By James Shikwati-The global market system as currently constituted favors G8 countries and is not designed to enable Africans to develop their economies. My recent visit to a farming village in Zambia triggered questions in my mind about the elusive goal of development in Africa. The village resembled my childhood one of 1977 in western Kenya. That was the period where one had to walk through forests and thickets and cross over river Lusumu on tree logs to access Mumias town. Land was plenty; what one needed to do was to scratch the soil and he would have food.
Over 30 years later, my village is now 4 kilometers away from the closest tarmac road. Electricity is 100 meters away. The village is surrounded by 6 primary schools, 3 high schools, a series of churches and one mosque. The route I used to trek to Mumias over 20 kilometers away is now a feeder road complete with a bridge; one can now access Mumias town using boda boda ( both motorized and human powered) bicycles. Hundreds of my village mates have accessed education and speak “good English.” The use of a hand held hoe no longer guarantees food security in my village. We are running out of land.
Sons and daughters seek employment in order to subsidize the economy of my village. The majority end up in Nairobi’s Kibera slum to work as casual laborers in construction sites, security guards and house helps. Some end up working in tea estates, flower and vegetable farms whose products are mainly for export. Those who remain at home will work as laborers in Mumias Sugar Cane out-growers outfit either as cane cutters, weeding and tractor drivers. The highly educated type are high school professors, salesmen, priests, lawyers, think-tank type like myself whose principal activity seems to be to inadvertently perpetuate the global economic order! The older generation’s major farming activity here includes rearing free range chicken; rearing a cow or two as well as planting maize, beans, bananas, vegetables and sweet potatoes for subsistence. Coffee production was abandoned in the late seventies. Little ingenuity is evident as we all seem to be running predesigned activities, whilst sustaining the old production methods.
While driving past grass thatched huts in Zambia, I found myself exclaiming prophetically to my hosts that in thirty or so years to come; they will have a scenario similar to my village. Will they have developed? In my village, one is confronted by three things: high crime rate; over 100 idle youth by the roadside who demand for money and a growing sense of disillusionment about the education system. High unemployment rates in my village make the economic model currently being pursued akin to the infamous pyramid scheme on the verge of collapsing. That is, only those who joined the scheme earlier benefitted, and late comers loose out!
A similar predicament faced in my village is played out nationally in Kenya where marauding youth popularly referred to as mungiki violently tax villagers and business people in order to earn a livelihood. Kenya is now faced with a scenario whereby the country dreads its own children. Kenya mirrors Africa in its population structure that has close to 65% aged below 25. Yet again, if one visited Nairobi, the capital city, he/she will be impressed by the growing city’s skyline and good highways. A peep at the city’s backyard will reveal a sprawling shanty that is home to over 700,000 people living in deplorable conditions.
Kenya, as many other African countries, looks forward to the upcoming G8 Summit to be held in L’Aquila Italy with the hope that great economies of the world will help bail it out of negative effects of the global financial crisis. The G8 countries boast of membership that commands over 65% of Gross World Product; have leadership in global exports; host the largest stock exchanges by market value and also posses the world’s most powerful military hardware. These are economies that thrive on promoting the culture of measurements, knowledge and ingenuity among its people. Unfortunately for Africa; these economies do not find it of strategic interest to give freedom to Africans to exercise similar approach to development – they simply opt to lull African minds using aid money.
The current global market system is designed to create labor and simply increase “purchasing power” of under developed nations in favor of the G8 economies. The youth in my village are idle precisely because the education system that was designed to get labor out of them has not adjusted to the new job market requirement. To illustrate how relationship with the so called developed countries have suspended thinking in Africa; I came across a program that trains Zambians how to use a hoe and time rainfall patterns in order to outwit weeds. Over 45 years of independence, African school graduates are yet to figure out how to increase farm yields, outwit weeds, and make use of idle farmland.
Development is the Ability to interpret/understand the World and creatively/efficiently respond to the challenges that confront humanity in order to increase the levels of human comfort on earth. The current development model sustains Africans on the “scratch the soil” level while they (G8 and re/emerging economies) import raw materials and add value to them. Adding value to African raw materials enables importing countries to grow their industries, financial and knowledge sectors while the African is left with hoe in hand scratching the soils for minerals and crop. Please note that even chicken in Western Kenya scratch the soil. Little ingenuity is needed in the scratch the soil model!
Africa should not wait for the G8 group; they should open up their countries to free movement of people on the continent. Movement coupled with legal safeguards to promote individuals keen to be original, imaginative, inspired, ingenious and innovative enough to put their dreams in practice will spur a wave of real development. The G8 is only keen to throw money at our challenges, but that will not help change our century old attitude of applying “monkey see – monkey do economics.” As my village illustrates, Africa indeed needs infrastructure, but focus too must be on developing the people – and this is not synonymous to access to Western education.
Development is not highways and skyscrapers. Development is about people (and not G8 on Africa’s behalf) creatively responding to nature in order to enhance their levels of living comfort on earth.
I look forward to adding Zambia to my ongoing intra Africa exchange program currently targeting Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe!