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Interpreting why nations fail or struggle

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Pat Utomi. Photo: THEINTERVIEW


Fascination with why some countries succeed remarkably, others fail disgracefully, and many occupy grounds of the shades of grey on the spectrum, has been decades old with me.  In response, I have written several books, numerous opinion pieces and academic essays and jumped into the arena of praxis, with spectacular stories to tell, and show for it.  Lately, my greater concern has been how to help people not inclined to academic treatises, or have the time for even OPED essays of this type, identify with how these matters connect to the burdens of their life’s journey.  To show why they are more miserable than their parents.

How do you explain to people for example, that the evidence suggests production, the output that sustains and enhances our quality of life has been in decline since the Land Use Act or decree of 1976?  The intellectual easy path would be to explain the role of institutions and economic performance but you know how many years of study it took you to make those abstractions and then linkages between concepts and phenomena and you feel frustration well up.

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For years I have spoken quite a bit about the place of strong institution in economic performance and development of countries.  My 1998 book, Managing Uncertainty- Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies was based on the extra-ordinary insights from Douglas North who won the Nobel Prize of Economics for work in that area. It is easy to assume the satisfaction
I derive from that effort comes from the fact that the was winner of the Abiola Book Prize for the best academic text published in Nigeria in 1998, or some of the comments many years later from University of Ibadan professors I did not know were on the Book Prize panel back then, but it is in how much I tried to bring the ideas to what practical decision makers could related to that brought satisfaction. Still I know few people in every day walk will have the patience to digest all those pages. But the actions of those people matter, just like black lives.

The book Why Nations Fail, by James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu attained significant regard for showing why countries like Nigeria are poor, based on the same insights on institutions and economic performance. My own book which followed Managing Uncertainty, but was positioned as a sort of prequel at a broader frame level than managing uncertainty, Why Nations are Poor, published in 2006, a decade before why Nations fail, also followed those same insights. Those same ideas also led US President Barack Obama to remark in Accra, in his first speech on African soil as US president, that what Africa needs in strong institutions and not strong men.

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But how does the small-scale agriprenuer, starting a one hectre farm with processing facility  understand the point that Robinson and Acemoglu, or Ragharan Rajan and Luigi Zingales make in the book Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, or my own books relate to outcomes of his effort. How does he know why he may be unlikely to make the same success for equal effort as his American colleague or that his innovation may trigger the Paradox of prosperity that Clayton Christensen and partners which include one of his former Nigerian students at Harvard argue for in another book.
 
In the 1980s a group of us believed intellect and praxis needed to combine and pressure policy to change for the good of all. The result was the Enabling Environment Forum and later the Nigerian Economic Summit Group {NESG}. How much does todays young agripreneur who is more likely to save Nigeria from the current mess than some rent tycoon businessman, understand the state of play and how much does he understand these phenomenological linkages to make his point well and give direction to policymakers totally adrift at Sea. This for me is where duty lies for those with a heart for social engineering.

Let us take the matter of the authority regarding land and how institutional arrangement regarding land has made us poorer, inclined to upheavals and to low trust in our ways of social organization. This problem has assumed great urgency given the economic, political and deep social malaise manifesting in widespread anomie, poverty and misery.

My more immediate source of concern is the tripple shock economic crisis which, for me, began last year with the assessment of Nigeria by Forbes magazine which labelled Nigeria a money Losing machine, a signal to investors that Nigeria should be a no-go area for investments. To say that investment, capital, Is the lifeblood of capitalism is an oxymoron is not to be gifted with genius, the review was, therefore, literally speaking a death sentence on the Nigerian economy.
To be continued tomorrow
Utomi, political economist and Professor of entrepreneurship is the founder of Centre for Values in Leadership.

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