William Shakespeare opined: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Worldwide, economic globalisation shreds the fabrics of societies. It divides and weakens the majority in nations across the globe. Confronted with civil discontent, its leading proponents are now in hasty retreat – America to “America First” and the UK to “A Global Britain” as it grapples with the Battle of Brexit.
For Africa, the moment to “take the current when it serves” is now, set out on an expedition, a visionary enterprise that focuses not on the present global civilization that is in decline, but seeks instead to create a “New African Civilisation,” a massive socio-political revolution that ignites the flame of the cradle of humanity. It will create continent-wide rebirth, initiate a unique African Renaissance and build African-enlightened societies that assert the most cherished, noble ideals of the African heritage.
Yes, Africa can do it. Africa built humanity’s first civilisation, through the Egyptians, and left the world the legacies of the 365-day calendar, mathematics and engineering. Again, we are in “Africa’s Millennium,” and the 21st Century is lift-off time.
The New African Civilisation
The civilisation initiative is all encompassing, comprehensive and long term. It presents Africa with unique opportunities of this information and knowledge age to share a new expansive, strategic and inspiring perspective that will mobilise the social world of all Africans across the globe: the vision of a great leap forward, on a long, thousand-mile trek to a new, advanced civilisation where everything works. The vision will be designed to generate enthusiasm among the people, especially the youth, and serve to engage the present and upcoming generations for the rest of their lives.
For this new civilisation to remain strong and endure, it must be well grounded. It will place its highest premium on the family institution as a prized possession. Family is, after all, the foundational building block of society as well as the repository of the unique DNA of Africa, the cradle of humanity.
Therefore, the family institution will be at the core of the evolution of the new civilisation.
From above, the civilisation enterprise will embody a strong spiritual character. The huge challenges of the continent require that Africa goes beyond itself, draws from supernatural resources well beyond human capabilities, to attain the extraordinary – the miracle of a new advanced civilisation. Great Britain and the US did this to attain their super greatness.
The US adopted its official national motto “In God We Trust,” while the UK titled its national anthem “God save the Queen.” The spiritual reference present in both is no coincidence.
The Heart of the Matter
Africa needs to move expeditiously and deal with the most critical challenges that are currently retarding her progress, the very weak social structure, matrix and fabric that encapsulates the economies, the politics, and the organisation of its societies. This requires activist social development engagement.
The continent has a most pressing need to address the low-level of development of its fragile social substructure, infrastructure and superstructure that, for now, are not sufficiently robust to support the highly competitive economics and politics of the prevailing modern and global, intense and dynamic, disruptive and transformative, information and knowledge revolution.
Africa’s development challenge does not lie with its economy. Generations of our forebears traded globally and successfully in commodities and even humans. Also, today, Africa can boast of men and women who rank among the one per cent of the world’s wealthiest people.
What holds Africa down is its defective social structure and character that need urgent revival. Without sorting these out, its single-minded pursuit of economic development will remain an exercise in futility.
Truly, if Africa is to rebuild itself, properly reconstitute its presently defective social structure, matrix and fabric, and realise the new dream, it needs to adhere to the natural social order.
Africa is being confused and destabilised. Its societies are compelled to function under a capitalist economic order when Africa fails by far to fit into the models of Europe which underpin the order.
Africa is yet to successfully ride the wave of the agricultural revolution. It is yet to rise to the industrial stage as the continent commands only about one per cent of global manufacturing and two per cent of world trade. Again, it needs to confront directly and resolve its complex matrix of negative legacies of history that hold it back such as relative immobility, slave trade, the partition of Africa, colonialism, and more recently, military rule.
For Africa to resolve these challenges, it needs to count on Nigeria. Being Africa’s largest economy and its most populous nation, Nigeria will lead the long march and be the first fruit of emerging, advanced societies that will be built all across Africa. It has the greatest potential to contribute to building a necessary and sufficient, continent-wide, critical mass of citizens with higher education and special skillsets that will serve to push and pull the rest, as the continent’s new, globally competitive societies emerge on the world stage.
What We Have Done on Social Development
Our organisation’s exploration of social development and its relevance spans the last 15 years. In Nigeria, the first major window opened for us to present a memorandum in Lagos on November 16, 2012 to the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment.
We followed up with a press release on December 10, 2012, the International Human Rights Day, recommending, among others, the creation of the position and appointment of a Coordinating Minister for the Social Sphere in the Federal Cabinet to direct overall social development affairs in Nigeria.
We also engaged the Presidency. The outcome was that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) led Federal Government appointed the World Bank to do a poverty survey of Nigeria preparatory to a national social intervention program. The All Peoples Congress (APC) included our proposal in their manifesto resulting in the present N500billion Social Investment Fund. To implement the fund, the succeeding APC government relied on the World Bank report commissioned by its predecessor. Governance after all is a continuum.
A second social development initiative was focused on addressing the issue of affordability and access in higher education by partnering to hold the first International Student Finance Conference in June, 2012.
This is covered in a THISDAY newspaper interview in January 2013 under the title: “Improved Access to Higher Education, Key to Transformation of Societies.”
Earlier, the government had responded and launched the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development. We then followed up with another proposal to the Federal Government for the creation of a more ambitious national N500 billion Student Finance Intervention Fund for Higher Education.
Our third engagement with the Presidency on social empowerment of citizens contributed to the convening of the National Centenary Conference 2014, to enable the people chart a new future for Nigeria.
We issued an opinion titled: “Centenary Conference: Sequencing Agenda Priorities,” published on the first working day of the conference to guide deliberations and public debate.
What Should Africa Do?
Starting with the superstructure which oversees the continent’s development, Africa needs to press for speedy and total overhaul of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to make it agile, responsive, and non-bureaucratic so that it can fully identify with Africa. ECA serves as the overarching, supranational organisation of the United Nations for development coordination, collaboration and integration. Unfortunately, it is largely unresponsive and is indeed distractive and disruptive to the continent’s speedy progress. It sits like a dog in a manger.
A University of London research came to the disheartening conclusion that “the ECA cannot play a meaningful role in development.”
The ECA appears to lack the knowledge of the secret of development. But, its counterparts in Asia and the Pacific do not. The sacred secret is that of the fundamental driving role of social development in societies.
Hence, the most pressing need in Africa is to restructure the ECA for a well-balanced devotion to both social and economic development, with an even greater emphasis on social development.
This restructuring will begin with a change in this commission’s name to “Social and Economic Commission for Africa”, (SECA). As stated earlier, there is much power in a name.
What Have Other Regions Done?
In contrast to ECA, the then Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East was very proactive and dynamic. As far back as 1974, it acted to change its name to “Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific” (ESCAP) in order to emphasise that it had “devoted equal attention to both economic and social fields, in line with the integrated approach to development.”
This was an early seed of the Asian Miracle that unfolded from 1964 to 1990.
Similarly, in 1985, the then Economic Commission for Western Asia, based in Beirut, acted to change its name to “Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia,” (ESCWA) because it became “aware of the extreme importance of social development in the context of the overall development of the economies of member states.”
While all these changes unfolded, ECA continues to show a lack of initiative. Being essentially a bloated bureaucratic entity, it waited only to act on the directives of its supervisory organ, the Economic and Social Council of the UN, which very clearly also bears a name that incorporates the word “Social”.
ECA appeared not to be aware of the decisive steps its counterparts in Asia had taken with regard to social development. As a result, to date, no similar resolutions have been passed with respect to its work and designation. This inaction has resulted in the fact that the social development foundation, the roots that nourish Africa is weak and fragile. Hence, the African continent has performed very poorly in virtually all indicators of development.
Impact of Social Development in History
Historically, eras of intensive social mobilisation and development have sparked major advances in human condition. During the Classical Era, Greece, between the 4th and 5th centuries BC, exerted a great influence on the Roman Empire and on the foundations of emerging western civilisation. Such great minds like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle provided thoughtful leadership in literature, theatre, philosophy, architecture, culture, science, and politics. The intellectual minds of Greece blossomed during this period to yield, among others, the political legacy of democracy that many modern societies highly prize today.
Later, during the Early Modern Period (1500 – 1750 AD), Europe experienced diverse intellectual and social movements during the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery or Exploration, the Protestant Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment. These gave birth, towards the end, to the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 to between 1820 and 1840. Also, these events generated several political upheavals, the most notable of which was the French Revolution of 1789 – 1799. Democracy was further entrenched, and Europe was transformed into industrial societies from which emerged the practice of capitalism.
In more recent times, China experienced the socio-political movement of the Great Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976.
This event served as the prelude to the economic leaps and bounds that have seen China become the world’s second largest economy today.
Intellectual and social movements that advance social developments precede major political and economic events in history. Therefore, Africa of today cannot be the exception. Africa, you cannot “have your cake and eat it too”. “Rome was not built in a day.”
Africa has to go through the grit and grind and pay the price before it can emerge as a developed new civilisation. There can be no half-measures and no cutting of corners.
Again, from Shakespeare: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” Yes, for Africa it must be. It must be a future that holds the great promise of the “New African Civilisation”. After all, as the cradle, Africa built for the whole of humanity the earliest civilisation. Africa can do it again for the post-modern world.
Abara, is a Competitiveness Advisor, Thought leader on Reinventing Society, and former investment banker