On August 4 2015, I had the privilege to attend the launching of Dangote’s Cement Plant in Ndola Zambia. That experience and my long standing ideological and intellectual interest in the Dangote phenomena led me to reflect on the broader significance of Dangote and conclude that in fact he is contributing to African economic transformation and emancipation. This can best be understood against the background Africa’s persistent economic underdevelopment.
In the period since independence, African countries have faced numerous major challenges as befits countries and peoples who were just emerging out of colonial domination and exploitation. These challenges were political, ideological, economic, social, psychological and cultural and were in effect challenges of modernization or the creation of new modern African states and societies from the debris of colonial domination.
In varying degrees African countries have made some strides in various areas such as the political, educational, cultural and social spheres such that it is clear that the social and physical landscape of Africa today is vastly different from what it was 50-60 years ago. It is arguable however, that African states have not made fundamental accomplishments in the economic sphere through the creation of the capacity for self-actuated economic development and the domestic generation of mass production, mass employment and social prosperity.
In fact it can be said that this is the primary expression of the complete failure of African leaders, elites and states. That is their failure to conceive, design and establish endocentric development forces and actuators that would equip their societies to autonomously undertake modern mass industrial, agricultural and mineral production and therefore the generation of domestic prosperity from domestic resources.
The primary reasons for this failure to develop are threefold. First was the establishment of African countries during colonialism as producers and exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured goods. This colonial economic structure meant in effect the implantation of systems of African economic incapacitation, dependency, poverty generation and disempowerment. Second, is the maintenance of this same non-developmental economic system in the post-independence period. Third, since all raw materials were exported unprocessed, African economies had no internal motive forces for the generation of multiplier economic activities locally and therefore economic prosperity. All these were of course the inevitable and predictable outcomes of colonial domination and exploitation – the creation of economies that would not be independent or have the internal motive forces to generate development and prosperity.
In effect the inherited and maintained economic systems were organically organized against promoting genuine development. Consequently, the main challenge to African countries in the sphere of economic development was and remains the achievement of economic transformation and emancipation.
On the other hand, the nationalist leaders and movements that struggled for independence were supposed to create the conditions for Africa’s assumption of responsibility for its all-round, self-actuated development. In the event, this was not to be as the ideologically underdeveloped and psychologically programmed and disempowered African leaderships willingly ceded the formulation of their strategies of development to successor colonizers. They accepted the prescriptions on development strategy and ideology from the erstwhile colonial powers and the aspirant neo- colonial forces like the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that pretended to omniscience and expertize on economic development matters.
The summary of the economic prescriptions of these neo-colonial forces was for African countries to maintain and expand the inherited colonial economic system. The additional “development” prescription was for African states to “develop” manufacturing through dependent assembly-plant industrialization and the disempowering of dogma of technology transfer from external sources. This was in effect the adoption and application of an exocentric strategy of economic growth without development. It has yielded the expected results of Africa’s continued production and export raw materials, the importation of goods, dependent assembly plant industrialization, the generation of poverty and disempowerment.
It is in this context that Dangote and the Dangote Group by their investment strategies; their generations of multiple economic activities and expansive developmental impact have assumed the role of the practical and ideological vanguards of Africa’s economic transformation and emancipation. In the process of the implementation of its business investment strategies and development vision, it has begun to generate developmental activities that are truly revolutionary and emancipatory in their implications and impact.
In its investment in various sectors of the Nigerian economy and through its expansive pan-African economic investments especially in the cement industry, Dangote is implementing a strategy of development that is local resource-based through the valorization of African raw materials to produce goods that are used within Africa itself.
By his investment choices and patterns, Dangote has established a development strategy that has multiple developmental and transformational impacts. For example in all countries where Dangote cement plants have been established the following positive developmental consequences have been generated: the exploitation, mining and processing of local raw materials and the associated economic activates that they generate; the generation of direct employment of usually of a minimum of between 1000-2000 workers, and several thousand more who are indirectly employed; establishment of transportation fleets for product distribution that employ drivers, conductors and repair and maintenance facilities and workers; the creation of large numbers of medium-scale cement distributors and small-scale retailers.
In addition to the substantial investment funds running into hundreds of millions of dollars for the construction of the plants, -all the economic activities identified above generate tax revenues for the local and national governments in all the countries. In short, Dangote’s investments and multiple economic activities, which it generates, become important sources of and contributors to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGRs) of the recipient countries.
These developmental impacts of the Dangote’s choice of local resource-based industrialization strategy and the valorization of domestic raw materials stand in sharp contrast to the colonial and neo-colonial exocentric economic system that has maintained Africa in a state of developmental incapacitation, dependency, poverty generation and disempowerment. Dangote’s national and pan-African investment strategy and its multiple impact are on the other hand, contributing to African development capacitation, mass production, the creation of multiple employment and business opportunities and in effect prosperity generation with local resources.
It is in these ways that Dangote is in the vanguard of African economic transformation and emancipation.
In general the fundamental elements of Dangote’s development strategy are two-fold. First is the renewal and reinvigoration of the import substitution industrialization (ISI) approach through the wholesome adoption and rigorous application of the backward integration strategy. Second is the Dangote Group’s practical and ideological drive to achieve national and continental self-reliance and self-sufficiency in the production of manufactured goods.
This is embodied in the monumental size and large production scale of his various plants. For example his cement, poly bag, sugar, tomato, refinery, fertilizer, petro chemical plants and others are either the largest or second largest in the world and often the largest in Africa. It is clear that being able to supply significant volumes of goods in demand in Nigeria and Africa will routinely yield massive profits to the Group; but there are certainly a non-economic underpinnings or motivations to this drive to self-sufficiency beyond profit making.
It seems to be motivated by a patriotic and pan-African nationalist desire to promote industrial mass production, mass employment, prosperity generation, freedom from dependency and want through the relocation of the centres of value-addition to African countries based on the utilization of African resources. This is thus a strategy of practical African economic and psychological empowerment. In effect, Dangote is writing a new homegrown African development narrative and creating a strategy and template that is transformational and emancipatory.
•Iweriebor is a Professor and Chair, Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/ Latino Studies in Hunter College, the City University of New York in the U.S.