By: Patrick Cardiff
There has been a long hiatus in the discussion of international development in my office. I believe it began just before the Housing Crisis and the subsequent Great Recession. Maybe “Africanists” in the US just thought we were about to implode domestically, so we better stick to affairs of home. The US is going through some kind of “closet clearing attitude” when it comes to welfare – always does during Recessions. Aid Fatigue, failed experiments at USAID (words like “Democracy” co-opted as exportable commodities, and other shibboleths); things just did not, haven’t got, better. Of course terrorism has not endeared the Western World to Islamic countries – In Africa Boko haram to al Shabaab, and down the Swahili Coast. Turning the cheek is one thing, but even if you’re Christian you have to defend yourself; You don’t embrace the people who are out to kill you. For people who are blinded by an ideology, there is no solution. If your group does something, you’re responsible.
Modern society is integrated with many activities going on, having to do with so many expectations and duties, maintenance and preservation, and prevention, but there are still potential changers, they could be exploited and translated into policy.
I don’t think the best response to lack of opportunities should be circular, or should beg the question, as in: Why is Africa poor? “Because it is poor in leadership, has corruption.” That’s both illogical and, in most cases, untrue. The reasons that the African continent’s 50-so countries exhibit characteristics that the Western world calls “poor” are not interpreted by everyone as constituting reasons because “Poor” means different things to a person living in the USA than it does to a person living in Tanzania. So first, “Poor” is relative. It can be absolute, too.
The reasons for this so-called “poverty” are not all due to one or another contributing thing (say, government). I am referring to more than a confusion of terms; a definition itself is an assumption. So I’m supposed to suggest ways to reduce this Western concept of “poverty” that has taken hold of the African continent. I do not like the fact that the word “poverty” itself is undefined, because that invites assumptions from all readers regarding the extent and scope of a social phenomenon that is arguably “diffuse.” My problem is generalizing to Africa, too; I simply do not think there is much utility in that, except for various examples of association with shortfall, and we might learn. I also have a problem with the idea of certain limiting capabilities observed by a small set of people seeming causative when it comes to social phenomenon, which is a complete joke. (C’mon people: a lack of development is not directly caused by bureaucrats stealing from the coffers – there are a number of intervening steps, right?) Nevertheless I’ll play the game by mentioning ways to increase “wealth” (for want of any other recognizable word to proxy “anti-poverty”) FOR ANY state.
Consider a country that has 130 distinct tribes, and each group member recognizes another group member by language, physical characteristics, shared experience, etc. The natural tendency of humans is to seek the familiar, but the way of increased wealth is an external procedure, where you seek out differences, more communication, more relationships with the outside world. The will and ability to overcome distance and make new relationships is associated with a higher standard of living. It simply stands to reason, that the “more different” things you have and experience, the “richer” your life will be – in the terms of my definition of “wealth,” remember. Part of opportunity increase is willingness to give up what you’re used to and try new things! Tradition and authority pass down many great things that individualize the person, but tradition can also be a stultifying impediment to personal growth. That means defiance of constructs is a positive action when it comes to modernity. Anything, any policy or tradition that permits better communication between peoples will leader to more trade.
Education – education should be about basic life skills and needs to begin before age seven in humans, and to continue till at least the age of 24 – that is, until the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, at which time responsible individual decisions are made, more by using reasoning than emotions. Education should be applied education through life. My friend Robert is fond of telling me that “Commencement” means “to begin.” Your high school Commencement is a celebration to set you loose. You now supposedly have tools to solve problems, answer questions, deal with a whole bunch of matters on your own, difficult and easy, things as they come to you every day. If this problem solving happens to coincide with what interests you, we call you “Self-Actuated.” Add free-will, and knowledge of self to that, and that’s the best YOU can be as a human: when you Do what you Are. This meaning has been lost on most of the Western World; my opinion is that capitalism has turned the physical certificates we get when we go to school into salaries and little more.
Labor – If you have ever lived in a Third World country, however, you might conclude that it helps to be a Jack-of-all-Trades. There are so many problems that need fixing on the African continent. Your lorry breaks an axle in a gully on the savanna. The ability of one individual to transfer skills from one practical application to another is KEY! That’s why there is no lack of entrepreneurship on the continent. The key to increased wages for ANY person is flexibility in output. An employer looking to hire you asks first “what have you done?” In Africa, your resume should be full at every age level.
In the First World, the labor force is organized by specialties that are much more varied? Problems are MUCH more detailed in the USA. On the production side, the specialization and division of labor are so diverse that the way employers search for potential candidates begins with the correct term in Google. On the input side, the potential employee avoids competition by seeming one-of-a-kind. Unfortunately, fair hiring practice laws can be circumvented this way, a form of systemic abuse “canned candidates,” using control variables unrelated the standard rights categories: I might be a survey manager, but do I have agricultural survey manager experience using dual-phase sampling design?
The Internet has changed the labor market so much that classification schemes are going the way of the Rolodex. But the transformation is slower in Africa …. yet; a number of countries in Africa have high “Western standard growth rates” in the last decade. Where there is an attitude of laborer as “Handyman,” there is also fierce competition to earn money based on work function as well as product. So, where an established business is involved, there is more of a need to avoid exploitation because firms with many employees usually involve more money than sole proprietorship, even thought the latter is more prevalent.
Business: there are business incentives to produce, to increase revenue, to increase wages, to raise the consumption of society, thereby to increase “wealth.” That’s all very fine. Governments usually know what will make businesses work if the country is small, because communication between the business and the government can be more easily expected. But the history of corporation in Africa is mainly a primary and extractive one, not healthful. There are labor unions that usually spend time collecting dues and defending their members’ rights which, though the aim is to control labor power, is “oppositional” in a sense that there is a true opportunity cost – resentment – to having ANY middleman (i.e., the union steward). A better case for production increase (my opinion, and “generally,” therefore freely disregard, or feel free to debate) would be for the laborers to be in a cooperative arrangement whereby you get out what you put in. There are no ends to the kinds of products and services that can be organized around co-operatives. Cooperatives are VERY common throughout sub-Saharan – historically colonial powers transferred the ideas of agricultural marketing boards from ag. co-ops for systematic export (or “plunder” depending on your political sensibilities).
Government– government should perform or get out of the way. They need to do big things that business and individuals won’t do. They need to build roads, bridges, dams, infrastructure. They should invest heavily into the police force, education and medical, but they should NOT expect extra pay for pushing papers, allocating budgets, ACCESS. Government should not exist in everyone’s shorts. They should keep the peace. They need to defend the country when there is a war. Power needs to be talked about in government. And now I have to write like a poet (so my words sound less applied): the gun is not power; knowledge is power.
And debate is a way we come to better knowledge.