‘Ikibazo cyakabaye inyama. None izo nyagwa ugizimana urazibonye, warangiza ukabura ihwa ry’umunyinya ryo kwihaganyura?’ – Théogène Kalinamaryo, RPF Lead Trainer, complaining about toothpicks made in China.
I have been having conversations with two businessmen; both clearly unimpressed with what they call my ‘leftists ideas’
– You Left wings have highjacked Pan-Africanism. You are stuck in the sixties and your Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara things are simply reactionary to the current globalized world order.
See, my friends believe every generation has its own heroes and that it serves no purpose to be ‘stuck in the sixties’ as they put it. To one of them, Africapitalism by Nigerian Tony Elimelu, Ghanaian Fred Swaniker and President Kagame is more appropriate for the current generation.
The second friend simply asked me, ‘Gatete, why do you waste your time in those ideological battles, why don’t you focus your energy on making money?’
They are right to a certain extend. Stories of ‘when we were kings’ or ‘before colonial times’ aren’t an end in themselves. If no prospect is drawn from them to inform challenges at hand, they remain nothing more than feel good slogans.
Which brings me to another conversation with a dear friend, Cameroonian Yann Gwet. Well it’s not exactly a conversation, it is another brilliant piece that he wrote in ‘Le Monde Afrique, after visiting Fred Swaniker’s African Leadership College in Mauritius. The school, as he explains in the article, aims to empower African youth to be entrepreneurs, leaders and ambitious problem solvers: Africapitalist leaders.
In a sense, he reflects, ALS has done the main job, which was to inculcate to these youth a higher opinion of themselves and their capacity. The challenge remains to instill in them a political conscience, and a strong collective ambition.
That won’t be an easy phase, because from the onset, ALC has an economic viewpoint of leadership. The vision lies on the understanding that we live a post-political epoch, in which power is in the hands of the private sector, and the state? Well, it simply plays a facilitator’s role. However, if that paradigm has defined the Western world (Even there it is being challenged by the advent of Brexit or Donald Trump in the USA) it has not defined Africa. Indeed in our land, problems remain essentially political. So are their solutions. Link:
I think that Yann has helped me respond to all the friends above. If Africa is poor today it is not because it has had a scarcity of entrepreneurs. As we speak, there are at least as many African sharp minds as anyone. But they are either working in Europe, in America or they are underemployed in Africa.
While the potential is much bigger here, they are prevented to work in Africa by war, conflicts, corruption, non-tariff barriers, lack of infrastructure, and other systemic bottlenecks stemming from underdevelopment and neo-colonialism.
African entrepreneurs are also strongly undermined by skewed global trade regulations, which systematically debase products from the southern hemisphere by establishing dubious intellectual property regulations and subsidize western manufacturers and farmers to out-compete the rest of the world.
My uncle studied pharmacy at Lauvanium in Kinshasa in the eighties. At the time it was one of the best Universities in Africa. Today he owns a pharmacy in Muhima and sells medicine with 20 year old nurses from Kigali Health Institute (KHI). My father studied Astronomy and Maritime Science in the best universities in Africa and Europe; also in the eighties he used to navigate huge Belgian flag bearing supertankers and ships in high seas across the globe. When he returned to Rwanda in 1995, he impressed everyone in the hiring business. He impressed them so much that none of them could employ him; Good for you! They all said to him… He had to take evening classes in Law at Kigali Independent University (ULK) to survive in this town.
The problem in Africa is first and foremost ideological, political. It is not the skills. Skills’ problems can be quickly addressed. Besides, it is a bit hard-pressed to claim to teach Nigerians to be entrepreneurs. Or Ugandans, or Kikuyus in Kenya… Before 1994 in Rwanda we used to have the problem of capacity yes. Today new problems have emerged, namely unemployment and market. There are no people willing to buy African products.
Africans would rather buy replicas of western products instead of original African products. Let me illustrate: starting an academy of football in Africa is great, except, it serves as a nursery for Western clubs. It doesn’t enhance to quality of the local leagues. The French national team, Belgian team, English team and now, German teams are featuring Africa’s best footballers, sometimes all from DRC.
So starting a football academy in DRC isn’t really responding to the problem of DRC. The talent is there, it is the investment in the major league that is missing. Most importantly it is the mindset shift in the DRC’s public that is needed. DRC doesn’t need a French coach or a football school; it needs a Murdoch, an Abramovich and a Quatari Prince.
Rwanda produces one of the best Coffees in the world, but we still import Nescafe. We have cows and fresh butter, but most urban families consume ‘Blueband’, which is literally toxic.
People are complaining that local products are expensive for them. But there are a multitude of political factors to consider. If they buy more, the prices will go down: IF THEY VALUE AFRICA, AFRICA WILL PRODUCE!!
I know this by organizing #MondayTalks. Now, MondayTalks are really great. You can learn a lot about Africa and Rwanda there and be intellectually entertained. But people can’t simply make it on time.
Now you should see the same people, at the launch of the new James Bond: Spectre. All dressed up in bowties, suits and lined up at the cinema, two hours before time, to celebrate a white man who goes around killing blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Asians and Eastern Europeans on the orders from the Queen of England…
When my friend Kirenga Eric Soul shows brilliant African films like Amandla or Fela, every Sunday at the Public Library, or his namesake Kabera showing his film Intore, no one shows up. Listen, these are better films in quality, soundtrack and message. So are the MondayTalks. They thing is we aren’t there to entertain people, we aim to challenge them.
You see, Black singers would go to record labels, record their music, then Elvis Presley would be called in to put his name on the songs and the world will never hear of the original creators.
Rwandans who are graduating in Medicine are afraid of specializing because they know there is little pay for doctors. They prefer quick training in public health so they can be hired by NGOs – much money there..
Anyway, this analysis vindicates the struggle of Nkrumah, Sankara and Che, without taking anything away from Swaniker and Elumelu. Africa critically needs entrepreneurs and innovators yes. But they need political backing. They need an integrated regional market, they need stability and transparency, and they need Agaciro. Otherwise their products will be debased, undermined and their innovation suffocated.
My uncle wanted to discover the cure of AIDS. He sells tablets and syrups in Muhima. My father could have gone to the moon. He is a lawyer; like me…
So to Africapitalists, when I speak of African Union, of Nkrumah, and Sankara, I am actually trying to help you sell your products. We are in the same team.
I think what really matters is like you say, that we don’t make the same mistake as our predecessors of the sixties. As a researcher in governance I shouldn’t think every problem must be solved by good governance, and you as business and entrepreneurs you shouldn’t think every problem shall be solved by business and entrepreneurship. Being both Rwandans and the product of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Capitalism or Socialism mean little to us. All we see are problems and possible solutions to explore.
So lets work together: I must put in place the most conducive environment for your business to thrive, while your innovation and business bring wide-reaching, sustainable gains to the community.
I will not ransom you to enrich myself, if you do not exploit the people to enrich yourself. So, lets both start by not buying Porches and Range Rovers…