and religious lines that are deeply rooted in the history of the country’s unpleasant past; lines that are best forgotten in the best interest of everyone.

The UNESCO International Panel on Democracy and Development  (IPDD) in 2002, highlighted a number of factors in its proceedings which aptly describe the concerns for democratic governance in Nigeria as revealed by the 2015 presidential elections in the country:

A democratic society should be aware of three potential pitfalls.  First, the domination of the majority does not constitute democracy.  Minority groups deserve representation and without it, democratic governance is simply a tyranny of the majority.  Second, minority political representation in and of itself does not guarantee harmony and in some cases can exacerbate problems.  Finally, despite a need for cultural diversity in politics, minority status should not be the basis for access to power.  That is, ethnicity, cultural and religious ties should not be prerequisites to political power”

The reality of the above truths, do not only define the just concluded election, but aptly describe the democratic culture of Nigeria from a broad perspective. It provides insights on how Goodluck Jonathan, a minority, became president of the country in the first place, and why he had to contend with many issues such as Boko Haram throughout the duration of his tenure.

Going Forward

In just over a month, the opposition party in Nigeria, the APC will officially become the ruling party.  It promised change to Nigerians.  The most significant and perhaps most challenging change it can deliver to Nigerians would be to change the democratic culture of the country.  This is the only way it can consolidate on the gains that have been made so far in terms of entrenching democratic practices in the country.  Democratic governance cannot thrive or be sustained along the path it is threading currently in Nigeria.

Although some may not agree with this, in my reckoning, it fell to the predisposition and strength of character of one leader to  provide the framework which allowed the opposition in the country to thrive without harassment or intimidation, to ensure that free and fair elections take place, to concede defeat without compulsion, thereby saving the lives of many  Nigerians and perhaps the very existence of democratic governance in Nigeria.  In doing so, he allayed the fears of many, and made Nigeria a beacon of pride for democracy in Africa.

Post May 29, 2015, it would ultimately fall to yet another man to build on these milestones.  Whatever his agenda is for anticorruption, for socio-economic development and the many other things that would foster development in the country, establishing a truly democratic culture in Nigeria has to be an objective as significant as any other.  Until this is achieved, it is probably too early for Nigerians to start counting their blessings as a country.

Are African Countries not Doomed to be ‘DEVELOPING COUNTRIES’ FOREVER?

By Matthew Ayibakuro

DEVELOPING VERSUS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES

In the world, people are described in different ways depending on a range of factors not worth exploring here: White, Black, Asian and so on.  When completing forms in Britain for instance, the categories get a lot more interesting – Black or Black British, Arab,  Asian or Asian British, Chinese, Mixed, White and even an ‘unknown’ category for those who, well, do not understand their particular categorisation.

Countries are similarly described too, albeit in a more sophisticated manner.  Depending on the level of development as indicated on UNDP’s Human Development Report, a country could be termed a low-, medium-, high-, or very high human development country.  As expected, over eighty percent of African countries are in the low human development category. No surprises there.  It’s a trend. It’s normal.   On its part the World Bank classifies countries into four categories: low income, lower middle income, upper middle income and high income countries.  Unsurprisingly economies in African countries fall into the first two categories, dominating the first in particular.  Beyond these, fashionable descriptions of countries that are ‘not developed’ are not hard to come by; ’Underdeveloped’, ‘poor’ ‘third world’. . . .

However, the most prominent of all taxonomies is the blanket categorisation of countries into developed and developing countries.  In Africa, our countries are developing countries.  That is the way it is. It has always been that way, and it would probably continue that way for the foreseeable future.  The origin of this classification of countries as developed or developing is debated, but it is generally understood that the term was introduced in line with the development drive of the 1960s in describing the relationship between newly independent countries, especially in Africa and those countries ‘vigorously pushing’ for their development.

‘DEVELOPING’.  It is positive word.  It denotes forward movement – progress.  But what exactly are developing countries moving towards? Who determines the ultimate goal of this progress? What is the ultimate destination of their development journey?  Will they ever arrive at that destination, and will they even know when they have arrived?  In other words, will the current crop of perennial developing countries ever get to the point of being addressed as ‘developed’ countries, or being developed countries in fact?

Whilst it appears that should be ultimate goal, I am not sure if it would ever be achieved.  Development theory has long moved past the economic development paradigm set in the 1960s where the development of countries could be measured by a simple calculation of GDP and other statistical indicators.  Today, a country’s development is now measured by goals like political order and stability, equity and democracy with all its numerous attendant attributes, like free and fair elections and human rights and all the other globally-accepted high-horse sounding virtues that African countries are not known for.  Perhaps African countries are not known for them because we do not know them, because our societies were not built on those foundations, because our culture and values are very different from these goals.

But no, I cannot think that way.  That is the way only traditional ‘uncivilised’ people think.  It is the reason we had to develop – modernise in the first place.  So for over sixty years, African countries have been striving to develop, to modernise their countries based on the models of the ‘developed countries’. The strife appears perpetual.  It is hard to see the finish line.  It is as if the goals are being updated after every decade, depending on what big institutions like the IMF would call the ‘World Economic Outlook’.

At other times, we owe the change of goals to the genius thoughts of some smart nobel-prize winning individual, like in the 1990s when Amartya Sen declared that development was no longer about the economy or infrastructure, but about ‘Freedom’ – increasing the capabilities of individuals to be able to freely live the lives they can.  This caught on fast and firmly too. The World Bank, IMF, UN and all the other big ships sailing on the ocean of development quickly readjusting their sails and headed towards Freedomland.  And why not? Everything else that has, at one point or the other, being pursued as development could be easily subsumed under prerequisites for freedom – education, infrastructure, economy, democracy, political stability, etc.  All these and more were needed for individuals to enjoy and express their freedom.  Everyone had to readjust.

For the developed countries, it was easy.  These are the things they are known for, the things on which their societies have experimented for hundreds of years and become so good at. In fact, I doubt there was a real need for adjustment at all.  But not so for African countries.  Even before many had driven lap one like in Formula 1 races, they came to realise many more laps have just been added to the race.  More fuel than anticipated would be needed, more parts, more pit stops.  No need to worry, the developed countries and the big development institutions would provide support – aid, technical expertise and everything else in-between.

In fact, they will even throw in some extras like annual reports to tell each country how good or really bad they are doing. Those annual reports – on corruption, on human rights, on human development, on the economic outlook – there are reports for almost anything these days, I lose count.  But they are quite easy to use though, for Africans in particular. I will let you in on the secret formula in using them – just start from the bottom up.  It won’t be long before your country pops up!  Except of course, you are Botswana on the corruption index – they are the ‘miracle of Africa’ in that regard.  Miracles!  How we need them. If we are to win this development race, we would need lots of them.  Perhaps more than anything else.

The most prominent beacon for developing countries right now is the Millennium Development Goals, according to which developing countries by 2015  should eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal basic education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, amongst others.  It is worthy of note that the specific targets under each of these goals are often the barest minimum possible.  Hence, even when a developing country achieves  universal primary education, there is yet secondary education and tertiary education to be attained before that country would stand a chance of being considered a member of the comity of developed countries.

More so, with the rate at which technology is advancing, it would seem obvious that by the time developing countries get to the current stage of developed countries, the latter would be way ahead of the pile.  Perhaps the determinant of development might then be the number of robots co-existing with humans in a particular country or the countries that own colonies in outer space.  Exaggerated theory, perhaps.  But the point is that in the current state of things, it would appear that certain countries – mostly African countries – are doomed to be developing countries – second class countries if you will, in terms of development – forever.

Some have suggested that the measure of development should rather be the rate of happiness amongst citizens of a particular country without particular reference to income, infrastructure or other such measures.  The merits of theories like this notwithstanding, countries in Africa might just fare better under such standards.  In any case, there is a serious need for a change in paradigm.  Otherwise, developing countries will find themselves perpetually running a race where the strategy for victory is determined by their opponents, and the tape at the finish line also held by their competitors who may continue shifting it at will.  There is no winning such races, not even for our long distance maestros from East Africa.

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