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African economic redemption: Chimera or hope?



The West has left us with the template for economic growth and worldwide domination: the franchise system or the selling and use of patents, symbols etc. in short, branding. McDonald, Pepsi Coke, Coca-Cola, 7UP, KFC, Dominos are brands well known which people buy, so also is General Electric, Toyota, etc. Now they have developed to technologies for communications, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Uber, etc. all depending on our own fascination and should I say closeness and obsession with the use of the smartphones, the owners of these technologies rely on a simple fact, that algorithm was the answer to all problems. If the problem exists, there must be an algorithm to solve it. The West developed this, at great cost to themselves – loss of the traditional jobs of Post and Telegraphs, shorthand typists etc. As at today, the three richest men in the U.S. are all from the technology of communications – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Bezos, who today are richer than 60% of all U.S. citizens combined.

Is there a lesson for Africa here? We would hope to produce an Africa Bill Gates or an Africa Zuckerberg or an African Steve Jobs and an African Bezos. But if you looked at the system these technology giants have built, they have built-in branding into their systems. It is true you may want to use a different operating system instead of Microsoft word, office, cloud, but it would cost you. These giants depend on small payments per usage of their products but have enough power to force the banks, government and everybody else to use their systems etc.

It is tedious to go on about Africa having 75% of the world’s minerals if Africa is unable, like Japan, without minerals, to build a strong economy. If the computer was a once purchased item and therefore does not depend on their operating systems to work that business would be out of date soon. Its strength is its novelty adaptability, flexibility and the promise of even greater things to come – artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics – all good for war and peace: although this makes for an uncertain future. Worse still Africa has no role to play in this development beyond being a voracious consumer.

The minerals in Africa are buried deep underground. The West and China send different machines to dig for it, scoop it etc. carry it away for development into the various components of life in the world. The genius of McDonald is that each time you eat McDonald anywhere in the world, someone in the company makes money in the U.S. Ditto for KFC etc.

Africa must find ways to encourage the West that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The West and China mines and scoop earth, Copper, Columbite, Magnesium, Calcite and other forms of rare earth, uranium, aluminum, gold, diamonds etc. out of Africa. They sell these manufactured items from these goods back to us. Let us imagine a bright African who was able to franchise copper – every time an item having copper in it is used, a penny is given to the African country from which it was mined. All the electric wires used in the world would now pay something to sustain the people it originated from. At first, though this seems a crackpot idea, our new geniuses tell us that nothing is impossible; they can find a suitable algorithm to change this aspect of commerce as they have changed banking, communications, airlines, and planes etc. We must ask the right questions to get the right answers. If we start by thinking that it cannot be done, then it would not be. If Microsoft worried about the millions of shorthand typists it put out of business it would never have developed its operating system.

No smartphone can work without Calcite which is mined now in a number of places in Africa. Our goal should be that each time a phone is used those places get a few cents. These principles could be applied to other African exports since we pay each time a Radiation instrument is used in Africa, each time a car is driven- spare parts to the outlets etc. that is a kind of branding. Globalisation cannot simply mean the selling of any product you make to anywhere in the world that is willing to pay. As it works now, it is to the disadvantage of the non-Western or non-industrialised countries

There are instances where usage is the base of the currency that vendors use. Any airline that flies over the space of Nigeria pays Nigeria good money for the privilege. When our planes fly over Europe and the U.S., the same happens despite the so-called open skies agreement. That our ministers of Aviation and NCAA staff have regularly raided these coffers is not the point here. Money is paid to us as in McDonald’s as in Google for access and usage.

This is not traditional economic theory. My economist friends insist that we make our minerals here into products which the West wants to buy rather than insists on a rentier economy. Such a view does not take into account the overwhelming structural power of the West on almost all our lives, the meaning of education, the processes for creation of values etc. What are we afraid of?

As the West progresses in the use of fossil fuels itself, the base of its industrial revolution and power is now threatened. Engine designs that lower fuel consumption or even eliminate it are on the horizon. No one in Nigeria has produced any sensible lines on what to do when this inability hits on. It is said that gas and fuel have about 3000 uses – they produced over 3000 items. My Nigerian conservative economist friend says research institutions, the universities etc. can begin to make these products for sale to the West. There is merit in this argument but some of it is like inventing the wheel.

Nevertheless, the problem is the scale and where to find money, scientists, technicians, and algorithms to take us to the next level?

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