Recently in Mauritius
WESTIN TURTLE BAY RESORT, a thriving marine park on the north-west coast of Mauritius, in the Balaclava area, was the venue of the inaugural African Economic Platform (AEP) earlier this week.
The platform that brought together Heads of State and Government, captains of industry and the continent’s academics discussed the need to create a symbiotic relationship between Government and the private sector to generate investment, promote industrialisation and strengthen intra-African trade.
Operating within the framework of the implementation of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 to promote African integration and development, the AEP aims to provide the policy space for Africans across sectors to set their own agendas and explore realistic continental and global opportunities.
It was a gathering the late great African writer Chinua Achebe would have described as ‘the empire (former colonies) fighting back’.
President Robert Mugabe and other leaders received commendation for heeding the call to attend and engage with Africa’s movers and shakers in business as well as the academia.
African business leaders and academics sought to engage the continent’s leaders in an informal setting, hence President Mugabe and other leaders’ look which was not synonymous with the British or French sartorial tradition that many on the continent have become accustomed to.
The AEP was no World Economic Forum; that US$185 million four-day affair on the Swiss Alps’ town of Davos which celebrates capitalism with all its attendant vicissitudes.
It was a platform to discuss ways to enhance and boost development on the continent.
More than 50 years after the iconic pan-Africanist, Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah appealed for integration, the continent is yet to achieve full integration.
Speaking at the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now AU, to 31 other African heads of state in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nkrumah appealed for a strong continental union:
“We have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence.
As a continent, we have emerged into independence in a different age, with imperialism grown stronger, more ruthless and experienced, and more dangerous in its international associations.
Our economic advancement demands the end of colonialist and neo-colonialist domination of Africa.
But just as we understood that the shaping of our national destinies required of each of us …so we must recognise that our economic independence resides in our African union and requires the same concentration.
The unity of our continent, no less than our separate independence, will be delayed, if indeed we do not lose it, by hobnobbing with colonialism.
Which independent African state, which of you here, will claim that its financial structure and banking institutions are fully harnessed to its national development?
Which will claim that its material resources and human energies are available for its own national aspirations?
Which will disclaim a substantial measure of disappointment and disillusionment in its agricultural and urban development?”
President Mugabe echoed the same sentiments when he reminded delegates in Mauritius of the need to fulfil this dream and aspiration of a self-determining continent.
“There has also been the factor of our erstwhile colonisers and it’s a factor which continues to bug us right through,” he said.
“Some countries rely on them completely for their security and stability, rely on them for even the development of their cultural aspects of society.”
Participants from the private sector expressed dissatisfaction with leaders who are ready to participate at platforms such as the World Economic Forum, snubbing continental events.
Prominent African businessman, Dr Chris Kirubi, was dismayed by leaders who ‘think the snowy mountains of Davos in Switzerland are more important than African events’.
Dr Kirubi is a majority shareholder in the Centum Investment Group.
He is chairman of Haco Tiger Brands, and is recognised as one of Kenya’s first indigenous manufacturers, having entered the manufacturing sector in the 1970s and is also former chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
The AEP is an acknowledgment that for sustainable development, for Africa not to be a mere spectator in the global economy and a mere supplier of raw materials, it must prioritise trading among each other instead of relying on non-Africans for growth.
A Ugandan businessman Musoga Bategeka said:
“We requested, through the AU, to have African leaders here, where we could discuss with them how we could unite Government and the private sector to fully develop the continent.
“There are no answers for Africa in Davos; our leaders are forced to grovel, reassure and convince the world that our nations are ideal for investment.
“After the grovelling, there are no guarantees.
“Our leaders are made to sweat and seat on the edge of their seats, fingers crossed, hoping that someone, somewhere, will sympathise with us and invest in our economies,” said Bategeka.
“Why should we continue to beg the world to do business with us when we have all the resources, have African millionaires and billionaires. We continue to beg because we have not paid heed to calls for full integration made by people like Presidents Mugabe and Nkrumah.
“We must look inward and convene our own ‘Davos’’ gatherings that our leaders must respect.”
At the AEP, it was evident that Africa is opening its eyes to the fact that it is being exploited.
The demand to do away with the suits and ties and rolling of sleeves indicated communities are now tired of mere talk and formalities.
“We are very worried that our leaders are eager to attend Western meetings that at the end of the day leave us, African business people and academics, out of Africa’s development matrix,” said Bategeka.
According to Australian economist, Judith Sloan: “The forum is very European-centric, the Davos World Economic Forum is pretentious, asinine, self-serving sludge which is used to bolster what is a lucrative personal vanity project of its founder and head, Klaus Schwab.
“Its main purpose is to celebrate globalism and to denigrate the nation state.
“Its promotion of worthy topics is just a cover, although even here the themes are carefully framed so that the solutions are always deemed to be beyond the control of national governments.”
In a quarterly review of the International Socialism, Biodun Olamosu and Andy Wynne state that:
“The relative underdevelopment of the African economy can be traced to a number of factors.
“As a result of colonialism, many of its national economies became virtual monoculture (mineral or commodity) exporters.
“They are also dependent on imports for equipment, capital goods, the bulk of their consumer goods, know-how and technology.
“By the 1980s, only five countries (Benin, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Senegal and Zimbabwe) had diversified export bases.
“Primary production still dominates sub-Saharan Africa’s exports. The economies of many African countries are heavily dependent on the export of one or two commodities. As a result, they are more susceptible to the vagaries of world price changes and other external shocks than more diversified economies. The result of such adverse shocks from the late 1970s and the subsequent introduction of neoliberalism, was the further growth of incredible inequality within Africa, while over two thirds of Africans still exist on less than US$2 a day.”
The rectification of such anomalies, delegates at AEP said, could not be addressed at the World Economic Forum.
Zubeida Jaffer of University of the Free State’s communication science department in a write-up about WEF said: “Why is there such a fuss about the importance of the World Economic Forum? The annual meetings at Davos will only ever make a difference to our lives if the rules of economic engagement are changed. And there was no substantial talk of that in 2017. Allow me to explain. Those who gathered at Davos represent one percent of the world’s business leaders who essentially determine the rules of doing business. Government delegations attend to provide assurances that these rules apply to their legal systems and in the hope that some benefits will come their way.
“These developed-world business and political leaders have fuelled a world economic order that has thrust great inequality on all of us.
“In 2015, an AU report stated that the continent was losing more than US$50 billion every year in illicit financial outflows as governments and multi-national companies engage in fraudulent schemes aimed at avoiding tax payments to some of the world’s poorest countries. The report, released by the AU’s high-level panel on illicit financial flows and the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, confirmed that illegal transfers from African countries have tripled since 2001, when US$20 billion was siphoned off, said Jaffer.
“Those who gathered at Davos (January) are aware of these issues and discussed them, but there was no decision to change the rules so that we manage the world economy for the benefit of all and not just a fortunate few. Some of you who are reading this will think that this is inevitable because we have chosen an economic system in which the market reigns supreme. We would rather have this than a socialist system in which the governments run businesses. But here you are wrong. It is not a matter of whether we choose capitalism or socialism. It is a matter of whether we craft a system that is fairer to all.”
And an AU official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was sad that African meetings were considered mundane and not worth of attending by some leaders on the continent.
“For long the economic story of Africa has been arranged by others and they have placed it where they like and the Western’s rented yelling crowd has been effective in keeping it there, even scaring some African leaders from taking it back,” said the official.
“The African riches are there, they have not vanished from our lives, they are present but taken for granted, unacknowledged and made to appear to be of no consequence when they are run by Africans; our gold, oil and produce only become ‘real’ when exploited by the whiteman. That is very sad.
“But we are glad that here is a grouping of people, among them the brightest of their generation, united in their view of a rich Africa that can be self-sustainable, who are in complete opposition to former colonisers’ views of the continent.
“Whatever is coming from the West is keeping us down, high profits and high interest rates are suffocating us. The AEP has the potential and can provide us with the way out of the rules that have kept us in bondage over the past 50 years.”
Experts opine that if Africa’s economies are not integrated, one percent of the world will continue making a killing while the rest wallow in poverty.
The official from the AU described the meeting as a massive success.
“This is the first meeting of its kind and it will be an annual event. Years of denigrating Africa cannot forever hold sway. They are now being questioned and challenged. All over Africa new demands and ways to do business are being promulgated and what is wanted is a common thread linking business practitioners and governments,” said the AU official.
“Nkrumah’s words that ‘… today there is a new African in the world. This African is ready to fight his own battle and manage his own affairs’ are coming to fruition.”
According to Jaffer, only Africa is lagging behind in making changes and implementing policies that benefit the continent.
“Those who gathered at Davos (in January) are aware of these issues (problems facing Africa) and discussed them, but there was no decision to change the rules so that we manage the world economy for the benefit of all and not just a fortunate few. It is a matter that requires us to realise that the changed rules of engagement took root through the neo-liberal doctrine of rampant financialisation of the global economy.
“This extreme form of plunder evolved when regulations for trade and the market were systematically lifted, giving free rein to global companies. Before this, trade and the market were mostly part of the social ecosystem. Take the post-Second World War years; huge investments were made in Europe to rebuild and provide countries with a level of comfort through the US-led Marshall Plan. Health services were free and those who did not find work were entitled to state support under extensive welfare state regimes.
“About 40 years ago, under the leadership of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and the US’s Ronald Reagan, much of this philosophical position was swept away. They argued for business to operate freely without Government regulation. The word capitalism was replaced with the notion of ‘the market’. So if this was what ‘the market’ wanted, we all had to obey. Suddenly the market became the explanation for many decisions that were against the interests of the people. Through the financial sector, the market was able to win the right to make profits at levels never seen before,” said Jaffer.
The onus is on African leaders to make the AEP an important dialogue platform, said the official from the AU.
“They must know that the success of the continent is dependent on the policies they formulate and these must be informed by African stakeholders, at platforms such as these, not some elite group in the West whose knowledge of Africa is only the profit they make from exploiting it.”
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mike Bimha, said the private sector was critical to sustainable development.
“It’s not governemnts that will build the economies and Africa we want. It is the private sector that will grow the economies. Governemnts do not produce products, thus we need everybody, including the academia, for ideas,” said Minister Bimha.