Why do Africans seem unable or unwilling to industrialise?

06 Jan, 2023 - 00:01 0 Views
Why do Africans seem unable  or unwilling to industrialise? The automobile sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the world

eBusiness Weekly

Part Two.

Clifford Shambare

We ended Part One of this article by pointing out that the Industrial Revolution had the effect of widening the gap in development between the Western nations and the Africans — specifically the Sub Saharan Africans.

At this juncture, more questions arise.

The major one of such questions is; why still, did the black Africans not partake in the Industrial Revolution? Here Daron Acemoglu and Robinson in their book; “Why Nations Fail, the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”, present us with interesting arguments. They argue that it is all to do with governments. They explain that all governments have, since their formation, collected taxes from the populace.

They go on to argue that most of these taxes are often misappropriated by the said governments and those who are associated with them. The latter comprise the elite and their families. According to the authors, while they get established, these governments create extractive political and economic institutions in a nation.

The latter are systems that are geared to transfer resources — that is, land, minerals, vegetation, money and everything else that constitutes wealth, from the populace and the general environment — to themselves. Sadly, in the African context, they go to transfer these resources to the developed countries presumably, for ‘safe keeping’.

The authors go on to argue that this group often resist change for fear of losing the wealth that goes to them mostly through the said taxes. Here the essence of their argument is that egalitarianism, also referred to as inclusivity, brings about economic prosperity but the elite often resist it. They give numerous examples of this culture among the top echelons of society—these being the Romans, the European, the Japanese and the Chinese aristocracies and others. This situation — they argue — brings about poverty among the populace.

The opposite is a condition where the populace is given the chance to innovate and as a result, become successful entrepreneurs. It is the latter that brings about the condition of general prosperity in a system, they argue.

Acemoglu and Robinson go to argue that in Africa — Zimbabwe included — the opposite, the one that has led to the current state of backwardness — is currently the holding condition.

On scrutinising such reasoning, we come across some interesting observations. When Zimbabwe’s nationalists came onto the political scene, they seemed to genuinely want the blacks as a people, not only the leadership, to take over the economy that the colonists held then. But if not, they wished the former to acquire at least a proportion of same.

They also knew that the land was the anchor of any economy, witness Herbert Chitepo’s statement at the 1972 Commonwealth Conference in Sydney, Australia that went as follows; “[The] land is the economy; the economy is (the) land”.

That said, their challenge was to link the two—that is, the land and the economy — into a functional relationship — a relationship that would eventually lead to economic growth and prosperity for the whole nation and its populace made up of mainly the blacks. As it turns out, completing this link, specifically as Zimbabweans and generally, as Africans, is still our bane today.

Be that as it may have been, during their time, the Zimbabwean nationalists were determined to implement their vision. As a starting point, they formed the Affirmative Action Group — that is the AAG, under informal conditions. Later they found it necessary to make it more formal through the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act of 2008.

But interestingly and rather sadly, when some young entrepreneurs in the form of Strive Masiyiwa and Paul Mapupu, who at that time, had founded an electrical retrofitting company by the name Retrofit — started to spring up from the masses — itself a natural phenomenon—the authorities immediately started to frustrate their efforts with the result that they left the country for ‘greener pastures’.

But rather surprisingly, this stream of innovators did not dry up. The first group was followed by Daniel Chingoma (helicopter) and Sangulani Maxwell Chikumbutso( steam run engine) and William Sachiti (driverless motor vehicle). But this time around, the authorities did not directly frustrate their efforts but they did not seem to support them either.

The reasons for their attitude and consequent behaviour here are not clear. Perhaps they had become wiser to the likely consequences of such attitudes. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by those developments. Perhaps they had become tired of the act of chasing up the inventors /innovators.

Perhaps they had been compromised by external forces.

Whatever the case may have been, the reasons for this stance by the authorities — reasons that are not peculiar to Zimbabwe but also to other African countries — have been a source of speculation concerning such matters. While some observers allege that these leaders have been paid to behave thus by Western interests that do not want Africa — particularly Sub Saharan Africa — to industrialise, others have argued that they are behaving the same way that the Western rulers, made up of the aristocrats and their elite, had done over 100 years before.

At that time such inventors and innovators as James Watts (stream engine) and Edmund Cartwright (power loom) had received the same coarse — almost hostile —  treatment from the authorities who were afraid of a phenomenon Acemoglu and Robison describe in the said book as, ‘creative destruction’.

The latter is defined as the inadvertent destruction of old systems by new developments in order to allow for the introduction of new and better ones.

On going back to Zimbabwe’s case, we find that this country’s economic predicament in the current era is one that has a few but intractable contradictions embedded in it. These are contradictions whose impact — most of it negative — most black Zimbabweans are either unwilling or unable to appreciate the nature and sometimes, the existence of there in.

While the said unwillingness may be a result of political propaganda by opposition politicians who ironically, include former Rhodesians who are actually, still the drivers — though indirectly — of the whole economic process in the country — the lack of appreciation of such a condition among the populace, is very likely due to the ignorance of the forces at play here.

The latter are forces that — to the generality of unsuspecting black Zimbabweans — are quite strong, persuasive, subtle and complex in nature. Such forces derive their power from the colonial legacy of this country. This is a legacy that espouses the power of the British and everything that goes with their system(s). [A] colonial mentality is another rather crude expression of the same condition.

The subtlety of the modus operandi of the said colonial drivers here makes it difficult — if not impossible — for the generality of the Zimbabweans to comprehend the objectives and workings of this strategy. Through this modus operandi the same drivers are subtly frustrating the black government’s efforts at resuscitating the economy while in the same breath, [the later] endeavouring to empower the black populace.

On considering the matter from such a perspective we come to appreciate that this is an economy whose ownership still is, in a subtle way, being contested between the colonists on the one hand, and the black government and those who are in its camp politically, on the other.

If we consider the matter from a perspective where Zimbabwe serves as a test case and/or a guinea pig for the indigenous takeover of a former colonial economy, we are then able  to connect and appreciate the sort of challenges the Sub Saharan African in general, faces today in its endeavour to industrialise. This is because the success of such a takeover will depend very much on whether the supposed new owner will be industrialised — both literally and psychically — or not.

At this juncture, it is necessary to point out that one cannot claim to own an economy in which they are not taking a considerable — if not a full — part in its manufacturing system(s).

Overall, this case avails us with a glimpse of the attitude of the Westerner to the possibility of sub Saharan Africa industrialising. Here we can safely deduce that it is against the former’s interest that the latter industrialises.

Unfortunately, because they are unable to connect the dots, most black Africans — Zimbabweans included — are not able to decipher this connection. This is the source of the current misunderstanding among black Zimbabweans today.

This is a misunderstanding whose basis turns out to be the differences in political ideology between the old political leadership — most of which belongs to ZANU (PF) — and the opposition party MDC (now CCC); the latter being a party whose supporters comprise the majority of the country’s youth.

In order to throw more light on these challenges we need to juxtapose this case to the South African and Kenyan cases. These two are economies in which the British were involved in ways that bore some similarities to the Zimbabwean one.

Interestingly, when it comes to the matter of government supporting budding entrepreneurs, it took the Zimbabwean authorities —  specifically, the ZANU (PF) leadership — a good twenty years to appreciate the heavy cost of their (negative)attitude of not supporting the efforts of the former.

Sadly, by that time, it was too late for them to do much about the matter since the entrepreneurs had taken their innovations, enterprises and wealth elsewhere.

The latter was paradoxically, the West where they now operate in the ‘safe hands’ of their former colonisers’ environments. And interestingly, the Westerners have not spurned the former. Instead they have discerned the capital to be gained — apparently, without much effort — from the work of these promising black African entrepreneurs.

At this stage, let us go back to the black African youth and its attitude to the matter at hand.

Today, the attitudes and perceptions of this group to matters of wealth accumulation, (wealth) creation and/or economic prosperity have become something of an enigma.

Here it cannot be amiss to assert that the attitude of this group is one of (wealth) consumption and not the creation and or accumulation of same. In this respect, their attitude is quite different to the youth of either the developed or emerging economies.

The latter are patriotic and focused. (Here I refer you to Charles Dahwa’s articles on patriotic entrepreneurship in the current Business Weekly issues). They are aware that the only wealth in all its forms, that you can regard as your own, stays in your premises, not elsewhere. They are also aware that the acquisition of raw materials from sources other than your own, is the way to go for the long term sustainability of your economy.

On the other hand, the attitudes of young Zimbabweans just boil down to employment and/or jobs for themselves. And as can be expected, these same attitudes drive them straight onto the (path of) confrontation with their elders whom they accuse of driving out the whiteman with ‘his wealth, jobs and all’.

Given the current level of unemployment in the country, this is a situation that anyone whose may want to see things differently, will have a hard time convincing these youths to view the goals and actions of the old nationalists more positively. Paradoxically, this situation makes these youths a tool of the foreign investor — specifically the FDI — by default.

Sadly, the current [state of] corruption among those in control — who mostly comprise the said old nationalists — can only make young Zimbabweans more bitter than otherwise.

So as a result, what you now have in Zimbabwe are two major categories of citizens. On the one hand are the older folks — those who can also be divided into two categories — that is those who fought the war of liberation, and those who did not.

Of these two, the former are definitely wired to seize the wealth which they believe is theirs — from the whiteman.

The other lot believes that the said wealth belongs to the whiteman and therefore, the authorities should not try to seize it from him.

They believe that the black African should create his own wealth instead of trying to seize the white man’s.

They also believe in going back to the state before independence when nearly all companies were owned by the colonist.

This is an assertion that played out quite clearly, and rather poignantly, during the time the authorities tried to enforce the indigenisation policy much more forcefully than before when it was in the form of the Affirmative Action group, the AAG.

Although they had largely ignored it before it was formalised, local companies began to feel the full impact of this policy after it was legalized through an Act of Parliament in 2008. That is when the nature of this misunderstanding began to prove interesting in a number of ways.

First of all, the government seemed to have just stipulated that the indigenes’ share be 51 percent versus 49  percent for the foreigners. When quizzed over the ratios the authorities failed to articulate their reasoning.

In hindsight, we learn that they fell into such a quandary because they had just copied that ratio from the Zambian case. Later they tried to revise the policy but by then, they had lost credibility among those opposing the idea.

(To be continued in Part Three).


Shambare is an agriculture economist based in Chinhoyi and is reachable on 0714045435


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