Monday, September 12, 2011

Is it your Pan-Africanist duty to become a billionaire?

How do we as African peoples, anywhere in the world, free ourselves from economic and political domination?

Maybe that question makes losers of us from the beginning.

Maybe the question should be, "Since we're living in what seems destined to be the Chinese Century, what giant leaps can we make now so that the 2100s will be the Pan-African Century?"

We could begin by asking Fred Swaniker. He's the founder of the African Leadership Academy, and he's recently launched the African Leadership Network Conference, which features a pan-African array of energetic leaders in a TED-style speakers’ forum.

Participants expand their social networks, allowing them to build the continent intellectually, culturally, economically, and politically with a range of allies they would otherwise never meet. The ALN provides a context in which the continent is not ignored, and is not a target for contempt disguised as compassion.
Instead, at the ALN, Africa is at the centre of participants’ existence, success, and future.

The African Leadership Network convenes its conferences regularly--regionally, and in a major international event. According to its website, the ALN measures its results, publishing hard data annually on “the number of new companies that have been fostered by the network, the number of jobs that ALN collaborations have created for the continent, [and] the amount of investment that members have managed to mobilize across Africa because of relationships they established through ALN.”
One speaker at a recent ALN, Francis Daniels, discussed what the Singapore success story has to teach the continent's new leaders.

I couldn’t disagree more with Francis Daniels on numerous points in his presentation, especially on the alleged need to suppress minimum wages, the alleged legitimacy of a repressive state to achieve economic growth for the owning class, and the alleged illegitimacy of reparations from the Maafa, the largest and most horrific human trafficking in global history.





Nevertheless, Daniels challenges listeners to rethink their assumptions about how countries can achieve economic growth. When we engage in lively and intelligent debate, we begin walking the path to achieving almost anything.

When I was younger, and surrounded by friends who were Trotskyists, and cognisant of Malcolm X having said at the end of his life that capitalists were blood-suckers, I saw virtually all attempts to make money as morally bankrupt.

But a few things have become clear to me as I've gotten older:

a) Every social justice goal we have is much more easily attained when "we" (whoever "we" are) can pay people to work on the solutions full-time, rather than trying to squeeze in volunteer hours on the side while headed for burn-out. In other words, as Ralph Nader put it so perfectly when discussing his philosophical novel "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!" (note the quotation marks), "Justice costs money."

b) People such as Sudanese telecomm pioneer Mo Ibrahim have demonstrated that one can make enormous technological progress that assists democratic change (as with using mobile phones for citizen-based, anti-fraud election monitoring), that has economic spin-offs that help people create jobs for themselves and others (the 20-year growth in continental phones from around 2 million to over 100 million means a lot of people buying phone cards, and those vendors also sell other products, which means personal economic self-determination), and which builds wealth that can drive a continent-changing institution such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, including through careful collection and analysis of data for informed progress).



That wealth can also create carefully-constructed incentives to promote outstanding, nationally-transformational leadership, especially for African presidents who cannot rely on what Western presidents and prime ministers take for granted: millions of dollars of consultancies and chairmanships and the like when they leave office.




c) Non-Marxist left analyses such as anarchism (literally, "no-leader system"), otherwise known as libertarian socialism, encourage people to create co-ops. In other words, instead of waiting for the revolution to sweep the world and create decent workplaces for all (what I call "Waiting for the Red Rapture"), create with friends and colleagues a workplace right now and run the place democratically or consensually.



d) Many of us were raised with the Social Gospel, and were reminded frequently about how much harder it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven that it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; how it wasn't unionists that Jesus drove out of the temple, but money changers; how "the love of money is the root of all evil" (not from the Gospel, but from the Torah); how Jesus told anyone who wanted to follow him not to give him their money, but to give it away. In other words, we got a radically anti-materialist, and anti-capitalist message (even dating from pre-capitalist times).

But the problem is that all powerful people across the world believe the opposite


Money is power. And poor people, especially disorganised poor people, are almost completely defenseless against the wealthy in that asymmetric warfare.

Money can't make you happy. But as rapper Immortal Technique said, "It's better to be rich and unhappy than broke and miserable." And as rapper Mr. Lif said in the title song to the superb album Black Dialogue:


Yes, hellish foes, and now they rest in peace, thanks for asking
They’d rather teach each other how to fire chrome than to buy a home
There’s power in the land that we own
You need capital to start to win at capitalism
Take the money from the sales and find some places to be living
Rather Black landlords than white chalk on the floor
Our mentalities for casualties is keeping us poor
And the poor teach their kids how to work
Rich teach their kids how to invest
Hence we’re dying from stress....




If we don't have any money, individually, as African communities in the west, or as African countries or New World African countries, then we're dependent on... on whom? On the wealthy from other communities and nations? On "well-meaning" people who think they're our saviours... or our Saviour? 

How's that been working for us?



Western "conservatives" want to occupy our communities and countries with gunmen. Western "liberals" want to occupy us with NGOs. Both hegemonies ensure that they're the ones who run our neighbourhoods or nations, while they control the wealth (either in salaries, or by stealing the material wealth of an entire continent).

But when we build wealth, we can create the institutions we need and deserve (such as the African Leadership Academy, the African Leadership Network, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Ashesi University, or the Green Belt Movement, or found innovative animation studios, or be the patrons for stunning artists, or publish our top writers, and sponsor research by our most remarkable engineers, roboticists, brain/computer scientists, young inventors, and historians, people whose work creates jobs in laboratories, publishing, distribution, film-making, festivals, factories, retail outlets, banking, media, and more.

Years ago I would never have imagined that I'd end up writing a novel in which the heroic mentor would be a small businessman. But perhaps I'd underestimated how much effect that Marcus Garvey's do-for-self philosophy, combined with Malcolm X talking on the same subject (prior to 1965), had had on me.


But now here I am. I created Brother Moon--and two of his friends and colleagues--to embody many of the actions and attitudes we need to lay the foundation for the African Century.



I hope you'll check out the book and let me know what you think about it. It's only $2.99 as an ebook, and the paperback is only $14.99.


Check out the book trailer and author interview videos here.



And I'd love to hear your stories about African entrepreneurs from any part of the planet who are building great products, services, and networks, and who are also improving their communities and nations.


(One exception: we all already know about Oprah, so please, no Oprah stories).

2 comments:

Kawaida said...

Ashe. The movement is afoot; we need to seize on developing a brand of capitalism that is culturally enlightened by African principles. Without such guiding principles we will only recreate what Euro-capitalism has created (eg. a continuously increasing gap between haves and have-nots, repetitive boom-bust cycles). The coop concept is good because it emphasizes self-sufficiency and sustainability. So essentially you have interlocking micro-economies that are better at sustaining orderly growth. Much of the operation of any capitalist or other system is routed in the culture of the people using it. We must therefore pay equal attention to developing culturally reinforcing institutions as well as merely profitable ventures.

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