Africa needs to prioritize mass economic engagement over pursuing political perfection

Wednesday August 21 2019

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By Daily Monitor

I recently had a rich dialogue with colleagues and the discussion, among other things, briefly touched on the subject of separation of entrepreneurship and politics.

Some of the colleagues held the opinion that in the African context, political and entrepreneurial classes of the citizenry are too fused to be discussed in separate terms.

Following that discussion, I have applied myself to thinking through the subject over again, putting into consideration Africa’s most urgent needs as well as the continent’s global position in relation to key indicators of human wellbeing.

I am cognizant of the fact that holders of views that are contrary to my analysis may hold very compelling views that have equally important weight but this is my assessment of Africa’s strategic priorities, between economics and politics.

Global GDP per capita was reported at $11,570 (about Rwf10.6 million) by 2019. Africa’s average GDP per capita was less than a fifth of the global average, at $1,930 (about Rwf1.7m).

By 2040, Africa could lose between 2 to 4 percent of GDP to climate change. The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by 99 percent by 2050. Within this same time, developing countries like ours could register anything between 9 to 21 percent decline in food productivity, again due to climate change.

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This appears like a situation that calls for urgent economic transformation and creating means for continental self-sustenance. There are actually other status indicators and trends that render credence to this state of urgency.

Economics essentially deals with production of wealth, as well as its consumption and transfer.

It is what the poor need to master, above all else. Politics on the other hand is administration.

It does not produce wealth. It consumes wealth. If Africa operates in a scenario where among its people there are more aspirations towards politics than economics and business, that situation is undesirable. It pushes the continent towards a more consumptive than productive mode.

Most professional commentators about the role of media in Africa emphasize the role of media in shaping political agenda and contributing to the advancement of democratic practices.

A social media survey in 2018 in six African countries indicated that apart from entertainment, sports and religion which ranked prominent and are indeed very social in nature, African social media users were discussing politics the most.

Politics could therefore be the most prominent highbrow topic discussed in media. Media preoccupation with politics is also understandably a result of knowing what is more sellable between political content and business or economics.

In Africa, there is a general and understandable aspiration towards attainment of more refined politics on the continent, and thus the elite class rigorously engages in discussing as well as seeking to influence politics.

Whereas the above state of affairs may apply to other jurisdictions outside Africa, the disadvantages for Africa in this relate to the fact that the continent is the poorest. If politics continues to outcompete economics and business from intellectual agenda, Africa will get hurt.

Even as the above example of media focus should not be taken to imply to imply that people, by virtue of discussing politics as the most prominent intellectual topic, are necessarily politically engaged on massive scale, it can indicate that knowledge and ambitions around politics could potentially compromise the need to assign due focus to economic engagement.

Of course politics and economics closely relate and cannot be completely separated. From a business perspective, good politics is the continuity plan that the business community needs.
Political strife has the potential to reverse the good fortunes of a well-crafted economy. For Africa therefore, an important question to ask ourselves is whether the pursuit of perfect politics, sometimes involving political strife, must precede economic breakthrough; if a reliable continuity plan must pre-exist the wealth it is meant to protect.

This should be answered with the consideration that poverty is possibly a major contributor to bad politics, since political contests amidst poverty normally tend towards fights over the short supply of resources.

Whereas many rich nations had the opportunity to continually seek advanced political models at the heels of economic advancement, for Africa this is meant to work in reverse. Africa strives to adopt and implement advanced political models prescribed from nations that operate in a higher wealth space and whose people therefore bear superior considerations in their political choices.

Although politics and economics are equally key aspects of human existence, it may be important that Africa desists from the urge of mass politicization in order to concentrate on creating as many entrepreneurs and business-ambitious citizens as possible. The political class should then maintain enabling environments for businesses to flourish.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant rmugisha@afriaccent.com

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