Politicians, academics and various other people have often championed the need for Africa’s transformation to come from economic revolution.
It is however sad that, while doing so, few ever see business as a major paradigm – or a mere contributor to – the attainment of this socio-economic revolution.
One commonly hears people describing agriculture as the backbone of the economy of this and that African country and industries, mining, tourism, etc., as the other major ways through which the continent’s economy can be transformed.
But one wonders whether business cannot become one of those crucial areas in reforming the continent’s economy? Put differently, hasn’t time come for business to build the economy Africa and African nations need?
One could probably say that, given Africa’s historical background and the manner in which the continent was subjected to the worst form of exploitation – as a producer of what it does not consume and a consumer of what it does not produce –it is not yet ripe for serious business.
But another pertinent question is: while the rest of the world is going for business as the major paradigm of development, can Africa afford to wait until it has developed all other sectors before it pushes business forward as a priority area for development? And if it is to develop those other sectors, how should it do it if it is not through business?
Besides the crippling problems of underdevelopment, business in Africa, Tanzania in particular, has grossly suffered because of two major reasons.
One is the unfavourable policies that existed then and remain at play today, dismissing anything private as abhorrent and taking everything public as sacrosanct even if it does not work for the public good. This problem has afflicted Tanzania most seriously and continues to impede its progress to this day.
The other factor is what Ahmed Heikal, chairman of Africa’s largest private equity firm Citadel Capital, calls “the desire by the society to punish business for its past excesses”.
According to Heikal, with modern-day governments, this pursuance makes them popular by dishing out subsidies, installing trade barriers, reversing privatisations and imposing new taxes and regulations.
He argues that through such barriers, businesses are throttled and strangled from rupturing into the nucleus of societal development, while business is an inevitable component in the running of any modern-day government and practically society’s driving force.
In short, business in today’s world is the major and most reliable paradigm in the freeing of society from the shackles of poverty and backwardness.
It is business that can set free a people who have long suffered under decades if not centuries of degradation and persecution as it operates as a negotiated process and is least carried out through coercion.
When close to two-thirds of Asia is espousing business, there is no way Africa can sit back and expect to rely on historically lopsided business relations prescribed to it by some other country or countries.
It is high time Africa woke up and built a new development paradigm where business with other parts of the world will form the major means of cooperation and the course of its social and economic development.