Convergence between formal and informal African economies has become fertile ground for building home-grown economies that have unique indicators. Cities are platforms for such convergence because they are conduits through which Western knowledge flows into Africa via coasts, air transport and communication systems. While African countries are obsessed with marketing tourist sites like game reserves and natural wonders like the Victoria Falls, they are not tapping into fluid knowledge in the form of culture and values that are quietly being traded in cities between imported and local knowledge.
How coping strategies influence economic indicators
African home-grown economic indicators are influenced by the fact that most of the economies are still closely linked to natural resources. To that end economic circumstances cannot be adequately expressed in terms of imported indicators like employment and unemployment levels. On the contrary, they focus on individual and community ownership of assets related to agriculture and natural resources as key indicators of economic growth or sustainability. If employment or unemployment levels were a correct indicator of economic growth or stagnation, the over 90% unemployment being mentioned for countries like Zimbabwe would have meant the country is no longer function.
That is why Africa needs home-grown economists who can come up with new, relevant definitions of employment and unemployment. Such efforts would assist in shedding light on how cities like Harare and Nairobi with informal businesses and SMEs constituting more than 80% are surviving with high levels of so-called “unemployment”. How can a city with 96% unemployment continue functioning? In rural areas, drought or disasters like floods would probably account for such levels of incapacity. A 96% disability is not realistic because it’s close to complete shut-down. How is that possible? Instead of depending on imported theories and textbooks, home-grown economists should generate valuation systems that can assist communities to fully know the value of their natural resources. All African communities value what individuals have as a business. You cannot teach entrepreneurship to people who are already practicing different forms of entrepreneurship.
eMKambo recently met a Masaai livestock herder/owner in Masaai Mara grasslands of Kenya. Oiling his gun, the herder said after obtaining a Masters degree at Jomo Kenyatta University he decided to go back and connect with cattle production which he grew up doing, thanks to his grand-parents. With an amazing air of contentment, the herder narrated a recent story in which business people from Nairobi were bringing vehicles to him persuading him to exchange five of his cattle with a Toyota Prado. “What would I use the Prado for? I am more rich and satisfied with my cattle,” he said with a knowing smile. The Masaai gentlemen is an example of a home-grown economic agent able assess and value his wealth differently.
Imported terminologies do not adequately explain African economies
The Masaai are satisfied with their wealth. African SMEs are surviving within the so-called 90% unemployment level. Rather than use imported terminologies to value African wealth, African think tanks and universities should generate new valuation knowledge that speaks to local contexts. Such knowledge should guide policy review and remove Africans’ inferiority complexes about their knowledge which is limiting capacity to exploit African comparative advantages based on ownership of natural resources.
Why do African countries agree to measure their poverty datum line using a dollar a day when the majority do not use dollars? African countries should be using social indicators like depression or erosion of values among communities whose relatives are migrating to the diaspora in response to economic down turns. Another indicator should be related to knowledge and information. The extent to which an increase in the cost of communication has become a barrier to knowledge and information sharing is a powerful socio-economic indicator in African economies. A related indicator is how increases in transport costs are leading to the break-down of social fabrics as urban dwellers no longer visit their relatives in rural areas to replenish their knowledge, norms, values and wisdom. The roots of an indigenous home-grown economy are directly linked to social not economic factors.
What happens if African countries stop using foreign currency to value their economies?
African countries have embraced imported western knowledge as if they did not their own knowledge before colonization. Many ordinary people in Africa have never stopped wondering why African governments are allowing their natural resources and food systems to be valued and priced using United States Dollars. If China wants tobacco from Zimbabwe while Zimbabwe needs machinery and fertilizer from China, why is it not possible for these commodities be exchanged directly without the United States Dollar coming in between?
The value of the tobacco can be easily agreed up and same with the value of the machinery or fertilizer without any money exchanging hands. The same notion can be extended to minerals. Whoever wants African gold should bring what is needed in Africa, with the commodities simply exchanged. As opposed to African countries converting their commodities to foreign currency before buying what is needed from importers of African commodities, those in need of tobacco and minerals should be the ones bringing foreign currency where it is needed but commodities of equivalent value should suffice.
Why is globalization silent about knowledge?
Global trade emphasizes free trade areas and selling of commodities but knowledge is not considered part of the economic and commodity focus. How is knowledge traded as part of global trade just like commercial trade of goods and services? There are no specific avenues and vehicles for tracking knowledge trading between countries and commodities. International economic development practice uses indicators like employment creation, income levels and population growth, excluding knowledge as an indicator or component of economic growth. There has to be more appropriate definitions of an economy in the African sense without continued use of adopted definitions of the economy and economic growth from borrowed and imported knowledge. It is very important and urgent to start developing African home-grown economic indicators that do not just consider economics but embraces social indicators such as culture, tradition and the whole society. All this has its own growth paths from rural to urban areas.
Challenges with domesticating technology
Lack of attention to home-grown indicators has increased African challenges around the adoption of technology. The Western and imported notion of trading platforms was meant for trading commodities without using cash but some corporates in African countries like Zimbabwe have abused platforms by using them for trading money. Had African countries developed their own platforms they would have embedded software to, for instance, modernize barter trade which has proven to be more resilient in all economies across the globe.
Ethical deployment of technology platform should anchor African mass markets which creatively combine barter trade with modern transaction modes. This is how authentic commodity exchanges can be created and anchored in technology in ways that create networks for facilitating commodities to find each other and transact with no need for money. Communities should then be educated about the fact that by clamoring for cash they are burdening themselves when all they need is to know their needs first. If money is for buying commodities and services, why not bring those commodities and services together and eliminating the need for cash and middlemen who are abusing platforms?
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