Sunday, July 10, 2005

TAKE “POVERTY” OUT OF OUR FUTURE

It is unique that when it comes to the fate of the African continent its future lies in the hands of 8 people. In the case of Nigeria it is not often that the nation accepts so readily that destiny is metaphorically or perversely out of the control of any other than a celestial being. The G8 (“great eight?”) nations and their leaders are fixed with the curious task of self declared fixers of a problem that they have in small measure colluded to create. Even the optimist [as opposed to the cynical] will concede that when millennium goals were set to “cut extreme poverty in 2025”, there were instant problems. Why only “extreme poverty”? And what was going to happen before 2025, the goals reek of insincerity. Alas poverty will never be history on earth unless and until there is a systematic re orientation of the way key drivers of global affairs approach fellow citizens of the world, basic concepts such as trust and mutuality are firmly rooted in economic policies the world over. A Commission for Africa was certainly an affront; its approach being that Africa’s peculiar problem as a problem mainly of its own making but dependent on others to fix.

Judging from the press reports and commentary offered by the many pundits at this time (of live8 G8 makepovertyhistory.com etc) there can only be so many fronts that the eight should have addressed. The Debt; agricultural and export subsidies in the area of trade; Aid programmes and Governance (a euphemism for corruption).

There is much euphoria over the partial cancellation of Africa’s debt. It is painful that we so readily let things be presented to us in the pre ordered fashion that continues to allow select interests dictate to an overwhelming majority. The concessions have taken over a decade of campaigning from different coroners of the world to achieve. In this time these already devastated countries have had to plough more money to service the debts that were questionable in the first instance, these countries Nigeria included could have reserved much needed resources for other projects if an earlier cancellation had been achieved. A situation where two thirds of its resources are deployed to debt servicing leaves nothing to productivity let alone heath and education. In any event what the country desperately needs is a final resolution of the crisis that debt is not partial cancellations.

There is quite clearly no genuine intention on the part of Europe and US to roll back the agricultural subsidies that together they spend $300 billion a year on farm subsidies which enables them to land produce to purchasing countries that ensures African farmers remain poor. There Oxfam accusations confirm that “creative accounting” is employed to disguise this practice by the developed world. The death of the EU constitution following the NO vote in countries such as Holland and France is suggestive of the fact that these countries wish to remain autonomous in their approach and maintain protectionism.

Interestingly UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has boldly spoken about a vision of a Marshall Plan for Africa, it is recalled that under the original Marshall plan the US paid more that 1% of its national income to the success of the plan. There is no mention of similar initiative after series of crisis comparable proportion if not more severe. Surely if there was real commitment to such a plan there is ample evidence to motivate such contribution from infant mortality to crimes against humanity.

Corruption in any society (and it pervades in many) is inexcusable. In a continent that is laboured with $230 Billion debt it is unforgivable to still endure leaders who further plunder the future of generations with profligate stealing. Indeed it allows for an easy cop out to so-called donor countries their thesis is that Aid should be withheld or conditional in view of the corruption in its borders. At the last G8 Davros summit the deal offered to the Nigerian government was debt relief for action against corruption. Ironically there as in most economic crimes it certainly takes two. The same donor countries have shown extreme reluctance to reform tax and secret bank account havens and in some cases have out rightly refused to return money stolen from debtor countries. For these reasons and many more it is not true that the fate of Africa lies in the hands of the G8 or any other earthly forces. History has shown us that the rich world needs to reposition many of its policies, a development that does not appear to be taking root. Countries in Africa, Nigeria especially need to make certain life and nation transforming choices.

We first need to stop viewing ourselves as poor people, in spite of the view of others. If you ever have the misfortune of going to the Favelas, in Rio or to the underbelly of the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S or even the back streets of Mumbai and the unplanned shacks in Shanghai you will know that poverty is not African alone. Most countries in the world do not embrace this brand of failure and destitution because they recognise the debilitating effect on the psyche and the damaging effect on productivity. We however have turned poverty into what the world associate with us, from leaders down we ‘confess’ this to be our reality because we look for short term rewards but fail to see the longer term destruction that the stereotypes will reap. There are more poor people in the whole of China than there are Nigerian citizens, more people die from armed crime in Rio in one day than in one year in Lagos. Strangely more tourists go to Rio in one month than visit Lagos in a year.

The second is that we need to start creating a ‘high trust’ economy. No other part of the world imposes the practice of insisting on payment of two years or more in rent in order to relocate a house or office? The transaction cost of the distrust and insecurity is that only those who have amassed wealth by whatever means prosper. It makes it difficult if not downright impossible for an honest monthly wage earner, a start up entrepreneur, a small growing business, consequently affects, productivity and growth in the economy, increases the price of operation and finally inflates the mark up on every single product and service. In fact in a more disturbing way it corrupts the limited existing social capital because, it convinces everyone that money is all that matters and the way you get it no one cares. So when we point fingers of corruption, do we ever ask how corrupting the unrealistic, 100% mark up we put on cheap imported fashion items we sell to the everyday victims of ‘west is best’. In all successful economies ‘trust’ is a critical factor to creating value and transaction efficiency, the failure of trust in Nigeria is closely linked to how we view ourselves. If we distrust ourselves then why should we not be treated badly by all and sundry, when we try to get visas, or seek Foreign Direct Investment?

Next is our time horizon. As Africans, we are too short term in our thinking; a month ago there was a clamour in Nigeria to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo now his being celebrated in some quarters, as an achiever. React first and reflect afterwards is a constant part of everyday behaviour. How many people know that approximately 60% of the Nigerian population is below the age of 20? This means the core of our population is yet to actively be involved in daily life as citizens. They are yet to vote, hold down a job and sometimes complete school. We blight their opportunities by thinking in a yearly horizon or in fact just thinking from transaction, to transaction wearing our egos on our sleeves and trying to prove we have arrived. The true judge of arrival is what happens to generations after us. Is it not possible to build slowly and deliberately so that our children and grandchildren do not have to deal with the same problems? Is it not possible for us to sacrifice and suffer now so that our future is on firm ground? In every part of the world where there is success there is a pioneering generation. Should this generation not step up and become those who persevere so that prosperity becomes our stereotype?

The final element is our diversity. What we do with our ethnic plurality is going to define whether we transform or stagnate. In USA the world is fully represented in its complexity and diversity, even though it substantially fails those of African and Native American descent it is part of its aspiration to translate this into strength. This is often in effect in places, like Silicon Valley, NASA, and Hollywood. In Nigeria over 250 different ethnic groups does not mean excitement about the variety of cuisine, dress or festivals, it has often meant us against them. The Hollywood production “Hotel Rwanda” for its factual presentation of a ghastly affair should be shown across Nigeria and much of West Africa, so people can see what, brigades such as Odua Peoples Congress, Egbesu, Arewa, Bakassi and other ethno-fascist groups can lead too. Let’s take the prospect of poverty out of the future horizons of Nigeria and Africa as a whole. We should hand over the legacy and principle that the spirit in our land is one where our differences are not the basis of our insecurity but a promise of our strength.

As the G8 and other stakeholders continue their deliberations and subsequent policy formulations we should remember that our transformation lies neither in the policies of governments nor in the deliberation of the rich and powerful; it lies in our everyday choices. Let’s make them so that future generations will prosper.

By Olasupo Shasore and Adewale Ajadi

1 comment:

afrofunkycool said...

Unfortunately the nigerian state has lacked leaders wih compassion and love. A love for nature , an appreciation of art and beauty and economic and moral discipline to boot.