I was struck by Gbenga’s picture on facebook that said “Africa Open for Business” because I had been contemplating having a cartoon which was an extended version of that. When I sold the idea of the extended version Gbenga was not so pleased so I chickened out but I am yet to explain the Histo-politico-socio-economic reasoning behind it all to him. I haven’t read Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid yet but those that have read it have acclaimed it as a masterpiece (in the US people refer such books as New York Times Bestsellers, and almost every book is touted as such) There is a connection between Dead Aid and Gbenga’s photo and this is where my extended version of the cartoon comes in.
Many people especially Western leaders and the non-profit community present a gloomy picture of Africa, Somalians starving and need to be fed immediately (sure everybody wants food even those who are full need it) When you say you are from Africa you become a charity case and that picture resonates in another person’s mind, even if you are Makerere/University of Zimbabwe/Cairo University/University of Ibadan/UNISA educated wearing a Prada suit, Hugo Boss cologne, Gucci shoes and drive the latest car in the world, Africa is poor! Zimbabwe has a 91% literacy rate, has 25% of diamond reserves, second largest platinum reserves in the world! What! Yet it gets Aid. I have often wondered what would happen if half of this aid all becomes economic investment that would result in return on investment.
$300 can buy a ton of maize and feed 100 people for a month but if we give it to three farmers they would produce roughly 18 tons of maize that can feed roughly 150 people per year or $5400 worth of maize. If we take back our $300 investment and just $100 in interest (for only 5 months if you are a loan shark like me) Give this $400 to four farmers the next season and keep rolling it and loan sharking them and see what happens. With their profits they are able to send their children to school, build better houses, they see the need to have better roads because they have cars, they have little time to engage in the petty politics of who got more food aid and who is sidelined and are able to have food reserves in cases of drought. This forces the local blacksmith to work hard in having better tools for sale and will recruit his idle son and nephew to learn the trade employment creation and youth empowerment) The local hardware store owner is kept busy. The women can then have some income to invest in their poultry projects and sell first among each other but when business is booming the local civil servants will buy from them and concentrate on their jobs than subsistence farming. With $300 we have created business and livelihood or we would have only fed 100 people. A host of problems have been tackled indirectly and a chain of events has been set off.
My fantasy seems to be working well towards a happily ever after outcome utopia with $300! Some have already been skeptical (which I don’t mind wholeheartedly). But honestly why invest in all terrain vehicles that cost $40-100000 pay Takah $24000 a year to run “project” when we can’t experiment with scaling up. The “POOR” people will be able to hire Takah to assist them in many things as there are many problems to solve and Takah with that experience can be the local member of parliament and work towards coming up with better policies and laws (democracy, good governance and rule of law) Someone somewhere is also thinking that they would be jobless after someone loans me $300 and my fantasy comes true. Of course yes if you are short sighted and would want to spend all your life tallying the number of malnourished children, distributing food aid and mapping vulnerability. With increased incomes comes a lot of problems and new challenges; the need for social workers to deal with alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, Cancer treatment and support, need for more specialized teachers and a whole lot like being an Entomologist (it has to do with some crop eating insects)
Someone is asking about the macro-picture (politics, direct foreign investment, exploitation of mineral resources and oil, corruption) It is a tough call but here I go; if we invest in the micro then the politics are also invested in. I will borrow Marxist terms: If we water the base (micro) then the superstructure (micro) would be fine (not perfect but acceptable to a level that critics like me can have a job by analyzing and transforming it and having a generation of thinkers. I would like to have students studying Sociology of Smiling in a drought year) If a farmer is able to take his child to school then we impart societal values of democracy and good governance, the need to uphold the law and respect for private property, mutual respect for political opinion, equality and justice. All children boys and girls are able to go to school and compete with each other and respect one another. (sometimes it is important to use these theoretical concepts and make them relevant in everyday situations)
The whole world needs to change the way it interacts with Africa, we are a charity case and can also pretend to be a charity case and people keep pumping their millions on us and we pretend to be hungry in our loin cloths and when we go for meetings with NGO officials we wear clothes that are torn because we will spend time sitting in the dust (then the NGO and Donors think we are poor and miserable) unlike when we go to church on Sundayin our Pradas smelling Christian Dior knowing we would be sitting on a bench. Sometimes it is easier to get food aid than to work towards growing your own food. Intellectuals like me will keep my folks down and not see things improve because I have links to the donors and if every trick fails we come up with something else to work on and the donors make it easy for me when they shift focus and I am well aware of the trends.
So right now am looking for ten (only ten) people to each invest $300 on my stock market and I will give them back $400 within 6 months. (there is no place like my stock market) Remember you are investing and if you would like to reinvest your investments will double within a year. I will invest this money in Zimbabwe (yes Zimbabwe of all places where economists tell you of risks and instability) If you have common sense everybody buys and eat food so why not grow it, you want them to fight over what they did not grow, it’s not worth it.
Gbenga says Africa is Open for Business, yes low investment and high return. The door is wide open for business and the sooner we shut the aid door the more leaders are accountable and invest in what needs to be invested than thinking NGOs will do it on their behalf. If you were thinking of a tax deductible donation to Zimbabweans forget it I am taking investment and will make your money grow and you will pay your taxes on that investment. If you are skeptical I may as well talk to the Chinese who buy cotton from us to sell you cheap clothes and other low priced goods. (they can now make everything since copyright laws are rarely implemented there because they get it cheap from us)
Let me start writing my Sociology of Disguise and how to keep begging and never change, or think about how to make business with the Chinese.