A tale from the Grandfathers
One day the animals of the savannah decided to have a meeting, a ceasefire was declared, no lion will eat a gazelle, no hyena will eat a warthog, and so they sat together. They wanted to unite in order to preserve their homeland, to unite against the hunters, the poachers, and the encroachers. It seemed a good idea, the herd animals all agreed, there is safety in numbers, but the leopard said she was always solitary and seeing as she didn’t eat grass this union was of no use to her. The elephant said she was too big to join with the gazelles, impalas, and zebras, she would make her own deal with the poachers and she was convinced by her size she would get a better deal. “You stand 4 meters tall, you can’t hide, they will kill you first and take your tusks, but at least we can hide.” The lion sat aloof, unbothered by the bickering, his strength would win the day, he said he would devour the poachers, but they have guns and will shoot you from far away.” The mongoose laughed, he would outsmart the poachers, sneak past them and hide in the bush. The problem was the bushfires, where can you run to? The monkey laughed, he would just climb up a tree, but they are chopping down the trees. The birds said they’ll just fly away from these problems. Where to? Eventually you have to land back to earth and you’ll find the same problem.
This was a story told to me by my granddad decades ago, the original question was “Why is Africa so messed up?” he explained it to me in terms my little mind could understand. We are in a dire situation, not because of the white man only, but we ourselves have not capable of agreeing a way forward to solve our problems in Africa. The day we decide to change our circumstances we will begin to effect change on our continent. Africa decided on March 21st to change its circumstances, to change its outlook and the way it is perceived by the Rest of the world. 44 nations signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, the rest mostly agreed to consult with their parliaments to ratify it. The Rome Agreement of 1957 establishing the EEC had little coverage that day compared to Elvis topping the charts, but the effects were monumental, it took years to get the full treaties working rightly, but it all stems from that day. The EU had many geopolitical factors pushing it, America had over 1m NATO troops in Europe to protect it from USSR invasion. The US wanted all the European nations in a group that they could deal with collectively, it made international relations easier. Likewise it is in the interest of the West to have a strong AU, it might be against the interests of their companies, but the world benefits from a strong united Africa. We Africans can deal with the wars, droughts, famines, that always require Western help. As we saw recently Rwanda donated money to help another African country fight desertification, we go to beg for $20m here, $100m there, to fight this and that, but we can collect money among ourselves to fight ebola, or any such problem. The West gave $150m to fight Ebola and took all the credit, we Africans could have given $3m per country and fixed it, because it would eventually spread to all of us.
The Elephant stand alone
Two glaring omissions stood out on the map, ironically it was the two nations who have most to gain from an African Continental Free Trade Zone, Nigeria and South Africa would get the biggest share and yet they are too insular now to see it. Another irony is South Africans are scared of Nigerians coming over and vice versa, but the SA and NGR banks would swallow the African Banking system if there was free competition, their manufacturing sectors would take over the African market, and they would effectively have a veto by virtue of their sizes but they are still thinking they can get a better deal alone than with us. 27 African nations signed the Free Movement Agreement, waiving visa requirement for Africans, some were understandably reluctant, such as South Africa with a Xenophobia crisis, TZ scared of super-sharp worldly Kenyans coming and outsmarting them in everything, the SADC nations blindly following SA. The problem we will see is “vested interests” yes we are poor, but this poverty makes someone very rich. People who make money importing goods from the West or East will never want local manufacturing, nor to import from other African nations. In Nigeria there are no functioning Oil refineries because petrol importers were subsidized by government and made a fortune importing fuel. This is replicated in every sector in Africa, our poverty enriches others in the same system. Each nation will have to fight these vested interests or at least coopt them into this African Free Trade Zone, or they will just sabotage it. We need to overcome ourselves, our own greed and selfishness, the hardest opponent is always the one in the mirror.
The benefit of kindness
Rwanda has had an open door policy towards its neighbors and even faraway foreigners, we have benefitted from Kenyan investment, Ugandan skills and business, Somali businessmen, Eritrean supermarkets, we even have Senegalese and Malians dating back decades. None of this investment has ever stopped Rwandans from starting their own businesses or being successful, it has brought a large inflow of investment, most have settled here and reinvested the profits employing thousands of locals and paying tax. Outsiders are always better at spotting gaps in the market, locals become entrenched in their thinking and ignore solutions, and we can fill the gaps in our markets by cooperating, seeing Africa as one economy and not our petty little economies. We must think “Buy Local” first from your local country then if not then another African country. We must stop lusting after Western goods just because they are from the West, goods perform a function first, you can buy them anywhere especially local. We have to harmonize our laws on business, we cannot have more cross-border investment if our codes are different. That way we can collectively bargain with the West and East with the same criteria, we can avoid tax loopholes that cost us up to $200bn. It is only by fighting collectively that we will get our share of the global economy, they say that the Economy of Africa is smaller than Spain, but we don’t owe twice our GDP’s in debt. After WWII America sat down with the Europeans and decided that in order to prevent future war nations would be given a share of the global economy. The Marshall plan helped German by, injecting capital, infrastructure, and also promising to buy the goods from these countries to make them sustainable. African countries were not present at Breton Woods, we could not advocate for our share, this 2.5% of global GDP was assigned to us, we are 15% of the world population, we will be 30% of global population by 2050 with 2.8bn people. Africa is not the future, Africa is now, most of the global growth is coming from Africa, but headlines don’t reflect that. We can change Africa overnight if only we spoke with one voice together.
“I freed over 1,200 slaves in my lifetime, but I would have freed even more if they knew they were slaves.” Harriet Tubman