What is Progress in Africa?

What is Progress in Africa?

“I believe part of the answer to this is in shifting the narrative about Africa’s ‘opportunity’ away from the perspective of the outside investor to a more internal and sustainable discussion about how the growth of the middle class can have a far-reaching influence on poverty reduction, good governance, and geopolitical stability in Africa.” [source]

A few months ago, Ernst & Young released a detailed study called Bridging the Gap: Ensuring Execution on Large Infrastructure Projects in Africa.

EY researched the 196 infrastructure projects across the continent. It found that nearly 3 quarters of these projects are “simply not getting off the ground.”

In conclusion, “The answer to bridging the infrastructure gap in Africa does not, therefore, lie in identifying new sources of funding, but rather in ensuring that planned projects are completed within reasonable time frames.”

We even see this theme recurring at the recent Quartz Africa Innovator’s summit in Nairobi. One of the more well-known entrepreneurs in Kenya, Ory Okolloh said, “We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad leadership. We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad policies.”

In other words, if Africa is to take a step forward, it must finish projects and demand good leadership.

With this in mind, there's a perspective on how all this can take place that I've been thinking about...

Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum, recently said, “We are moving from a world in which the big eat the small to a world in which the fast eat the slow."

This quote is true, but I don’t think it tells the full story. In The Clock Of The Long Now, Stewart Brand discusses Fast vs Slow:

  • Fast learns, slow remembers.
  • Fast proposes, slow disposes.
  • Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous.
  • Fast and small instructs slow and big by accrued innovation and occasional revolution.
  • Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy.
  • Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.

All durable dynamic systems have this sort of structure; it is what makes them adaptable and robust.

From fast to slow, the order of civilization is:

  • Fashion/art
  • Commerce
  • Infrastructure
  • Governance
  • Culture
  • Nature

"In a healthy society, each level is allowed to operate at its own pace, safely sustained by the slower levels below and kept invigorated by the livelier levels above...

“If commerce, for example, is allowed by governance and culture to push nature at a commercial pace, all-supporting natural forests, fisheries, and aquifers will be lost."

Enacting True Change In Society 

So to affect real change in a nation or a culture, it takes consistent and persistent discussion, action, and pressure to change over time from all the levels of society above it. And each level doing its part. Without fast changes happening regularly, and entrepreneurs pushing for better policy, better leadership (becoming great leaders themselves), and follow-through, infrastructure and society, as a whole, will not change.

This brings us back to the opening quote, what is progress in Africa? Sure there's an abundance of land and mineral resources, but where has all of that money and “economic bolstering” gone? It’s the top feeding the top and it’s not trickling down.

Africa has a expected $1 trillion spending power by 2020. Unless services and opportunities are passed to the middle class and toward the bottom of the pyramid, we won’t see much difference in society. There will still be water crises, power outages, and disease outbreaks.

Longterm, Africa doesn’t need more foreign money, more investment, or more aid.

Africa needs economic upliftment, empowerment, and a cultural belief that it can build from within.

This ultimately comes down to choosing relationships wisely. Africa must work with people who are invested for the long term, can place ego aside, and want to see the little guy empowered to educate herself, to start her business, and to change her family and ultimately community.

We cannot continue to shackle ourselves to foreign debt structures. This will cripple the next generation of African leaders, and it’s already beginning to.

So, what is progress?

Is it China’s boom and insatiable appetite for resources? No, this has merely inflated Africa’s economies.

As China’s economy slows, Africa can no longer rely on the East to bolster it’s GDP numbers each year.

Africa has to shift its gears to policy and procedures that will economically uplift—produce local manufacturing, services that are relevant to their demographics, and complete the many infrastructure projects that are left dangling in midair.

One thing I’m sure of, it’s time for us to get to work. Let’s each play our part and build our community and make our part of the world a little bit better place.

Further reading:

(photo via jbdodane)