A new hand­book on fight­ing poverty and cre­at­ing jobs on the con­ti­nent has plenty of lessons for SA, writes Hopewell Radebe after chat­ting with one of its authors, Greg Mills

CityPress - - Voices -

The book Mak­ing Africa Work is not a prod­uct of West­ern in­sti­tu­tions telling African lead­ers how to con­sol­i­date democ­racy, lib­er­alise their economies, in­vest in peo­ple and in­fra­struc­ture, and en­sure the rule of law – it is a hand­book sourced by an African in­sti­tu­tion that is prin­ci­pally shar­ing prac­ti­cal ideas about how to cre­ate jobs rather than ar­gue for eco­nomic growth poli­cies as a mat­ter of ide­o­log­i­cal faith.

It is writ­ten by Greg Mills, di­rec­tor at the Jo­han­nes­burg-based Bren­thurst Foun­da­tion, for­mer Nige­rian pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo, Jef­frey Herbst, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the New­seum in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and Dickie Davis, a spe­cial ad­viser at the Bren­thurst Foun­da­tion and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Nant En­ter­prises.

The authors have used sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis and case stud­ies to de­scribe Africa’s chal­lenges when it comes to pros­per­ity.

“We also fo­cus on un­der­stand­ing the strate­gies that have been suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing poverty,” says Mills.

He says many Asian and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries found them­selves in cir­cum­stances sim­i­lar to much of Africa to­day, so Africa does not have to rein­vent the wheel – a lot can be learnt from oth­ers, which is what the book sets out to do.

Africa’s pop­u­la­tion boom

The book notes that the con­ti­nent is likely to dou­ble its pop­u­la­tion to 2 bil­lion by 2045 and that, by then, more than half of Africans will be liv­ing in cities. It says mostly young peo­ple will be con­nected with each other and the world through mo­bile de­vices. It ar­gues that, if prop­erly har­nessed and planned for, the youth should be a pos­i­tive force for change in­stead of be­ing forced to mi­grate from the con­ti­nent and turn into des­per­ate refugees.

“With­out de­ci­sive ac­tion and change in the way things are run, the de­mo­graphic dividend could eas­ily turn into a de­mo­graphic dis­as­ter as peo­ple flood to cities in search of jobs and are dis­ap­pointed,” Mills says.

“De­mog­ra­phy and ur­ban­i­sa­tion will only be a pos­i­tive force for change if prop­erly pre­pared and planned for, which in­cludes the cities find­ing the means to in­crease den­si­fi­ca­tion of hous­ing and im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity of peo­ple through mass trans­porta­tion, and the use of tech­nol­ogy and bet­ter ‘soft­ware’ or man­age­ment sys­tems. Fun­da­men­tally, it comes down to the cre­ation of jobs.”

Fos­ter­ing the pri­vate sec­tor

Although most African heads of state be­moan the slow pace at which in­vestors re­spond to a va­ri­ety of in­vestor-friendly in­cen­tives, Mills says African lead­ers have not fos­tered a healthy pri­vate sec­tor and must ask why Africa re­ceives so lit­tle for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment com­pared with Asia. Of global for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment in­flows in 2014, es­ti­mated at $1.23 tril­lion (R16.3 tril­lion at the cur­rent ex­change rate), Asia re­ceived nearly $600 bil­lion and sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa at­tracted just $42 bil­lion.

He says busi­nesses in some African coun­tries are in­cen­tivised to live off the pa­tron­age that the state pro­vides be­cause there are few other ways to make money.

“In this en­vi­ron­ment, the in­cen­tives for lib­er­al­is­ing economies are out­weighed by the ben­e­fits of keep­ing things just as they are be­cause the elite are eas­ily able to man­age and de­flect in­ter­na­tional or other dis­in­cen­tives de­signed to en­cour­age change.

“If jobs are to be cre­ated, busi­nesses must as­sume their proper role of gen­er­at­ing in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment. And that means that busi­ness should not be seen as a threat, or a tar­get for plun­der, but as a long-term part­ner. To do that, sys­tems have to change, as do at­ti­tudes,” says Mills.

Change the busi­ness model

He says the old “busi­ness-as-usual” ap­proach of gov­ern­ments and lead­ers has to change if they are to cope with Africa’s pend­ing pop­u­la­tion boom.

“Given Africa’s ris­ing pop­u­la­tion and grow­ing cities, in­ac­tion will ul­ti­mately end badly for all, even the elite. Africa’s lead­ers no longer en­joy the good­will that their pre­de­ces­sors dur­ing the fights for in­de­pen­dence did – they will be judged solely on what they have de­liv­ered to their con­stituen­cies,” says Mills.

He says the Arab Spring up­ris­ings, Bri­tain’s exit from the EU and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent in the US show how pre­vi­ous bar­ri­ers to pol­i­tics are be­ing re­moved, es­pe­cially when it comes to money and ac­cess to tra­di­tional me­dia. To­day, tweet­ing 10 mil­lion fol­low­ers costs noth­ing.

Mills says African elec­torates are ex­posed to ever in­creas­ing mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity rates. This is de­spite the ma­nip­u­la­tion of in­ter­net ac­cess by cer­tain African gov­ern­ments, which il­lus­trates that the au­thor­i­ties also un­der­stand, and know how to har­ness, the power of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy.

Lessons for South Africa

Mills says the book fo­cuses on Africa, not just South Africa, although the authors spent a fair amount of re­search time in­ves­ti­gat­ing South Africa’s strengths and weak­nesses.

“Whether it be in min­ing, in­dus­try or farm­ing, where we look at ex­am­ples, South Africans are world lead­ers, re­flec­tive of the strength of its di­ver­sity. Its democ­racy is also held up as an ex­am­ple of change and am­bi­tion,” says Mills.

He says South Africa has an ef­fec­tive un­em­ploy­ment rate near­ing 40%, and its democ­racy is frag­ile. The lessons for South Africa, as else­where, are clear – the pro­mo­tion of devel­op­ment and fight­ing cor­rup­tion will not be suc­cess­ful with­out strength­en­ing the in­sti­tu­tions of the state.

“The aim of gov­er­nance is, after all, to al­low for less per­sonal dis­cre­tion, not more. And it’s not a ques­tion of whether in­di­vid­ual lead­ers steal that de­fines the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, though their ex­am­ple can be morally im­por­tant, it’s about whether their ac­tions serve to strengthen or un­der­mine in­sti­tu­tions and their checks and bal­ances. “Fi­nally, South Africa also falls into the same trap as other na­tions in Africa in terms of the fail­ure of the ex­e­cu­tion of its myr­iad plans – and that re­flects an ab­sence both of the nec­es­sary po­lit­i­cal will and the di­rec­tion of state in­sti­tu­tions to this na­tional pur­pose,” Mills adds.

Map­ping re­form

The book, there­fore, urges each African coun­try to de­vise a re­form agenda that is ap­pro­pri­ate for its cir­cum­stances.

“We ar­gue that there has to be a pre­mium on get­ting things done, rather than cre­at­ing vi­sions or de­vel­op­ing plans, or even ex­pect­ing sal­va­tion to come from out­side.”

Mills says African lead­ers are mis­taken if they be­lieve that any es­ti­mate of likely in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance will be enough to deal with their chal­lenges in the near fu­ture, or that blam­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for in­suf­fi­cient aid will gain them any cred­i­bil­ity among their cit­i­zens. In­stead, they should con­cern them­selves with the de­tails of do­mes­tic re­form.

The authors plan to pro­duce a sec­ond edi­tion that in­cor­po­rates in­terim feed­back and de­vel­op­ments be­cause “re­form and job cre­ation is a marathon with­out a fin­ish line”.

The book is be­ing launched across the con­ti­nent, in­clud­ing in places where the authors spent time to re­search this par­tic­u­lar vol­ume, such as Niger, Benin, Tu­nis and Sene­gal.


TU­MUL­TUOUS FU­TURE As Africa’s pop­u­la­tion boom meets ur­ban­i­sa­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal progress, up­ris­ings such as Egypt’s Arab Spring protests in Tahrir Square in 2011 be­come in­creas­ingly likely


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