Reinventing the Wheel

Posted on 10/10/2010


Some of my good friends happen to be Kenyan. Naturally being Zimbabwean I have been observing the events in Kenya economically, politically and otherwise with great interest. I am completely fascinated by this country which was embroiled in massive killings only a few years ago (2007). This resulted in a coalition government which is currently projecting some 7% economic growth rate this year. My Kenyan friends recently voted this August in a constitutional referendum. In truth I’ve been watching developments on the continent as whole with a keen interest in general.  If the truth be told one of my ambitions is to play some small role in assisting to rebrand my beloved Zimbabwe and in turn the continent. After many years in the diaspora I have started to embark on my return home scheduled later this year. As I prepare for my return to the homeland, I find myself heavily involved in discussing the intricacies of Africa. I’m constantly thinking, planning and looking forward to life on our continent with eagerness and a proper sense of realism.


However, I am somewhat saddened by the various elements that handicap our own development. Living in the diaspora I learnt to quickly adapt and how to ‘play the game’ to survive. I often wonder why we don’t do more of this similar behaviour. I have always wondered why we (African nations) continue to reinvent the wheel at times. We know how the game is played. For example to gain access to cheaper capital to fund our various projects (infrastructure, education and so forth), we know that the various financial institutions typically give a certain rating (e.g. AAB) to the relevant country in question. This same rating then contributes to the interest rate used when borrowing those funds from the World Bank et al. We know ‘the game’ and how it is played but I can’t see why we can’t borrow these so called funds as a ‘collective group’ of countries for example. I use this simple example to illustrate the bargaining power that we have and yet I wonder how often we utilise such methods. We may already be doing so but I am advocating that we use the strength we have as a group of nations more frequently and more wisely than we have in the past.

I read this yesterday : – ‘According to The Day After Tomorrow: A Handbook on the Future of Economic Policy in the Developing Worldalmost half of global growth is currently coming from developing countries. As a group, it is projected that their economic size will surpass that of their developed peers in 2015.’ If this is indeed true, then we have many opportunities in Africa – more than I ever imagined! It is often easy to forget that there are approximately 900 million people in Africa with more people under the age 30 than the other continents. All these people require food, shelter, clothing, education and so forth. Right there in that last sentence many opportunities exist for entrepreneurs willing to engage in business with a view of providing these products and services to them. Anyone of us could be that entrepreneur who provides the pens and pencils used in schools for example.

However I digress from my main point, which is reinventing the wheel. I also read somewhere that there was a proposal to build the world’s largest hydroelectric dam in Congo. The total cost of the dam would be USD$80 billion and would produce sufficient electricity for 500 million people. According to my figures mentioned earlier, that’s more than half the African population. I also know that erratic electricity supply is causing havoc for manufacturers and other businesses in Zimbabwe at the present moment. I often wonder how many other countries apart from Nigeria share the same challenges. You see, we have common challenges and I often wonder whether we in fact collaborate as much as we can in resolving them.

As mentioned earlier Kenya currently has a coalition government and interestingly enough so does Zimbabwe. We can all imagine the challenges of coalition governments in general as the various parties involved struggle to find common ground and work together for the good of the people now with one eye on the next election in the future. Either way, coalition governments are not an ideal situation however in this case, the people voted and this is the result of that voting process. Sharing information regarding the challenges and indeed the methods used in resolving issues within coalition governments would uplift communities and each other one would think. I could be naïve in my thinking here but surely Zimbabwe could learn a few things from Kenya’s coalition government and vice versa. There is something to be said about the manner is which Kenya overcame the events of 2007, followed by a sticky coalition government situation and now a constitutional referendum which interestingly enough voted in favour of a new constitution. Surely there are lessons for all of us to learn from this.

Kopje view of HarareThe mobile phone industry in Africa is growing at a phenomenal rate. 316 million mobile phone subscribers have signed up since 2000. There is further room to grow. Speaking on Zimbabwe’s mobile phone industry, Econet’s CEO Douglas Mboweni says ‘with a mobile penetration rate of 40%, there is still a significant demand for communication services in Zimbabwe’. The market is clearly not saturated yet. In Kenya M-pesa in took off partly because out the 10 million adults, only 4 million had banks accounts. M-pesa was introduced and according to one Kenyan friend, ‘M-pesa is now the most common method of making payments across the country’. Last month Safaricom Ltdreported that there was a 61% increase in July 2010 from a year earlier. M-pesa has now entered South Africa and I patiently watch their progress there. I repeat myself once again but surely there are lessons for all of us to learn from this.

I put my patriotic nature aside and look at Africa from a pragmatic perspective. I see so many opportunities all over the continent. This article doesn’t cover the many examples of businesses and such in Egypt, Libya, Zambia, Angola and the Chinese presence in Senegal for example. The point is, we can and should attempt to learn more from each other. I read some article about how the US government provides approximately USD$15 billion in subsidies for its farmers. This figure, according to the article, has steadily been rising year on year. These subsidies are designed in part to protect their own farmers and ultimately discourage and hinder African farmers from exporting their produce to the US. I wonder how much business African farmers lose because of subsidies like this worldwide. I personally know of a Zimbabwean farmer exporting chickens as far as Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. There is another farmer I heard about who is involved in growing vegetables. They grow them and ’can’ the produce before exporting the canned tins to South Africa and abroad. There are lessons to be gained from these illustrations – let us increase our own regional trade for example. Let us share ideas, concepts, challenges and indeed our victories with other African nations. Why reinvent the wheel each time? Why should the Zimbabwean tax department seek assistance from the Australian Tax Office when we can share information and solutions with our South African, Nigerian or Ghanaian counter parts? Call me naïve if you will but I believe in a United Africa. So often we share similar challenges. I only ask that we learn to lift our heads and look to our brothers and sisters across the border instead of our distant cousins across the pond. Africa Unite!

This article was first published on AfricaOnTheBlog.