A Place for Corporate Africa Starting from Nigeria
Anthony Kila writes that Nigeria should spearhead the clamour to develop a corporate Africa based on happenings across the continent
As it is with most developing countries, the history of modern African States is a history of politics, struggle for political power and chronicles of natural disasters and human tragedies.
To put this into context, it will suffice to compare the history of African States to that of their neighbours in Europe and other Western States where what defines an era is the history and chronicles of scientific breakthrough, technological advancement, expansion into markets and innovation of products and services. While African States were bumbling from dictator to dictator in the middle of war and coping with famine and other disasters, western countries were advancing in trade, invention and innovation. In the 70’s, the now very popular and familiar ATMs made their entrance into our lives, the decade after that, in the 80s, saw the sequencing of DNA molecules brought to us by researchers who in that same decade invented ways of cutting organic tissues by using laser.
The 1990s, known as the era of communications for work and play, was the period of SMS, games of all kinds and mobile phones of various shapes and of course Google, it was also the era in which fibre optics became the preferred medium for telecommunication and networking, in 1994, the first stents were approved for use in the United States of America. In 1973, Ethiopia was dealing with the drought that killed 100,000 people, while it was the turn of Sudan to lose 150,000 people to drought in 1983, and Somalia to lose over 2,500 lives to flood in 1997.
There were no major natural disasters in Nigeria but the human factor caused the country to lose close to 2 million people due to war and starvation between 1967 to 1970, while providing chronicles of close to 10 coup d’états between 1966 and 1993. In the middle of all these and beyond them, the country has witnessed and continues to witness elections marred by various irregularities that range from imposition of candidates to vote buying, to violence at the polls. Interestingly, the same issues of corruption, misappropriation of public funds, nepotism and clannishness, a general lack of development and dearth of good leadership are the same reasons for which those struggling for power using boots and guns as well as those bidding for power via the ballot boxes have promised to resolve.
It is safe to say that these problems have not been solved and that in some cases these problems are getting worse.
Crucial elements for developments such as education and health, infrastructure and other social amenities continues to be rarities rather than the norm. In Nigeria security is getting worse in 2022 and too many capable members of the society are dreaming of leaving the country for a better life elsewhere.
Just has politics as defined the history of Africa there seems to be a consensus that politics will solve her problems. Election and after election, coup d’état after coup d’état, people are hoping that good capable leadership will somehow from somewhere pop up. This idea is however counterintuitive since save for some very rare exceptions here and there, politics has not been able to offer solutions to problems in Africa. Whilst it is true that human development needs vision and direction under good leadership, the error here is that people continue to believe and hope that such leadership will come from politics. The objective fact and logical observation in reading Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular is that the little gains that have been made in the past 50 years in the arts and entertainment, trade and finance are due to individual and private endeavours.
Where the State has tried to manage any of these affairs from aviation to telecoms to health and education, we have seen regression not development, in half a century.
Starting from Nigeria that has the biggest market and a dynamic population, it is time for businesses and those that pay (or at least should be paying) more than one form of tax or rent to rethink their place in the continent’s affairs and start to take clear, organic and consequential positions.
Corporate Africa needs to find a new place in Africa. The first step in creating an organic and coordinated position is the development of a consciousness that will in turn lead to the creation of a collective ethos. Businesses and or professionals that pay more than one form of tax or rent need to perform an ontological exercise:
A thorough reflection on the role of business in the society as an entity and in the working of the society as a system is required, such reflection will readily lead businesses to review their import for their society as whole.
As the main source of wealth, jobs and as providers of services and innovative ideas business and professionals should boldly, confidentially and logically feel they own premium share of the countries. Yes, every Nigerian citizen is a stakeholder in Nigeria, but the shares owned by corporate Nigeria are not just acquired by birth or residence, they are shares paid for with investments, commitment, and their bet on Nigeria. Even if not acknowledged as an institutional position, Corporate Africa, starting from Nigeria can and should legitimately and persuasively theorise and propagate the idea of her position as the “Fifth estate of the realm”. It is obviously their right to attempt such but the quest for a premium status goes beyond and above a legitimate partisan or sectional desire, it is and should be presented as duty to the collective for the benefit of the whole system.
People and government need to be educated to realise that it is not possible to truly develop any country or see progress in any society until those who create jobs, produce goods and services and supply ideas have recognised impactful inputs in how the society is managed.
Just like many other untapped resources and trade from agriculture, textile, manufacturing and biochemical processing (estimated to be worth about one and half trillion USD yearly) wasting away whilst Nigeria focuses mainly on crude oil, the business world is sitting on practical examples and solutions as well as moral and notional and lessons that can greatly contribute to the healing of most of Africa’s leadership woes. The inherent nature of the business world that makes her presences and profile to be guided by outcome and measured in profit, rather than explanation, her actions evaluated by content and delivery rather than justification or charisma have made leaders of the business world and all those that operate in it to be totally committed to results and the need to add value. Issues like nepotism and clannishness, subsidies and tokenism typical of and dominating in politics, all at the detriment of merit, have no place in private enterprise and endeavours where it is clear to all, as Adam Smith has explained, that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”. This is not to say that there are no imperfections in the business world, far from it, the message here is that because of the prevailing ethics in the business world, any process or practice that is not merit based and value driven is objectively and generally perceived as pathological and suicidal. By its nature, politics does not have and cannot practice such ethics. Africa, starting from Nigeria, needs this kind of result driven mindest and principles in managing its affairs if she truly wants to progress, develop and make most of its natural and acquired resources.
For the sake of businesses and by extension, the larger society, business in Africa need to rethink and reinvent their position in Africa with the clear intention of leading conversations, narratives and processes with their own worldview. The corporate world needs to take up the challenge of leading knowing they are the true biggest beneficiary and benefactors of a peaceful prosperous and productive society. Businesses need to teach and remind all that every other sector of the society is interested in a part (its own part) and that only business has the interest of all at heart because the aim and vision of business is to sell and make for all regardless of how they look, speak, where they come from or how they pray. Starting from Nigeria, Corporate Africa needs to find herself, clear and raise her voice, she needs to design and take her rightful place in Africa in order to save herself and her continent otherwise both will never reach their true potential. Join me @anthonykila to continue these conversations.
-Kila, a Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development is Centre Director at CIAPS. www.ciaps.org.