Afr­icap­i­tal­ism, Gov­er­nance & Sus­tain­abil­ity

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THERE IS NO GAINSAYING the fact that Africa is rid­dled by a plethora of chal­lenges – poverty, dis­eases, con­flicts, bad gov­er­nance, poor in­fra­struc­ture, et cetera.

THERE IS NO GAINSAY ING the fact that Africa is rid­dled by a plethora of chal­lenges – poverty, dis­eases, con­flicts, bad gov­er­nance, poor in­fra­struc­ture, et cetera. A spe­cial re­port on Busi­ness in Africa by The Econ­o­mist (Sept 9, 2006, p. 79) suc­cinctly states thus: “the prospect of in­vest­ing in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa can cause busi­ness­men to break out in a cold sweat. The region is of­ten seen as a cor­po­rate grave­yard of small, im­pos­si­bly dif­fi­cult mar­kets, where war, famine, AIDS and dis­as­ter are al­ways lurk­ing… For many African en­trepreneurs, op­er­at­ing legally brings too many headaches and too few ben­e­fits”. Con­ced­ing that this per­spec­tive is grad­u­ally chang­ing 7 years down the line, The Econ­o­mist is not alone in such per­cep­tions of dire con­di­tions of en­trepreneur­ship in Africa. Not­with­stand­ing, in the midst of th­ese harsh chal­lenges, there are equally sparks of un­tapped op­por­tu­ni­ties in­clud­ing – nat­u­ral re­sources, pop­u­la­tion, en­doge­nous en­ergy, et cetera. Hence, while Africa might well be a chal­leng­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, the con­ti­nent also of­fers sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties and lat­i­tude for busi­ness in­volve­ment in ad­dress­ing some of its in­her­ent chal­lenges. The po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties in Africa are un­doubt­edly driv­ing the new rush to­wards Africa as the last fron­tier of cap­i­tal­ism and the focus of Afr­icap­i­tal­ism.

Tony Elumelu’s in­jec­tion of Afr­icap­i­tal­ism into the busi­ness lin­gua is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to him, “Afr­icap­i­tal­ism is an eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy that em­bod­ies the pri­vate sec­tor’s com­mit­ment to the eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion of Africa through in­vest­ments that gen­er­ate both eco­nomic pros­per­ity and so­cial wealth”. Elumelu ar­gues that “Africa’s re­nais­sance lies in the con­flu­ence of the right busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion” - The Afr­icap­i­tal­ist, Q4, 1(1), 2012. This is a de­sir­able call for many rea­sons.

In the first in­stance, it is a sub­tle push back on global cap­i­tal­ism, which does not pay ap­pro­pri­ate at­ten­tion to the unique fac­tor of “place” in eco­nomic pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. Glob­al­i­sa­tion prides it­self on its abil­ity to ex­tract value wher­ever value is found ir­re­spec­tive of place and space. This view tends to see the op­por­tu­ni­ties of a glob­alised world and cares less about the global dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth. De­spite the pos­i­tive at­tributes of glob­al­i­sa­tion, it, more of­ten than not, ends up cre­at­ing a lop­sided world of im­mense in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice. Then again, glob­al­iza­tion leaves the world open to raw com­pe­ti­tion and the demise of the rel­e­vance of place (lo­ca­tion) in cross bor­der trade. It also leads to the so-called “north-south” di­chotomy in trade re­la­tions, a dis­tinc­tion that en­sures that the south (i.e. the de­vel­op­ing economies) re­mains worse off. Afr­icap­i­tal­ism con­se­quently be­comes a prag­matic way to rein in run-away glob­al­i­sa­tion and its dis­con­tents, and a plat­form for re­fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on the sig­nif­i­cance of place in cap­i­tal­ism. The rein­tro­duc­tion of place in cap­i­tal­ism is not nec­es­sar­ily new as eco­nomic pa­tri­o­tism re­mains an es­sen­tial part of western demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. What is rather novel, on this score, is the focus on Africa – the dark con­ti­nent of dis­eases and poverty – as the last fron­tier of cap­i­tal­ism.

An­other pos­i­tive ele­ment of Afr­icap­i­tal­ism is its an­chor on the Cre­at­ing Shared Value (CSV) con­cept of Porter and Kramer, and the re­pur­pos­ing of Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) as a phe­nom­e­non be­yond mere phi­lan­thropy. Afr­icap­i­tal­ism em­bod­ies the de­sire for the pri­vate sec­tor to con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of Africa. In­deed, CSV em­pha­sises the need for busi­nesses not to di­vorce so­ci­etal ben­e­fits in their pur­suits of eco­nomic goals. CSV sees the in­ter­sec­tion of busi­ness and so­ci­etal needs as a su­pe­rior ex­pres­sion of en­trepreneur­ship and man­i­fes­ta­tion of cap­i­tal­ism. Un­for­tu­nately, CSV is global in out­look and ge­og­ra­phy-less. Its ar­tic­u­la­tion of so­ci­ety is as broad and mean­ing­less as the so­ci­ety of the glob­alised world. The focus of Afr­icap­i­tal­ism on Africa is a sig­nif­i­cant mark of dis­tinc­tion, and is a coura­geous as­pi­ra­tion to save ge­og­ra­phy (lo­ca­tion and place) from the on­slaught of glob­al­i­sa­tion. None­the­less, it comes with its con­se­quences, im­pli­ca­tions, and chal­lenges. One of the chal­lenges and im­pli­ca­tions is that Africa will be pri­ori­tised in eco­nomic/busi­ness decisions, even when that pri­ori­ti­sa­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily meet the strict tenets of the global eco­nomic world or­der. For in­stance, the choice and de­ci­sion to pri­ori­tise Africa should not nec­es­sar­ily be made on the ba­sis of cost and prof­itabil­ity alone. In some cases, es­pe­cially where the trade-offs are mar­ginal and in­con­se­quen­tial, Africa could be pri­ori­tised against other eco­nomic ge­ogra­phies as a re­sult of the pur­suit of Afr­icap­i­tal­ism. While this ap­pears as a laud­able agenda on the sur­face, it will re­quire a com­ple­men­tary mind­set – i.e. Africon­scious­ness – to be re­alised and sus­tain­able.

Cap­i­tal­ism has his­tor­i­cally been re­garded as a form of eco­nomic co­or­di­na­tion with strong cul­tural in­flu­ences and un­der­tones. The Euro­pean form of cap­i­tal­ism is dif­fer­ent from the An­glo-Saxon vari­ant. While the for­mer is so­cially ori­ented, the lat­ter is very eco­nomic in out­look and ori­en­ta­tion. Th­ese va­ri­eties of cap­i­tal­ism are in­formed by dis­tinct so­cio-cul­tural philoso­phies. The emer­gence of cap­i­tal­ism in China, for in­stance, has its pe­cu­liar­i­ties and unique­ness given the role of the State in fur­ther­ing eco­nomic ad­vance­ment. All th­ese forms of cap­i­tal­ism are re­flec­tions of how the dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties have cho­sen to be or­gan­ised. They are prod­ucts of much deeper in­tel­lec­tual project. In other words, what are seen to­day as mere ex­pres­sions of mar­kets, are his­tor­i­cal prod­ucts of well-ar­tic­u­lated so­cio-po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies. As such, Afr­icap­i­tal­ism needs to be founded on a ro­bust phi­los­o­phy and world­view. This phi­los­o­phy and world­view will in-turn em­body an Africa-con­scious­ness. This con­scious­ness will be a form of re-imag­ined Afro­cen­tri­cism, which places the in­ter­ests of Africa and her peo­ple at the epi­cen­tre of busi­ness decisions, and will guide Africa’s re­nais­sance.

Africon­scious­ness is a so­ciomen­tal aware­ness of Africa and her peo­ple first as a con­ti­nent and hu­man be­ings with gen­uine needs, be­fore be­ing a mar­ket with vi­able con­sumers. The for­mer is em­pow­er­ing and hu­mane, and the lat­ter is ex­ploita­tive and de­hu­man­is­ing. The sud­den char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of Africa as the last fron­tier of cap­i­tal­ism bears the hall­marks of the ex­ploita­tive form of cap­i­tal­ism, which will not be good for the con­ti­nent. Africon­scious­ness helps to neu­tralise the on­slaught of glob­al­i­sa­tion and redi­rects the pos­i­tive en­ergy of cap­i­tal­ism in Africa to meeting gen­uine de­vel­op­ment needs of Africa and her peo­ple. Oth­er­wise, Afr­icap­i­tal­ism with­out a strong phi­los­o­phy be­hind it runs the risk of be­ing hol­low and un­grounded.

As much as Afr­icap­i­tal­ism is still work in progress, Elumelu de­serves the credit to pioneer its ar­tic­u­la­tion. How­ever, it now needs to be en­gaged as an in­tel­lec­tual project to en­hance its ro­bust­ness and ap­pli­ca­tion. The sug­ges­tion of Africon­scious­ness as a com­ple­men­tary busi­ness phi­los­o­phy to Afr­icap­i­tal­ism is an at­tempt in that di­rec­tion.

Africon­scious­ness is a so­cio-men­tal aware­ness of Africa and her peo­ple first as a con­ti­nent and hu­man be­ings with gen­uine needs, be­fore be­ing a mar­ket with vi­able con­sumers

Pro­fes­sor of busi­ness and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh Busi­ness School, UK

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