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Monday, October 29, 2007

Thoughtless James Watson was Seeking cheap publicity over Stupid Africa comment

Partly edited from“The African Executive”

As thoughtless as it sounds, James Watson knew only too well that being controversial would get all the media publicty ever thought of (cheaply); the Nobel prize not withstanding. Watson found a perfect opportunity to retire by claiming that black people less intelligent than white people and that it's delusional to assume "equal powers of reason" are shared across racial groups. The Nobel Prize laureate and DNA expert has drawn widespread condemnation for saying that Western policies towards African countries are wrongly based on an assumption that black people are as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggests the contrary. Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that there is a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

Although Africans have contributed to this perception by begging for foreign aid from Western countries despite the continent's unequalled natural resource endowment, powerful African physic, abundant numbers and enviable climate, Dr Watson's assertion is meant to perpetuate the idea of western superiority. This is the same mindset that saw Africans enslaved in a barbaric manner (because ancient tradition of slavery recognized people as human, but whites turned Africans into wild-animals), colonized and gave rise to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It is the same reason that has made the West to perpetuate a matron role of babysitting Africa from cradle to grave.

IQ, in Watson's perception refers to understanding Western education and being able to embrace Western policies and culture- but who said that Western civilization is the yardstick for human progress? Watson has intentionally set a trap for Africans to not only make fools of themselves as they try to prove their worth, but also to waste their time. Today, they tell us to prove ourselves intelligent by passing western fashioned IQ and Technology invention tests. They harp on negative reporting as evidenced in their propped up portrayal of Africa as a place with children whose ribs are protruding; stomachs bloated and fly infested. Does the entire Africa, with over 900 million people fit this gloomy description?

The Irish were once thought of in the same terms black people are today. The Romans also thought the Germans were inferior barbarians. They have proved the contrary. Don't the Chinese also see themselves as the master race? Black people must ask themselves why they should believe this nonsense. They ought to chart how they can claim their stake on the globe just like the Southeast Asians did. No amount of whining will change global perceptions as long as our people go on to live in squalor and depend on Western handouts and ideas. A victim mentality precludes accountability and responsibility and sustains dependency. The onus is on us! The Irish, the Asians and the Arabs took charge of their destiny and waited for no acknowledgements. We have our job cut out for us.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Will Money Solve Africa's Development Problems?

The debate about Africa's development is ON and experts are pointing to all sorts of direction regarding the way forward for the continent. In this context, world renowned John Templeton Foundation published 8 essays in a series of conversations that sought to answer the question: Will Money Solve Africa’s Development Problems? The publication featured leading scientists and scholars in which Four essayists negate; two affirm while the rest express doubt.

Below are excerpts on from the publication:

YES..... If it is invested in enhancing African capabilities to integrate the continent into global networks of knowledge and creating prosperity and stability. This will mean confronting and overcoming a triple failure: corruption and abuse of power by African governments, predatory practices by extractive industries, and the waste of resources by an uncoordinated and ineffective aid system." “Ashraf Ghani, Chairman Institute for State Effectiveness.”.

NO..... Not as long as there are issues such as prolonged violent conflict, bad governance, excessive external interference, and lack of an autonomous policy space. Alone, money cannot solve Africa’s development problems. Proof, if any was needed, is the fact that many of Africa’s natural resource-rich countries score very low on human development indicators "Dr. Donald Kaberuka, President- African Development Bank.”

Only If..... African entrepreneurs are the key to solving Africa’s development problems. It is they who can drive their continent’s economic growth and it is they who can make their governments better. If money is invested engaging the organic and transformative potential of local entrepreneurs, Africa will flourish. If money is poured into government bureaucracies – which hold back these entrepreneurs – Africa will continue to languish. “ Iqbal Z. Quadir founder GrameenPhone - Bangladesh”

No Way..... The problem in Africa has never been lack of money, but rather the inability to exploit the African mind. Picture a banana farmer in a rural African village with a leaking roof that would cost $100 to fix. If one purchased $100 worth of his bananas, the farmer would have the power and choice to determine whether the leaking roof is his top spending priority. On the other hand, if he is given $100 as a grant or loan to fix the roof, his choice would be limited to what the owner of the big money views as a priority. Out of 960 million Africans in 53 states, there are innovators and entrepreneurs who, if rewarded by the market, will address the challenges facing the continent. “ James Shikwati, founder and Director, Inter Region Economic Network”

No..... By now we should have learned. Donor nations have spent billions of dollars for development schemes in post-colonial Africa, yet there is little to show for this beyond dependency and corruption. Yet current policy and sentiment seem to advocate more of the same. Pop music and movie stars join celebrity academics in trying to shame wealthy nations into committing ever-expanding funds to address African poverty and ill health. This grand scheme mentality has remained immune from the feedback that failed programs ought to have provided. As for the intended beneficiaries, we find a psychological colonialism that has brainwashed the poor into believing the solutions to their problems are to be found in the technical know-how and largesse of wealthy countries. “ Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies.”

NO..... Clearly, money alone does not solve problems. What is needed instead are business, social, and political entrepreneurs who take responsibility for, say, making sure medicines reach victims, rather than more grandiose slogans about comprehensive administrative solutions that only serve as publicity vehicles for raising yet more money for ineffectual aid bureaucracies. Entrepreneurs would be accountable for results, in contrast to the aid bureaucrats and rich country politicians who make promises that nobody holds them accountable for keeping. “ William Easterly is professor of economics at New York University.”

YES..... But there is another way of solving this problem and it is being illuminated by, of all people, some of the poorest parents on earth. These parents are abandoning public schools en masse to send their children to budget private schools that charge low fees of a few dollars per month, affordable even to families living on poverty-line wages. In the shantytowns of Lagos, Nigeria, for instance, or the poor rural areas surrounding Accra, Ghana, or in Africa's largest slum, Kibera, Kenya, the majority of schoolchildren – up to 75% – are enrolled in private schools. “ Professor James Tooley is president, The Education Fund, Orient Global.”

I Thought So…..The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, called me to his office to assist him to build private sector capacity and improve export competitiveness. I informed him that it would not be possible for the amount of money and time he budgeted to do my job and train Rwandans at the same time. He told me the story of when he had finally accumulated enough money to provide back pay for his troops who were fighting to end the genocide. He asked them if he could use the money, instead, to purchase helicopters to help end the war sooner. Not a single soldier objected.“Michael Fairbanks is the co-founder of OTF Group, and the SEVEN FUND, which provides grants for enterprise solutions to poverty.”

Read the rest of the Essays by visiting John Templeton Foundation Website.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is the Kenyan Finance Minister in the middle of a Dirty Economic Game????

The Kenyan finance minister is showing great signs of underhand economic mischief specifically because of an impending major IPO (Initial Public Offer) of Safaricom, a mobile phone service. Apparently, he is so determined to get into the books of history as the man who pulled off a deal worth over 34 Billion Kenya Shillings. With the country's elections just weeks away you may be forgiven for assuming that this is just a ploy to get money to fund the elections given that the incumbent is faring not so well in recent opinion polls that put him at 37% against his major challenger who gannered 53%. May be best way would be for the government to wait until after the elections before proceeding with the IPO. Forcing such issues at a time like this when the country is preparing for elections is taking Africa back to the old days when leaders did not respect the rule of law. They ruled with impunity stashing billions of taxpayers money in foreign accounts without regard of the people they lead. Mr Minister do not shame your country by playing dirty tricks with investments you hold in trust for the people. Kenya has shown great growth in the past 5 years so let it not be in vain.

Below is an article carried in The Business Daily voicing the same concern.

"The controversy surrounding the pending and much awaited Safaricom initial public offering goes to show the immediate need of the government to get out of private business. Although the government legally owns Safaricom, through Telkom Kenya, and has the right to sell the shares to the public, one must wonder about the timing.

On the one hand, the government argues that it needs the Sh34billion generated through the sale of the IPO to finance government initiatives, while on the other hand the Opposition, specifically ODM, fears that the government wants to use the proceeds to fund its political campaign.

This explains why certain ODM officials have taken legal action to prevent the IPO from seeing the light of day under the Kibaki government. History has proven that government is an inept and inefficient entrepreneur. It is better for private forces, driven purely by profit motivation, to undertake economic enterprises. Based on this point, it makes sense for the government to privatise Safaricom. But as we all know, Kenya is a country marked by shady deals, malfeasance, and gross government corruption, thus, the public must question the government’s eagerness to privatise as soon as possible.

We must question why Finance minister Amos Kimunya does not want the biggest IPO deal to be subjected to the Privatization Act passed in 2005. Although the government can easily quote the law and resort to claims of public interest, Kenyans must not be hoodwinked into believing that the deal is without dubious government interest.

Considering that the IPO process is complicated, translucent and not open to public scrutiny, it is possible to manipulate the underwriting process in favour of the government and politicians determined to win the coming election. It is not heretical to wonder why the biggest IPO in Kenyan history coincides with the General Election. I can understand the bragging rights that the current government stands to gain if it succeeds in executing one of the biggest IPOs in Africa. I also appreciate the global significance and the positive economic impact that this IPO will create for Kenya.

However, we are better off waiting until the General Election is over.

More importantly, we must make sure that the IPO is subject to law that informs business practices in the land — in this case the Privatization Act — in order to eliminate unethical scheming that might cast the financial market in bad light. Some at Treasury department contend that if the IPO is not implemented as soon as possible the country risks inflation."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

5th Carnival of African Enterprising [part 2]

In the last part of The Carnival of African Enterprising we present more views from bloggers about Africa in the 21st Century.

Speaking on “AfricanPath”, Jeffery Kimathi marketing manager of “an African fashion” company based in New York-USA, advices Africans to follow his business model that allows customers to subtly and stylishly speak messages that showcase the vibrancy and diversity of the African continent. Kimathi believes that Africa has the capacity to solve its own problems because no one understands the continent better than Africa itself. It’s all about passion and hard work; there is no elevator to success and Africa has to take the stairway just like everyone else. He advises Africans to strive to earn respect for their resourcefulness, ideas, and creativity. According to him Africa should endeavor to contribute to the modern world culture. “This is why Italian handcrafted garments go for thousands of dollars each and yet similar quality handcrafted African goods usually go for much less,” he says

“Joshua Wanyama” believes that any business is only as valid as its value in the eyes of a consumer. This also holds true for African businesses. He advises Africa to aim at creating a prominent global brand by strategically building a position within the mind of the consumer (world) and steadily defending that position. If a company offers Internet connectivity in Cairo, Egypt it can do the same in Bujumbura, Burundi as long as a market exists. For it to develop a strong position within the marketplace, it has to develop a strong brand. The name this company occupies in the Egyptian marketplace has to be the same as the one occupied in a Burundian’s mind or a Togolese for that matter. Branding then presents a strong foundation on which Africa can build its market share in a vibrant global economy. “Wanyama” believes that a Pan-African company will also need to have a home country, for example, Coca Cola (an American soft drink company) is a global brand with 80% of its annual sales coming from foreign markets, it will be ill advised to disown its American heritage.

According to “Benin Mwangi” Africans should re-orient their thinking, step out of the past and see markets as what they are - big and underserved. Benin proposes a public-private approach as one way to take Africa into the 21st Century. If an African government intends to invest in wiring classrooms and has both the scale and technical savvy to pull it off, that’s great. However, if the private sector has the muscle to do it much better, then the government should support the sector by allowing such investments but still play its role as a facilitator.

“David” advises African businesses to adopt better business strategies so as to attract more investors. He reckons that Africa should carefully strengthen all aspects of business that investors look for to ensure that the opportunities Africa present achieve results. For a successful business, he advises Africans to put more strength in what investors look for when evaluating opportunities which include; the people who manage the company, concept value, price of the deal, deal structure and the exit strategy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Carnival of African Enterprising [Part 1]

This is the first part of the 5th Carnival of African Enterprising presenting views of bloggers based on the theme Positioning Africa in the 21st Century. This edition was first published in The African Executive on 10th October 2007. The second part will be presented on the 17th of October 2007.

According to Timothy Kioko, Positioning is the aggregate perception that people (target market) have of a particular continent (product) in relation to competitors in the same category. A country like India is positioned as a business outsourcing hub; China on the other hand, is growing super fast as a major force in the international trade arena and is in the process of positioning itself as a major trading partner in Africa. Saying that Africa is already positioned as the highest recipient of foreign aid, he advises the continent to re-position itself as a business hub by embracing democracy, efficiency, respect of property rights and encourage innovation. Africa should not sleep as the other regions take over the world!

Kenyanomics holds that adopting sound economic policies that encourage economic freedom will lead to economic prosperity. He adds that obsession with poverty eradication is a major threat to economic freedom in developing nations as it increases central planning and crowds out individual effort. Kimani argues that the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) only serve to widen avenues of corruption and increased budget imbalances, both of which have crippled Third World economies for decades.

Randy Nichols believes that developing a market based education system that encourages careers in business will boost the continent in its bid to position itself as a source of international labor. Experiential knowledge gained from such labor exports will form an integral part in Africa’s development. He advises Africa to embrace any opportunity to get training in fields that will see its marketability soar to greater heights.

According to Gustav S going to university does not mean that one is highly educated. Many Africans believe that the only way to achieve goals in life is to go to school, learn a profession and then get employment. Becoming a professional, going to the University or taking required steps to land your desired job are important but it is just the beginning of one’s way to success. He urges Africans to develop Discipline, Self Control, Consistency, Perseverance and Faith in order to move forward as a continent.

Finally, G. Kofi Annan says that the continent needs to develop its own film and broadcasting industries with focus on local content. By producing local themed movies in the “right way” we can better present African in the international media. In his opinion, one of the ways that will change the process of making African films for Western audiences is to tie the African film industry to the strong African-American film community. While the film industry at large struggles to make a return on the production costs, with blockbusters not making the numbers they used to, the African-American film community has a great opportunity to align with the African film community and continue to grow professionally and financially. But creativity and authenticity is the real key.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The passing of an African Statesman - Dr. Charles S. Brown [Aug 5, 1947-Sep 29, 2007]

I dedicate this post to my brother and friend, Benin Mwangi whose father Dr. Charles S. Brown passed away on 29th September 2007. Benin may the lord see you safely through this moment of grief. You have inspired many. It's now evident where all your passion and love for Africa came from. God bless.

Adopted from Benin

Born on August 5th 1947, Dr. Charles S. Brown grew up at a pivotal time for Black America. As a young student at Morehouse College he was able to witness and be a part of America’s civil rights movement. After reading books written by Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Kwame Nkrumah Dr. Brown began to become exposed to a wider perspective. Afterwards, he gradually gained an appreciation for African history. Over time this appreciation would continue to grow and less than ten years after obtaining his PhD in physics he began to research ancient African civilizations. His study was so intense that over a three year time span, he became an authority on the subject.

For Dr. Brown, learning about ancient African civilizations meant more than just being able to quote a few abstract facts, he believed that if he could help African American youth become aware of their true heritage it would be easier for them to dream big. Integrating scientific finds on these ancient civilizations into mathematics or physics curricula for his university classes would later become one of Dr. Brown’s most recognizable hallmarks.

But the event that would later shape his outlook on modern Africa continent took place when he attended the First Edward Bouchet International Conference on Physics and Technology on June 11, 1988 in Trieste, Italy. The Edward Bouchet Institute is today called the Edward Bouchet Abdus Salaam Institute. One of its aims is to foster scientific and technical collaborations between African and American scientists and engineers. Prof Charles S .Brown’s first trip to the African continent occurred in 1990 when he attended the second Edward Bouchet Institute Conference in Ghana. It is through the Edward Bouchet Institute that Professor Brown met the internationally renowned Professor Francis K. Allotey. In the fall of 1991, Prof. F. K. A. Allotey of Ghana visited with Prof. Charles S. Brown, who at that time was the Chairman of the Physics Department at Clark Atlanta University (CAU). The collaboration between Prof. Allotey, Prof. A. E. Bak, and Prof. C. S. Brown resulted in two published papers.

Prof. Allotey, four years later arranged the visit of Prof. Charles S. Brown to Cape Coast, Ghana, where he worked as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar (December 1995 – May 1996) and an ICTP Visiting Scholar (June 1996 – December 1996). Prof. Brown helped to develop the University’s graduate curriculum, served as a research advisor for a physics doctoral candidate, and collaborated on a research paper with Prof. S. Y. Mensah, Chairman of the Physics Department and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University. The work that Prof. Brown did in Ghana did not go unnoticed; in fact it was instrumental in his enstoolment as a traditional ruler in the Assin Manso district of Ghana.

To elders and other traditional rulers in this district Prof. Brown was known as Nana Kwodo Amoah I. It is a role that he took very seriously, even until his passing.

I love you Dad. I know you are in a better place. Benin Mwangi