Africa Needs a Worldview to Prosper in a Globalized World
By By Kingsley Moghalu
Africa’s economies have emerged in the global marketplace in the past two decades as destinations of investment attention. What the continent’s countries lack with few exceptions, however, and which they need if Africa is to truly rise, is a well-grounded view of the world that drives the governance and economic management that will ultimately determine the continent’s competitiveness in the world economy. It is precisely this kind of worldview that has powered the rise of China in the past four decades, as well as the prosperity of the western world that has evolved over the past three centuries.
The question of worldviews might appear an abstract one from which to discuss Africa’s place in the global political economy, but it is of fundamental importance because ideas matter. Social, political and economic activities that are not anchored on well thought-through ideas can hardly yield progress for any society.
The place to begin is to develop a set of fundamental understandings about the nature of the world, origins, destinations and how to get to the latter (strategy), and guiding values. These are the elements that make up a worldview. We can apply these understandings to practical challenges such as governance in African countries, the implications of globalization, capitalism, and so on.
We all have individual worldviews – mindsets and belief systems. But it is the global worldviews that come from individuals having fundamental assumptions in the context of their roles as part of a group such as a nation, country or a race, and how this matters in global society, politics and economics, that shapes the destinies of such groups.
Worldviews are important in the process of development because their outcomes are hardly neutral. Rather, such worldviews, if effectively and consistently applied, frequently reflect in objective reality as world orders.
The rise of China as a dominant economic power based on the seeming oxymoron of “state capitalism” of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” is based on the nation’s worldview. That view of the world which drives the thoughts and actions of the Chinese is based on three “timeless truths” – time and space are cyclical and all things are interconnected, stability is to be pursued as an absolute good, and the clan or society, not the individual, is the basis of social organization.
This worldview enables the Chinese to think and plan in long-term horizons. It enables the Chinese state, helped by the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party, to organize its large population with discipline and a powerfully focused singularity devoid of the “distractions” that might arise by individualistic tendencies unmoored to a vision of the larger society. This is why China was able to adopt and adapt successfully to capitalist modes of economic production while maintaining a strong role for the state.
The Western world’s economic prosperity, on the other hand, has been built on a worldview grounded on the evolution of individual human rights that gave rise to independent institutions to check the exercise of excess power by the state. It is also anchored on innovation, which grew with the rise of rational thought and the decline of ecclesiastical influence after the industrial revolution in the 18th century.
There are several lessons for African countries. The first is that these worldviews need to be coherently developed, articulated, and used as guiding principles for organizing societies for progress. This requires a level of introspection and intellectual work that few contemporary African leaders engage in. Countries like Rwanda under Paul Kagame, Ethiopia under the late Meles Zenawi, Bostswana and Mauritius have proven to be exceptions. Their leaders have demonstrated a tendency for deep thinking and its application to public policy.
A second lesson for Africa is that worldviews are in reality subjective, and need not “keep up with the Joneses” of other worldviews. If consistently and effectively applied, the chance is high that it would yield societal and economic progress, or at least sustenance, for long periods of time. Worldviews, however, may not last permanently, as we saw with the collapse of communism under the weight of its internal contradictions after eighty. Thus, we have seen how diametrically opposed western and Chinese worldviews both created foundations for economic success and an ongoing competition for global dominance. African countries, lacking their own effective worldviews, have come under the increased influence of China (after decades of colonialism, followed by decades as client states of the West or the Soviet Union under the Cold War, with some remaining “non-aligned”) as part of a rising “Sinosphere”.
The third lesson is that African countries once had effective global political worldviews, but have failed to develop an economic one. They achieved their strategic goal of political freedom from colonization in the 1950s and 1960s, an era in which their leaders were driven by a clear worldview that colonial rule was an unnatural violation of human rights and was to be resisted.
Against this backdrop, the challenge that African countries face is to develop and deploy an understanding of the world that can lead them to real progress. This worldview would require a full understanding of globalization and how the phenomenon affects Africa. It would explain the real winners and losers in foreign aid. Capitalism, which is the mode of virtually all African countries’ economies, needs to be better understood if it is to yield inclusive prosperity.
Africa needs to recognize the reality that globalization is driven largely by innovation and technology. The countries that produce and export technology are therefore the real drivers and winners in the globalization bazaar. Our continent will truly prosper when its countries, like those of East Asia, find their niche in the production value chain of globalization. For now, the African countries are mostly a consumer market for the goods of globalization.
Capitalism is the prevailing economic philosophy around the world, but has created the real wealth of nations only in the West and parts of Asia. Many capitalist economy countries such as those in Africa remain poor. The average GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa is only $4,000. Why? That’s because they have practiced the capitalist model of economic production without fully understanding and interrogating its philosophical foundations. Capitalism requires three things – capital, innovation, and property rights – in addition to strong institutions, to function well and create inclusive wealth rather than wealth for a few. And it has several variations such as entrepreneurial capitalism, welfare capitalism, crony capitalism, and now – thanks to the Chinese – state capitalism. Our political leaders and economic managers need to understand the implications of each and make sensible choices based on local conditions.
African countries must understand, as part of a worldview, that foreign aid has made the continent poorer overall. This is because aid has taken away the incentive for productive self-help and created a culture of dependency. It is welcome, therefore, that private capital flows to Africa have long overtaken the volume of foreign aid, which nevertheless remains significant.
Finally, Africa will rise only when it recognizes, with the benefit of a robust worldview, that the secret of the wealth of the wealthy nations lies mainly in their ability to manufacture and export complex, value-added products in a competitive manner. The continent, then, cannot achieve real prosperity through national economies that rely predominantly on the export of raw materials and commodities. Kicking the junkie-habit of commodity-led growth is the logical application of this worldview.
No one says this will all happen in a day. But recognizing this truth and acting on it by building diversified, manufacturing economies and improving intra-African trade is an essential milestone to aim for.
Professor Kingsley Moghalu is the Founder and President of the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation and was Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria from 2009-2014.
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