Don’t Let the Hype About African Economies Fool You!

Posted on August 17, 2012 by

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A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

Repost of a Perspective piece from AfricanExecutive.com

By Dr. Mary Njeri Kinyanjui, Ph.D.

“There are a billion reasons to believe in Africa,” states Coca-Cola’s new commercial that attempts to capture the spirit of “new” Africa.

Dr. Mary Njeri Kinyanjui (center)

Africa-optimism has in the recent past gained massive hype. Ernst & Young in its May report on Africa’s attractiveness for foreign direct investment (FDI) states that “…There is a new story emerging about Africa; a story of growth, progress, potential and profitability.” According to the African Developmental Bank, “Africa has started to see an economic resurgence” as a result of stronger demand for its commodities from emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. With the continent’s middle class clocking 313 million people, the region’s consumer spending has increased. McKinsey Global Institute projects that consumer spending in Africa will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, from about $860 million in 2008. Over 616 million people out of the 1 billion people that reside in Africa have a cellular phone. The average African drinks about 8 liters of beer per year compared to about 70 liters on average per year for Americans.While the continent is bequeathed with flowery endearments, it must guard against falling prey to the “feel good” trap and ask fundamental questions. For example, how are the endearments changing the lot of Africa’s ordinary citizen? How is Africa changing for the better? Is the renewed interest in Africa by emerging and developed economies out to improve the continent’s socio-economic wellbeing? While Africa ought to embrace the old and new suitors trooping to the continent, this must be done with caution and on a win-win basis.

What happened in Malawi ought to make Africans rethink their celebration. As long as Malawi followed donor dictates and allowed multinational companies to control its agricultural sector, the country was hailed as Africa’s success story on food security. Once Malawi fell out with donors and multinational companies, the country’s food security was crippled. This begs the question: who was driving Malawi’s food security? Between Malawians and merchants of patented and re-engineered seeds and fertilizer manufacturers, who was benefitting most from the ‘success story’? Was this a Malawi success story or a multinational company success story?

As global optimism in Africa is hyped, Africa’s land is being grabbed by ‘investors.’ Investors from China and Europe are busy buying land in Kenya and putting up ‘Chinese only’ and ‘European only’ real estate. As elegant edifices mushroom in Nairobi and its environs, where is the revenue accrued heading? Won’t we wake up one day and find ourselves legally landless and at the mercy of the so called ‘investors’?What will happen twenty years from now when our children find themselves landless? Isn’t this a prescription for a revolution and civil war?

Saudi Arabian investors have reportedly paid $100 million for an Ethiopian farm. Uganda has sold 2 million acres to Egypt. Kenya is leasing out 40,000 acres to Qatar. China owns vast tracts of land in Zimbabwe and Algeria. Madagascar was in the process of leasing out 1 million acres to South Korea. Millions of Africans are dying from starvation as African governments lease and sell millions of acres of land to feed populations in China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Qatar among others.

Africa is busy working on internet connectivity. In fact, growth in Africa’s Internet and Broadband sector has accelerated. By December 31 2011, Africa had 139,875,242 internet users and 37,739,380 people who had subscribed to Facebook. As we consume this service, do we ever question who is controlling the internet? What would happen if the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which basically holds the keys for any person or business hoping to turn up in search results on the Internet, gave a blackout to the continent? As more computers are dumped into the continent, who is the ultimate beneficiary?

Africa, a continent that carries 25% of the world’s diseases is dependent on multinational ‘investors’ for medical supplies. It imports around 70% of its pharmaceutical needs from abroad. Two thirds of global value of pharmaceutical products are produced in 5 countries; USA, Japan, France, Germany and UK.

In the banking sector, more than half of countries in Africa have a banking market with either a dominant or a significant share of foreign-owned financial institutions.The continent spends more money servicing its debt, in other words, paying interest to outsiders, than it spends on infrastructural development.

On the natural resources front, none of the natural resources Africa is blessed with is under African control. While African countries like Nigeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Libya, and Equatorial Guinea among others possess oil in abundance, they don’t have the capacity to discover oil; drill for the oil; refine the oil; transport the oil to the destination where it would be refined; repair existing refineries or have the vessel to transport the oil back to Africa for consumption.

Africa should not celebrate the “…billion reasons to believe in Africa” craze while the continent is owned stock and barrel by other people. We cannot talk of a thriving economy when we are mere consumers and passive.

Before we celebrate Coke’s penetration to most parts of Africa, we ought to ask why we are dying of preventable and treatable diseases; why essential medicines cannot be accessed in African households; why we don’t benefit from our rich natural resources; why we are not in control of our economies; why we are food insecure in spite of a good climate; why it is easier to fly to other continents but not our own; why intra-Africa exchange of goods and services is low and why there is no African homegrown brand that the world can celebrate.

By Dr. Mary Kinyanjui
Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi Email: marykinyanjui@yahoo.com

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Letters to the Editor // The following are responses that Dr. Kinyanjui’s essay evoked at the African Executive website:

A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa

Hi Mary, I honestly thought that the Pan Africanist spirit faded. I’m glad that amongst us are heroes and heroines who see beyond the looking glass. Thank you so very much for the wonderful article you wrote. One thing you should have mentioned about this advert that always pisses me to the bone is that ‘’Africans share a coke!’’ When you share a Coke, the literal meaning is that we drink from the same bottle because we are too poor to afford the drink! I would rather they said we drink Coca-Cola. Sharing involves splitting or dividing…Is that what we do? Yes, as a culture, we share the little we have. But can a bottle of Coke be shared by an entire continent?   Thank you once again for reviving the spirit. I wish to share this article with my networks and even have it published in the web. Jeremiah Kiwoi

RE: A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

Just to say I enjoyed reading your article on Rethink Africa! I will pass it on to my comrades wherever they may be.   Dr Donald P. Chimanikire  Faculty of Social Studies,University of Zimbabwe.

A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa : A Rethink

Dear Dr. Kinyanjui, Thanks for your excellent article that has been published in the latest issue of The African Executive. Your essay on the state of economic affairs in several African countries has renewed my faith that there are other people out there who share my feelings and concerns regarding trade imbalances and lopsided multinational contracts that are daily signed by our corrupt leaders. We certainly need more people like you to educate us all on the high cost of the so called progress – and expose the blunders that may end up siphoning away all of our natural resources and endanger the welfare of our children and the next generation. Congratulations for a job well done !  Lewis S. Guy  Washington, D.C.USA

RE: A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

Much has been said of this DANGER the thinking “Rich syndrome” without really looking into how to exploit that richness to our super benefit. What is the difference in mindset between Africans and the rest of the world? To the best of my knowledge available, countries in the far east sponsored their intellectuals abroad so that they could give back to their countries. What happens to our African intellectuals who got the same opportunity from their countries? They either remain there selfishly or come back home complaining. The Biblical Mathew 25:14-30, talks of the parable of talents. The three servants were entrusted with five, two and one talents each according to their ability… IS AFRICA’S ability one TALENT? Even if so, why do we bury it underground? Are there no even banks around so that we can opt for bank interest if at all we are that LAZY? GOD FORBID. I am concerned with the intellectuals we have in our continents. Indeed I fear their responsibility in their respective nations. We let our people to be led by irresponsible rulers and sit back holding World Bank sponsored workshops analyzing situations. It is time to quit analyzing as many have done that already and take control of our destiny and our children’s destiny, now that we KNOW! ALAS, stop complaining and report writing. It is time to be on top of the situation.   Beatrice

RE: A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

An extremely good, honest and insightful article which every Black African should read.   “Stacy Amankwah”

RE: A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

Dear Mary, I read your article on inamibia.co.na that cautioned Africans against blindingly buying the hype about ‘A billion reasons to believe in Africa.’ Your article was poignant especially when small-scale businessmen in Nairobi protested against the invasion of Chinese citizens in their turf. Yes, China is both loaning money and building much needed roads and other infrastructure in Africa. But does it mean that we allow their citizens to immigrate here under the immunity of ‘investors?’ How come China hasn’t waived or relaxed visa requirements for Africans wishing to travel there for business or even work? Thanks for reminding us to sober up.   Kamau Wamoronjia.

Re: A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink

Dr. Kinyanjui, I am a young African academic, lawyer (specializing and offering guest lectures in legal and policy issues in e-governance and e-commerce), volunteer, author (21 books), poet, and trainer and public speaker on financial literacy and personal branding. I have had the honour to read your article in The African Executive, titled “A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa: A Rethink.” I am humbled, and taken aback. It seems that African leadership is not ‘strategic’ in its negotiations with the ‘investors’ be it in medicare, housing, agricultural production, or ICT applications.

The issues you have raised prove that Africa is not strategically positioned to be self-sustaining, and we neither have control of our present situation, nor do we have the foundation to control the future. I would hesitate to offer a solution to this ‘strategic’ flaw in continental leadership, and I wish to kindly ask you what the solution must be.

I ask because I wish to be part of the solution, and I am also a youth leader, with many young people looking up to me, so, I will be glad to join in a process to make Africa control her destiny; a solution to make Africa be the master of her fate; a solution to make Africa be the captain of her ship.

I hope you will have time within your very busy schedule to respond to me. Once again, thank you for opening my eyes. Ojijo O.M.P.

Re: Eulogy for Marcus Garvey

His Great works are epoc-making, his stature is truly unreplaceable. His example unemulable. Black America, the Carebean and Africa are poor without such brains. Leadership dearth in black Africa yearns for leadership of his calibre for black community to become global players. The world yearns for real justice.                                      Mbeko B.S. Mnyatheli

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