Get of you behind, Africa, and compete
The argument of compensation is a misguided farce
August 28, 2006 By Al Kags
As I do every Sunday, I read Prof. Ali Mazrui’s column in the Sunday Standard but having read this Sunday’s edition, I realise that he has brought to the fore my consternation with Africa on the basis of it progression from a subservient state to a successful one.
In his very well written article, the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture says, I’m sure correctly that the west has benefited immensely from both Africa’s labour and natural resources throughout the Agricultural revolution and the Industrial revolution. Quite correctly, he cites the conflicts waged in Africa and around the world by Africans that have propelled western countries like France and Portugal to the modern successes today.
He wonders, “Should reparations to Africa be based only on the benefits that the west derived from the imperatives of labour, territory and extraction across generations?”
But the reality of the situation is that it will not happen and Africa (and African Americans) must get off their laurels and move on. For how long will Africa look back at its past and complain, making great political arguments and great cases for compensation while the West moves on and makes a success of itself? For how long will Africa trudge into the future looking back at what was?
And by the way, speaking of compensation, I remember just the other day when the emotive story was told of the people in northern Kenya who were maimed and hurt by mines that had carelessly been left behind by the British army. Many lost their limbs and kin and a case was made in a british court for them to be compensated. This was done. They won millions of pounds and we all saw a victory against the old colonialist and patted each other in the back.
Today, those people are wallowing back in poverty, having drunk themselves silly, bought TVs and other sophisticated electronic gadgets that they could not use. Their children are yet again, struggling to go to school and in the last famine, they suffered hunger and malnutrition and lack of water. Yet again, they have their hands outstretched for the government, someone, to help.
I wonder if compensation in that light makes sense. Money without knowledge is a waste, wouldn’t you agree?
The story of compensation is a tired one, I fear and Africa simply must remove its face from upon its hand and start competing.
We missed out on the best of Agricultural revolution (even though we are still in it to a large extent) and we definitely missed out on the industrial revolution. That ship has sailed and that we must accept. Incoming is the information revolution and therein lies our opportunity to win.
Strategy is about winning and Africa needs to become strategic. Now.
My suggestion is that Africa takes stock of its capacity as at now and use it to its advantage to win. As a minor example, I choose to take Kenya’s northern frontier and the treatment of its people and territory by Kenya.
Fact: Northern Kenya is unlikely to become lush green farmlands in our generation
Fact: The reason that not much investment has been made in northern Kenya since independence is a simple return on investment argument. For as long as Kenya defines its opportunities mainly along the lines of agriculture and tourism, Northern Kenya cannot be a major investment because it has comparatively little to offer in terms of Return on investment.
Fact: the territory in northern Kenya has not been efficiently used at any level. Nomadism and pastoralism are not now, nor will they be viable propellants to Kenya’s success.
So what to do? I suggest that we use the northern territory of Kenya to win along the lines of trade and technology. If we make that strategic decision, it will immediately make sense to invest in roads to the north, fibre optic cable network grids in the north and an airport. It will make sense for Kenya to make Wajir, for example a Free Trade zone and Garissa, Hola and Lamu EPZ zones.
This will in turn give me and many other young professionals the impetus to move up north and decongest the city and surrounding towns as well as open up the rest of the country.
A bold action such as this one, well executed has the potential of making Kenya (remember, it is an example that can be replicated in many other ways in other countries of the continent), a real player on the world scene. Can it be done? Yes.
By the way, Professor Mazrui, frankly, I believe the reason that Algeria is still in the doldrums while the Fifth Republic of France prospers is not France’s problem. It is Algeria’s. They and other African countries struggle with instability not because of the West, but because of their own greed. Look at Zimbabwe and recognize. The west is just an easy excuse.