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Solution to Africa's Poverty

27 December 2011, 15:43 Peter Ongera

Nairobi - Over fifty years have passed since Kenya and most African nations gained their independence. Since then, and despite the expenditure of over $1 trillion in aid, poverty has increased, according to the World Bank.

CIA figures show over 485 million Africans in poverty, to which we can add 46 million who, according to the World Bank, will be driven into poverty by the recession. This makes a total of 531 million or 50% of the population.

The true figure is nearer 970 million people or 95% of the continent, whose circumstances have improved little (if at all) since their countries gained independence, in terms of their living conditions, healthcare, unpolluted water, malnutrition and education.

Western governments and Aid agencies have had half a century to show they can deal with these problems and all they have succeeded in doing is make them much worse.

Where living standards are concerned, in 1960, sub-Sahara’s per capita income was around a ninth of that in high-income OECD countries.
By 2008 it had fallen to a twentieth.

So you may be wondering;

Is it possible to solve Africa’s problems?

Yes, Africa is now showing progress and everyone seems to see this as a new dawn for the continent. However, unless things change this is likely to be a disaster for the overwhelming number of ordinary Africans, leaving them for evermore as the working and labouring class in what are supposed to be their own countries.

After the Second World War, Japan took very few years to catch up with the West from a situation of complete devastation and without anything like the natural resources of Africa. Again in only a few decades, China may go from an ‘African’ level of poverty to possibly ending up financially owning the whole World.South American countries also look as if they could hit the high spots in relatively few years.

Actually, it turns out that going from below survival level to affluence in a matter of years is both normal and, if enough people become committed to it (that is the secret!),relatively easy.

So if other countries have made huge strides quickly, why can’t Africa now do the same? Talented and ambitious Africans are making their presence felt in many fields, albeit many of them abroad because they cannot yet get opportunities at home. Most importantly, there are now successful business entrepreneurs because, it is they whom Africa right now needs most of all.

We do not need Africans of influence (politicians, army or religious leaders, businesspeople, leaders of society) to change our world—if we did, we would probably die waiting because, right now, they are part of the problem when they could be the solution. All of us who are fed up and frustrated can make this work easily and simply by using internet to pass information to everyone we know or, for those who do not have computers, printing off copies to give them. If we all do this, our movement could burn across our continent and change it overnight.
We in Africa have so far failed to create a solid business & jobs base, and trying to build one now will not work unless we make huge shifts in attitude.

The first shift in attitude we all must make is to stop simply accepting that foreigners or a small elite of Africans will own a disproportionate number of the best businesses and hold the best jobs.

That explosion must consist mainly of African owned, managed and financed businesses.

Second, if we ordinary Africans really want to get rid of poverty, then WE OURSELVES, every one of us, must do what we can to support the creation of a strong business & well-paid jobs base. But enough of us, even if we only did that and nothing else, would create an explosion in business & jobs that take ourselves, our families and all our citizens to a better life, not just a favoured few. And this could happen virtually overnight.

The third shift of attitude we have to make is to understand a harsh reality of society, but then truth often is brutal poverty in Africa only exists because we ordinary Africans co-operate with it. Everywhere in the world, in every foreign nation, the fight against below survival living and poverty has always been started and won by ordinary citizens, never by governments .Western and Asian business interests actually want us to do nothing. It is precisely by doing nothing that we have co-operated in our own poverty.

Our next shift of attitude is that we must immediately shop for only African-made products instead of Western and Asian ones. And it is very easy for us to do! If enough of us, ask for African-made products wherever we go shopping and buy them whenever possible, we will create an explosion in businesses, jobs, pay, standards of living and the reduction in poverty.We could catch the whole world (and ourselves!) unawares.

Every product imported from the West or China actually robs us of jobs and keeps us in poverty while at the same time increasing the jobs and wealth of the West or China. The book Africa—The Enslaved Continent  by David Barber,explains how much the West gains and we lose by importing products we could easily make:between $52.5 and $105 billion in sales (that is more than the TOTAL average revenue of between 7 and 14 of African nations!), and 444,000 to 880,000 jobs. Does that sound a lot?

Well, those figures are from only 74 multinationals! Several thousand Western companies trade in Africa, so it is just the tip of the iceberg. And it does not even include the huge import of goods from China.

As we celebrate our national Independence Days in Africa we should ask yourselves these questions:
-Are we buying goods from the West only because we automatically assume they are better than African-made ones?
-Why are we buying 290 million litres of alcohol soda ,juice…energy drinks a day when, surely, there must be someone somewhere in Africa who could make an alternative?
-Why is imported blended coffee the best-selling coffee in Africa? We sell the beans to the West in the first place to sell back to us at huge profit. We should be capable of creating several hundred African coffees that taste better.
-Why are imported teas the best sellers? We sell the leaves to the West in the first place to sell back to us at big profit.
-Why is imported toothpaste the top seller in Africa? Can’t we manufacture ours at half the cost!
-Why, when every can we buy helps to keep us in poverty, are we buying imported beers and lagers when we already brew our own?
-Why are shoes, clothes and a huge range of other products from China now the best sellers in Africa when we can easily make them ourselves and keep all this profit and all those jobs for ourselves?
-Do we need most of our top hotels and game parks and ranches to be under foreign ownership?
-Why are we selling large areas of African land to foreign countries and food producers when we can process the food ourselves and sell it to them?
-Worst of all, why are we giving foreign companies and countries the rights to mine our oil and natural resources? I agree we do not have the skills to mine, but all we have to do is employ the skills we need from the West or China and keep all the profit for ourselves.

Why buy the worst form of imported counterfeited goods? I know they are cheap and save you money but, unfortunately, we have no idea how much damage we do by buying these-cheap is expensive. The choice is this: Is it better to buy counterfeits which have already cost tens of thousands of us our jobs and increased our poverty, as well as holding back our own standard of living? Or is it better to buy products made in Africa which may cost more but will help everyone including the poorest of us to a better standard of living? Cheapness is actually China’s dagger in the back of Africa.

You need to understand that African-made products will probably have to cost more because workers have to be paid more if they are to achieve high standards of pay and living—and that includes almost all of us because we also are employees and we all want to earn more! Bear in mind that Chinese companies pay slave wages, both to their own Chinese and African workers.

The last big shift we have to make is our attitude to investment.

Without that, we cannot build the businesses we need. Our governments are pre-occupied with trying—without much success—to attract foreign investment and foreign-owned businesses instead of looking at what can be done at home. Both,they and many experts,believe Africa cannot progress without foreign investment. But this is a dangerous myth because it actually holds up our development. Once Africa proves it can, on its own, create a serious base of these businesses, there will be no problem in attracting foreign investment for bigger projects. We could achieve this within two years—although, frankly by then we should never need foreign investment if our financiers and bankers got together and managed their affairs properly.

Some small businesses will fulfil the criteria for micro-finance.

Another source of money is remittances from the Diaspora. Often, of course, there is no excess because the people who receive it need every cent for living. But there is a surplus to invest business.

Then there are members of the Diaspora who invest their money in the West. Some have large investments outside Africa. We are asking you to question your motives because, if you will not invest in your own countries, why should anyone else?

Also, we ordinary Africans have a lot more money than people realize, as the mobile phone explosion has shown. Did you know Africa is easily the fastest growing market of cellphones in the world? We are robbed on call charges because we pay a great deal more than the West, yet we can still afford to pay them!

In urban areas, there is no shortage of vehicles or people able to pay high diesel and petrol costs.

There is a major business explosion about to hit Africa. Unless we do something about it, it will be foreigners who benefit from that, leaving us, the labourers and workers in what are supposed to be our own countries. Recently,The Economist's headline was 'Africa Rising....Over to you.'

Peter Ongera is a Social Entreprenuer and Consultant.

Disclaimer: News24Kenya encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24Kenya.

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