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COVID-19 pause: Need for national reflection and self-reliance

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The COVID-19 pandemic brings to the fore a rare opportunity for African nations to reawaken and reconsider national strategies. However, if we needed an emergency, we have it. It hinges on our future. It hinges on our children. It hinges on how we react to this timely reminder. Because it is difficult for anyone to have imagined that the world would get to a situation where local and international travels would be restricted while social and commercial activities are almost comatose.

The travel restrictions also have an adverse impact on the movement of goods and services. It is safe to state that global interdependence has never been challenged the way it is presently. While the world will remain interdependent, it is necessary for countries, especially Africans, to consider their capabilities to respond to challenges to become more self-reliant than they currently are.

With all due respect to many brilliant Africans, who are trying to create value legitimately, many riches in Africa are created through corruption and rent-seeking. The economic situation in economies that depend heavily on natural resources such as petroleum-like Nigeria are likely to suffer a balance of trade deficits and may become unable to meet their financial obligations except they consciously move into other areas that are capable of generating sustenance and possible foreign exchange. More importantly, the challenges of the balance of trade are national security concerns for African countries.

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Most of the critical activities that determine security and actual sovereignty are not in the control of nationals of African countries. It is funny. Why is it that all the time African countries must go begging? Why is Africa always at the receiving end? Has anything ever happened in the world and Africa has offered help instead of begging for help? It tells you we are not thinking right and this is the same thing that has happened and not just in government but also in our private businesses.

Turn our youthful population into gold
African countries need to develop their abilities to create real value for themselves rather than expect wealth to come merely because we are endowed with natural resources (which we invite foreigners to exploit on our behalf). Africa must gravitate towards productive and knowledge-based economies. Data shows that Africa is blessed with a young and well-educated population. This makes it possible for them to contribute to the economy beyond mere primary products. With proper national strategies and value systems, the teeming African youth can create solutions to the challenges that daily face them.

This is extremely dangerous as this makes many African countries to become merely glorified colonies that cannot make sound decisions in their own interests and may never stand by such decisions if they are ever taken because of pressure from the countries that control their critical assets and resources. What this translates into is that we dare not disagree seriously with those countries; otherwise, our security will be in jeopardy. The security of African nations must be in the hands of Africans in substantive terms and not mere lip service.

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Provide internally created solutions
Africa needs to rise to the challenge of becoming a continent to reckon with for providing solutions to challenges of the world. With no fear of equivocation, many Africans all over the world are working hard and have achieved great successes in their respective careers but the challenge is why does it appear that Africans do well in the diaspora? But do not do well on African soil?

My stab at this is that the institutions in the African continent need to be developed and strengthened to ensure that we can produce guaranteed relevant leaders. Africa needs to take another look at its compensation mechanism. There is an obvious need to ensure that the right processes and results are appropriately rewarded while unacceptable conducts are punished accordingly. As the balance of trade challenges stare brazenly at us, there is a need to encourage policies to conserve our financial resources.

We need to ensure that we consume what we produce and to produce what we consume. This will require hard work and heavy lifting on the part of the leadership at all levels of African society. We need to take another look at our food security – I do not know how much of our food is in our control as Africans and I am concerned about this.

Wean ourselves off foreign solutions  
A cursory look at our financial and the banking systems in Nigeria reveals that more than 90 per cent of applications run by Nigerian banks come from foreign countries, mostly from India. The implication is that the Nigerian financial system could be switched off remotely with an attendant consequence of social unrest and possible removal of structures and even governments. While this may seem far-fetched, it is my honest opinion that the risk and possibilities are very present and discerning leadership need to take a closer look at the possibilities in doing their risk assessments and response preparation.

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If Africa is to make the right progress in the right direction, we need to build our own society, create solutions to solve our own problems without the need for wholesale copy and paste. We will refer to the beautiful and nice works that are in existence in other countries, but we will only adopt them and own them wholly in Africa.

In conclusion, I posit that the challenges with our current level of development create a major opportunity for us to produce our own solutions to those challenges with minimal help from other countries. This will give us the opportunity to move towards development and simultaneously creating wealth for ourselves as a people.

Recently, I listened to an interview by a Ghanaian woman who said, “I do not blame you [Europeans] – you did and are doing [all this] for your survival; we [Africans] can’t blame you for that. The fact is, we [Africans] didn’t do enough for our own survival and we are still not doing enough for our survival – that is not your problem.” The context is that Africans, nay Nigerians, are not doing enough for our survival as a nation and as a people. COVID-19 has just exacerbated the situation we have put ourselves and the ramifications will come home to roost now unless we reflect and put in place many structures that will make us self-reliant soon.

• Dr. Okeremi is MD/CEO of Precise Financial Systems, Lagos, Nigeria.

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