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How to Drive Good Governance, and Socio-Economic Liberation of Africa
“A flea can trouble a lion more than a lion can trouble a flea”. This African proverb sends us one fundamental message – that it is the seeming “invisible” issues, that are easy to ignore, to sweep under the carpet, that end up hurting us the most. That end up being of the highest consequence.
Across Africa, good governance, and socioeconomic development, are interrelated issues that are commonplace. They are often presented as issues, whose answers we are yet to fully crack as a continent. Across Africa, every tool in the book – from democratic elections, to protests, constitutional changes, to more protests and even violence – has been employed in the name of seeking good governance. The hope being that once we nail good governance, the natural consequence will be socioeconomic liberation. But the question is, could we be looking at the wrong place for solutions? Could we have formulated a wrong thesis to begin with?
The answer is likely a “big yes”. A “yes” because we have overlooked the most critical component of good governance - people. What we have overlooked is the fact that – first, constitutions, laws, strong institutions that are presented as bulwarks of good governance need people to run them. So, people then stand out as the means to accomplish the purposes of these laws & institutions. And second, these people come from the very societies that practice the negative vices that manifest as bad governance. They do not come from space but from our societies. Societies that are riddled with individualism, selfishness, entitlement, failure to take responsibility, jealously and such. This reality then brings to the fore, the most important aspect of good governance in Africa – that is a make or break. And that is “attitude”. The attitudes of Africa’s citizens are the determinant of whether good governance and much needed socioeconomic liberation can take root. And the term “socioeconomic” is used deliberately as opposed to “economic”. “Economic” restricts impact measurement strictly on the financial increase, rather than where this increase is being experienced. An example is the GDP measure. This measure can be inflated by the performance of one or few sectors, that only engage a small proportion of the population, and mostly those at the very top. “Socioeconomic” on the other hand, captures both the financial increase and where it is being made to improve the quality of life of the majority. In this case, it focused on the performance of the informal sector that constitutes up to 80% of work on the continent. Meaning, an increase among this segment, will be most inclusive and result in enhanced income benefit to the majority.
So, what are these attitudes? the prevailing attitudes across the continent, are far from inspiring. Whether anecdotical or statistical, one can decipher a prevailing attitude of self-centredness right among ordinary citizens. A study records, that far too many youths on the continent are willing to take shortcuts to attain wealth. In this study, 50% of the youth surveyed said it does not matter how a person makes money if they do not end up in jail. 35% said directly that they would easily take or give a bribe. What is worse is the clear disingenuousness of these youth as they seemed to contradict themselves. A super majority – 85% - said faith is their most cherished value. Meaning that even the 50% who did not mind breaking the law to be wealthy, still counted themselves as religious. This is a serious attitude flaw.
These attitudes manifest in preference for individualism rather than collectivism. As a continent, we like to work and succeed alone. We admire and covert material as a product, with little care of the process that led to such material. These flawed attitudes manifest in our failure to nurture selflessness, and a preference for selfishness, for material, rather a cherishing of offering value and solutions. Entitlement runs throughout society. From our homes, where family members feel entitled to benefit from the success of another family member; to our schools where studying is seen as a pathway to a certificate and an entitlement to a job, rather than a responsibility for solutions; where a job is viewed as a reward for past hard work and an entitlement to start enjoying life, rather than an opportunity to devise and continuously improve on solutions to contextual challenges facing a society / country; and on to the general citizenry, where the responsibility for development is lumped on the doorstep of government, in disregard of the fact that policy and legislation, no matter how excellent can only be operationalized by citizens as the primary stakeholders. Currently, there is no personal responsibility from individual citizens, only a “passing of the buck” to government; and on to government, where the continents challenges are seen as an entitlement to receive help always as opposed to an opportunity to look internally and engage the citizens as the most sovereign capital for development. All these are a manifestation of societal attitudes that we manifest and display in various forms wherever we are. And they constitute the governance we have in Africa. The point is this – that governance is a manifestation of the collective attitudes of people, that they carry with them wherever they are including into offices. When we talk of “bad governance”, we are talking of the collective impact of a citizenry attitudes in society. And unless we address the attitudes of the collective citizenry, then good governance, and socioeconomic liberation will continue to be elusive.
Bridging the gap
In the 60s, during the time of clamour for self-determined rule, Africa’s preoccupation was political liberation. And this was won through personal initiative actions, that were underpinned by two common denominator values – selflessness and collectivism towards the common good of many. The minimal provision that existed in institutions, legal redress etc., were all exercised in the context of selflessness and the common good. It was not uncommon for instance, , for those in the independence struggle to receive pro-bono legal representation from the very few African lawyers of the time. This is how political liberation was won. Today however, Africa is in a different struggle – that of socio-economic liberation. And the common denominator of the winning formula remains selflessness. It is through the prism of selflessness, that the continent can rid itself of negative attitudes and position itself on course to good governance and socioeconomic liberation.
Socioeconomic liberation needs a purposeful and enterprising Africa. And these cannot happen if all of us at an individual level, do not align our drive for socio-economic solutions around selflessness. A whole of society approach, where every one of the 1.2 billion of us takes Africa’s development as personal responsibility is what we need. An approach where we:
First, purpose to act with what we have as individuals – which is our skills, talents, interest, ongoing work, not always waiting for elusive perfection or hoping to get what we think we need before we take action – what is called “stubborn optimism”.
Second, contextualise these abilities to the gaps & challenges facing informal sector actors in our communities - who collectively constitute up to 80% of our economies, and see what we can do to ensure our abilities become solutions – what we call “stubborn opportunism”.
Third, contextualise the above within the enabling policy & regulatory environment in our countries and continent – at national, sub-national & local through local structures such as chiefs, communal cooperatives, etc.
Fourth, work selflessly with the communities to co-create solutions with them to the socio-economic challenges they face. And as we do so, we remain firmly focused on the impact being made to touch many lives, and work to perfect this system of solutions. Not look at personal material gain. It is out of proffering and delivering solutions to the socio-economic challenges we face, that material gain then becomes a natural consequence.
Africa urgently needs socio-economic liberation. And this socio-economic liberation will only come from engaging the citizens in collective actions of finding solutions to the challenges they face themselves. It will come from engaging citizens in a system and holistic thinking approach of wealth creation – where the challenges of one party are premised as an enterprise opportunity for another, who then earns a premium by perfecting their solutions over time. It will not come from “job creation” mentality alone. Jobs are offshoots of wealth creation not the other way round. For example, traders dealing in perishables face a critical challenge of losing what remains unsold at the end of the day. They are therefore forced to sell hurriedly in throw away prices and lose whatever could not be sold. But what has been shown, is that decentralising affordable clean energy solutions of solar dryers, dehydrates produce, to preserve it and increase shelf life so it can be sold when demand peaks in the off-season. By doing so, income increases of up to 30times are recorded, which benefit the farmers, the traders and those bringing the value addition solution – the solar dryers which find a market. This is just a single dimension in context of the critical postharvest losses (PHLs) challenges in Africa. Cumulatively, the continent faces up to $48billion in annual PHLs. These represent $48billon worth of wealth & enterprise opportunities for solutions providers and a myriad of attendant jobs created in the process. This is the system of wealth creation, that is driven by devising solutions to pressing challenges using what we already have, that the continent needs to drive its economic liberation. With job creation the focus is not on a chain reaction that solve multiple problems and put more money in more pockets. A simple example is creating jobs out of importing chemicalized fertilisers. While people will be out to work in logistic and supply chain and even in the farm, the negative consequences of depleting of foreign reserves and degrading the soil over time will have the net resultant effect of reducing the wealth of the entire country. Whereas if focus was on turning agricultural waste to bio-fertiliser using local technology, more people will be engaged as they create enterprises in these areas and employ more people as they solve more problems in the agricultural value chain and these achieved without compromising the environment. Hence job creation is an offshoot of wealth creation. And all this however calls for a selflessness and collectivism among all citizens and a divestment from the individualistic tendencies, and fixation with immediate material gain of our times.
Entry of Innovative Volunteerism
The biggest individual action is collective action. Innovative volunteerism is bridging the individual action mentality, by showcasing the power of selfless, collective action. Where we leverage on everyone’s actions to create a groundswell of innovative climate action solutions in a traceable and accountable way which brings impact to scale. This is collectively delivered by willing youth and the young at heart of diverse areas and levels of training and capacitation, who are structurally guided to leverage on their passions and work selflessly together with the willing to address challenges faced by society, leveraging on already existing enabling policies and institutions. Through this, we are addressing key socio-economic challenges faced by the super majority in the informal sector. This is the paradigm shift of actions youth and the willing citizens are using to turn their passions into profits as they turn challenges into opportunities as they make themselves valuable assets in the solutions world. Be it postharvest losses that cost the continent $48billion each year, indoor pollution driven by unclean cooking that represents a $20billion a year industry addressed through waste recovery, other diverse lines of waste recovery to productive solutions be it in sustainable apparel to provide dignified alternatives to the 80% who bear with using second-hand items of apparel, waste recovery to affordable, more durable, and sustainable construction material – among key areas. And all done in a systematic accountable and traceable way.
As an example, take a youth who has applied his skills and aptitudes to develop an innovative solar cooler as a school project, that nobody knows about. Through an active presence of Innovative Volunteerism and its messaging on solutions on social media, this youth realises the importance of his solution to serve the community and willingly engages and is guided to register what he is doing, his aspirations on the Innovative Volunteerism engagement tool. From that, he is guided to refine it, so that it can fit as a climate action solution that benefits many by solving community problems. He is further guided, to train other willing youth in this area, so they can together complement each other in the solar cooler value chain and its application to serve the community. With this team of willing actors, they are guided to engage the community leveraging local low risk structures including low risk financing structures like cooperatives for accountability and traceability as well as capital mobilisation. They are guided to refine the solution and perfect it, and measure impact in terms of lives touched, not immediate material gain. Through this, the solution is popularised to the point where a premium can be charged and more incomes made, while delivering a productive solution to the community that increases their earnings and ability to more comfortably afford the solution.
Through this, an individual action becomes a collective action, and accelerates creation of a groundswell of climate action solutions. These not only inform policy from a more practical dimension, but also create an attractive product that inspires more change of attitudes towards selflessness in more citizens.
This is the pathway to good governance that will unlock socioeconomic liberation in Africa.
“One camel does not make fun of the other camel’s hump”. In context, this African proverb reminds us, that the governance challenges in Africa, are not a matter of finger-pointing and blame game. We are all guilty as an African society for nurturing them, deliberately or otherwise. And in solving them, there are no shortcuts. We all must engage and become selfless solutions providers in whatever we do. It is out of nurturing selfless values at an individual level, that we change the societal norms of self-centredness that have fuelled our governance challenges and failures. Such selfless actions aimed at generating solutions to challenges around us, and using what we already have, will also serve to provide empirical lessons to inform policy and institutional processes from a more practical realistic dimension. And by so doing, ensure such policy prioritises incentives on what can work, to further scale it and complete the virtuous cycle of good governance. Over time, as selflessness, and solutions first, rather than self-interest, gets entrenched as a societal norm, we will ensure more of those who end up in policy decision making, that we have become accustomed to blame, actually bring to their job, selflessness as a core value. With these values nurtured, strong institutions will start to emerge. This is how we can catalyse the good governance that we have been yearning yearn for towards a socio-economically liberated Africa
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