Thus, great with child to speak
And helpless in my throes
Biting my truant pen
Beating myself for respite
“Fool” said my Muse to me
Look into thy heart and write
— Sir Phillip Sydney (1554-1586), “Astrophil and Stella”, Sonnet 1 (Loving in Truth)
I wrote my third book in 2013. It was a 400-page tome on international political economy and development economics titled “Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter”. I wrote Emerging Africa over a period of six months while holding down a stressful 12 to 14-hour workday as a deputy governor of Nigeria’s central bank. I immersed myself in writing late at nights after work, and all through weekends. It took nearly superhuman effort, but I was driven by a passion for the economic fate of Africa and a firm belief that Africans too are God’s children, entitled to a place under the sun. Many prior years spent working in four different continents for the United Nations also provided insights into this work. In those 17 years, I observed carefully why some nations became wealthy and others remained poor. I read lots of history, philosophy and economic thought related to the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.
I arrived at the conclusion that the secret lies in the mind and how we think. In other words, there is a fundamental connection between mindsets, or worldviews to use a philosophical phrase, and why African nations including Nigeria have remained poor and backward despite being “endowed” with natural resources. Many other nations, most with nothing under their soils, have achieved economic success. The importance of this philosophical foundation of societal wealth and progress becomes even clearer when we read the defining works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. These were essentially philosophical and ideological explanations of economic phenomena and models of economic production in what subsequently became known as capitalist or communist countries and societies.
My principal argument in “Emerging Africa” is this: although the continent is emerging as a place of opportunity owing to a number of factors, it is not yet rising in a real economic sense despite the illusions induced by the commodities boom. The fundamental reason why Africa is not rising, and cannot rise unless it addresses this deficit, is that the countries of the continent are not driven by any discernible worldview, unlike the rising nations of the east such as China, or the mature industrialized economies of the western world.
What is a worldview and why does it matter to whether a nation is rich or poor? It is a reflection of the inner world of the mind of an individual or a society and how this relates with the world around us. We project in our outward actions (or inactions) what is produced in our minds by this interaction. In turn, this influences our environment by creating certain realities. The immediate consequence of a conscious societal worldview is a well thought strategy, with timeframes, a system of organization to achieve progress, and a value system that underpins this quest. The consequence of its absence is an inability to perceive trends and events accurately, low level ambitions such as mere “survival”, atomistic-identity thinking that prioritizes the interests of a few rather than the many, and the resulting aimless drift. Developing and inculcating a worldview is the ultimate task of political leadership.
To illustrate my argument, the worldview that took the West to prosperity was based, first, on rational scientific inquiry, which displaced the prior influence of the ecclesiastical order from the 17th century onwards. This led to technological innovations and breakthroughs that in turn created a burst of economic wealth over the last three centuries. Second, it also was based on the idea of freedom and human rights. The direct result of this was the emergence of strong institutions to check the exercise of excessive power by governments.
The worldview that has powered the rise of China is that of stability and order as an end in itself, and the importance of the society over the individual. This is diametrically opposed to the Western worldview. Both worldviews, however, enabled the mobilization of efficient economic production in divergent cultures and societies. “Emerging Africa” received broad critical approval in reviews around the world, with the London Financial Times describing the book as “the last word on the Africa Rising obsession”.
Enter Chu S.P. Okongwu, a Harvard Ph.D. in economics, the influential minister of (variously) finance, national planning and petroleum and mineral resources in the government of the military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. IBB, we will recall, populated his cabinet with a galaxy of intellectual stars that also included Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. Dr. Okongwu and I both happen to be indigenes of Nnewi, and “Dunu”, as he is now fondly titled in his old age, also happens to have been a childhood friend of my late father Isaac Moghalu, who was one of Nigeria’s pioneer Foreign Service Officers after independence in the 1960s. I therefore sent Okongwu a complimentary Kindle copy of my book. His response, which I received recently, was profound. With Dunu’s permission I quote here at some length from his correspondence to support my view that, in Nigeria and most of Africa with the possible exceptions of a few countries like Rwanda, Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya, we are still fumbling as far as true economic transformation and economic policy to support it is concerned.
Dr. Okongwu wrote, inter alia: Everyone, of course, has a worldview – some cohering [filtering, interpretive] view of the world [universe] and its jumble of events. However, important as these may be, we speak not of them. Rather, we refer to the admissible and ennobling “system worldview” of the helmsman [no gender bias] or optimal controller: his view of the place and role of his society in the global system. This includes correct perception, even if only in outlines, of present and probable future challenges and opportunity niches for the society. He believes that the future states of society will be stable, but knows full well that such desirable states are only attainable through intelligent hard work. The worldview and the envisaged process for the attainment of the [growth] objective, usually split for convenience into different (plan) periods, then inform the plan agenda.
The sound helmsman well understands that, no matter how valorous and dedicated he is in the goal pursuit process, by acting alone nothing can be achieved. Therefore, he mobilizes society to accept, indeed appropriate, his worldview through co-education. At the same time he establishes solidarity with the polity by engaging in consensus building, reinforcing a perception of shared burdens, and continually demonstrating his commitment to the plan.
Without a worldview it would be impossible, so to speak, to establish measures of one’s location, ultimate objectives, economic-technological “distance” from other societies and performance of means; one would be, as it were, groping in the dark; at best, one would be essentially disoriented in the universe. In such an unfortunate case, the helmsman would quickly lapse into localism and primordiality, while the society, under pressure from a combination of factors such as technological backwardness, economic regress, increasing population but failing per capita incomes, would soon become mobilized against itself with serious portents.
But this is just another way of saying that under steering with a worldview the society embarks on emulous competition in a world class – learning from other societies, competing with its teachers in global markets, and, hopefully, altering the international division of labour in its favour – and
Ethnic conflicts and wars of religion, especially, can seriously disorganize society and, where they do not tear society apart, can set it back several generations in a state of long-term crisis. This is particularly true of multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies. Accordingly, the objective of rapid economic growth dictates that religion and religious affairs are the responsibility of the individual citizen, while the political and economic spheres as well as the policy frame of society are kept strictly secular. It is also evident that, with society presumably embarked on emulous competition in a world class, it cannot engage in the conduct of the cult of mediocrity, for that would be a contradiction leading down the path of economic regress.
Two aspects of the key idea-tool ideology are of interest: a) as a binding force, and b) as a motive, influencing force. Ideologies of (non-conflicting) social cooperation exist in our various indigenous cultures. However, Nigerian policy controllers, either because of intellectual constraints or lack of political will, somehow came to subscribe to the irrelevance of (a salutary binding) ideology, and tried [indeed, have been trying) to enthrone in its place the vain foundations of an upstart plutocracy. In the resulting philosophical vacuum there now predominate conflictive ideas of ethnicity, regions/zones, religions, extreme hyperpraetorian disorderliness, kleptocracy – assisted largely by the inflow of unprecedented oil-induced receipts in the context of a sequence of mezzanine leadership, lack of a worldview, operative cult of mediocrity, economic distribution by means of rents, the growing perception of socio-economic intercourse as a mesh of non-increasing, indeed vanishing, opportunities…man, not natural resources, is the ultimate key resource to construct amazing economic progress in minimal time.
The helmsman must possess political acumen and sagacity for effective steering of the system. In this connection, it is important, particularly in a democratic context, that he:
a) selects a sound dedicated management team, placing accent on merit;
b) implements an appropriate incentives scheme for (the attraction and retention of) such management team and the supporting public service bureaucracy;
c) stresses good governance, including discipline, social justice, and distinction between the public and private interests; and
d) anchors helmsmanship on prudence, justice and fairness, simplification of laws and procedures, decentralization, deregulation and emulous competition.
e) He champions the adoption of rules that stimulate the growth of productive enterprise and the acquisition of skills and knowledge, especially scientific-technical knowledge.
Of all the appraisals and endorsements Emerging Africa has received at home and abroad, I have found Chu Okongwu’s amplification the most gratifying. On top of (or perhaps despite?) his technical mastery of economic science, he authoritatively understands that this philosophical and political economy foundation is the most important determinant of economic success in developing societies. Unless and until we move to this level of thinking and strategic action, our future is not assured.
• Dr. Moghalu is a Professor of International Business and Public Policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA