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Only Africa can save itself from poverty

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Added 31st July 2018 12:53 PM

Self determination of a people is perhaps one of the most important elements of development.

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Self determination of a people is perhaps one of the most important elements of development.


By Robert Mwesigwa

KAMPALA - There used to be a time when development partners and donors told governments what to do; now governments tell donors what they want to hear.

As the knowledge on development work keeps growing, we find that we are now less certain about what is needed to fight global poverty in places such as Africa than we were 50 years ago.

However, overtime history has taught us that none of the development events in the recent history of poverty eradication depended on the generosity of strangers.

Self determination of a people is perhaps one of the most important elements of development.

Looking back, China's move to the markets in 1978, India's steps towards entrepreneurship in 1982 and Vietnam's doi moi reforms in 1986; were all homegrown policy reforms informed by the countries attempts to get richer by making money, not by merely receiving it.

It is often said that Africa’s GDP will equal the combined GDPs of the US and the EU at the current rate, but this to happen, the continent needs a systematic method through which ideas are turned into action, especially because every good policy started out as a g0od idea.

The trouble with ideas in a global world – especially development ideas; there is a serious temptation to think if it worked for peasants in South East Africa, it will work well for poor people in Sub Saharan Africa.

How do ideas work?

Ideas must spring from the social reality of a people. The people must look within and analyse your own society then develop relevant ideas for progress.

Development practitioners and economists now know there is no one-size-fits all solution.

One of the earliest pronouncements on the importance of home grown policy solutions was in July 1986 at the OAU Summit in Addis Ababa.

The summit highlighted the unequal relationship between Africa and the industrial world had been sustained by “the development and propagation of inapplicable theories in development and the social sciences to rationalise and perpetuate it.”

Since then, Africa has fallen behind on its philosophy for home grown solutions – perhaps it is easier said than done.

The future of African think tanks and the ideas they build

Development ideas are evolving, development practitioners and global heads of state are eager for new ideas for growth – but very rarely do these ideas come from the African continent; even when they will be implemented in Africa.

As Africa’s middle class grows, so will its private sector. Governments no longer have the monopoly on transforming lives in Africa.

The continent’s private telecom and transport sectors have had profound influence on how communication, banking and transportation happen in Africa.

Private agricultural firms are feeding the continent and will continue to do so for a while. Private healthcare is on the rise as well.

In today’s world, youth unemployment is arguably one of the most immediate social crises of our time.

Unemployment breeds poverty, which further entrenches hunger, crime, disease depression and limits access to the resources that create development.

Generations of young people on the continent unable to find work have been forced to live a life of humiliating poverty and without dignity.

Given the jobs that will address this crisis are more likely to be created by private sector players and not governments.

Think tanks must align their thinking to contribute creative ideas to Africa’s private sector and the complex challenges of our time.

Any think tank keen on making a contribution to Africa’s growth cannot ignore the role private sector players will play driving the continent forward.

So the business of thinking about development and ideas for Africa’s growth can no longer be targeted to governments exclusively.

They must also be targeted to private sector players because private sector growth on the continent will ultimately grow Africa as well. This is what African think tanks must work towards.

The writer is the Chairperson of the Africa Strategic Leadership Centre.

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