This is the fifth instalment in a 20-part “Pushing the envelope of knowledge” series in which Mawere attempts to provide some insights into the concept of corporate citizenship and the importance of improving the body of knowledge that informs our daily conversations
THE world has gone through a significant correction whose real effect has been to test humanity’s confidence in the ability of free markets to support and underpin human development.
The world as we knew it last year has significantly changed.
There has been a great deal of economic dislocation to billions of people and Africans have not been spared.
The vulnerable people at the bottom of the opportunity ladder who do not have any financial strategic defence shield to buy themselves out of the devastating and unprecedented effects of the global financial meltdown are more exposed today than at any time in human history.
In the post-Cold War era, we all had come to look to the American system as the model for human development and the theatre for trusted financial engineering innovations.
With the collapse of the socialist economic system, the supremacy of the market as an instrument for delivering sustainable growth appeared to be unchallengeable. We all know what the absence of markets can produce.
If there was any doubt of the inappropriateness of non-market instruments in resource allocation and efficiency, our recent history offers many lessons on how to build enduring nations and how to squander opportunities.
In fact, the emergence of the BRIC (Brazil, India and China) countries as economic powerhouses has to be located in a seismic shift in terms of ideological thinking.
Even the Chinese knew acutely well that the promise was to be found in opening the economic system to competition underpinned by a constructive loosening of the socialist clenched fist.
The Cultural Revolution had a real and negative impact on human development and yet its architects were convinced that social engineering could produce the same if not superior outcomes than a market-based system.
At a time when consensus was beginning to emerge that free markets could provide the kind of answers that address human development challenges, the crisis visited the world with its genesis in the very citadels of a model that people had come to take for granted as the compass for reducing the frontiers of poverty.
Although our collective confidence in the efficacy of the market system has been dented, there is no doubt that the system has produced historic results transforming a population of 300 million in America into the world’s most powerful political and economic machine.
The market has also lifted about 500 million people out of poverty in the last twenty years.
Although the relationship between Africa and the market system has not been a healthy and sustained one, we can safely conclude that the continent’s future lies in integrating its promise with the rest of the global family of nations than pursuing inward looking strategies.
More significantly, we also now know that notwithstanding its limitations, market-driven development offers a more secure and brighter future than a state-engineered future.
It cannot be disputed that no society can prosper without a thriving private sector. Even in the face of global ideological confusion, Africa cannot swim against what has been universally proved to be a working and reliable poverty reduction instrument.
As we try to put meaning to the current global challenges, we must take comfort in drawing a conclusion that a positive and synergistic relationship between people and markets in necessary for sustained growth and development.
Human civilisation has failed to provide any alternative viable arrangement.
In searching for an Africa that can secure our future and offer promise, we can only draw lessons from other nations that have walked the path to a better and more secure future.
We have seen market behaviour that can undermine markets and public interest exposing the many who can least afford to respond to the consequences.
The market system needs to be informed not just by the rule of law but by an economic morality that has been found wanting in developed states.
This is the core of the Africa Heritage Society ideal, and our continent’s future must be underpinned by rule of law and respect for property and human rights and more significantly by a fair and just system of governance.
Like the global economic system, Africa needs to be better governed not just by good constitutions and laws but by ethics too.
We all wish the best for Africa and yet many are not prepared to be the change that they want to see. We want to be better governed and yet rarely do we want to impact on the governance process.
Yes, post colonial Africa like its precursor has invested in fear to the extent that citizens are afraid to speak their minds.
The effect of the global economic meltdown has been to shift the focus of economic power to emerging markets some of which have not invested in an alternative value system that responds to the known ills of the current model.
Can China, for example, guarantee the freedoms that we have generally seen in the West? Can India, for example, be expected to transform its concept of citizenship beyond what looks Indian in as much as Europe has had to live with mosques, for instance?
What kind of financial and economic system do we want in Africa? This question should form part of our daily conversations because in responding to it we can better manage our present and future with more clarity and conviction.
We have seen what a market system can produce and also what an alternative to a market system can also produce.
We can make choices, and Africa’s brain trust has tended to migrate to countries where there is a perception of security. We have yet to see mass exodus from Africa to China, for example. This is not accidental, but a reflection of real human risk perceptions.
Our decision makers in corporate Africa have to pause and think about what kind of society they want to see.
We have to accept the encroachment of the state in markets and if no investment is made on improving political governance and the relationship between market and state actors, the future of Africa will be greatly compromised.
Our knowledge of money and its role in human development has to improve as we seek to reshape Africa’s confused and uncertain future.
We need a new values-based approach to development in Africa in the face of the fundamental challenges that we confront including -– widespread poverty and inequality, climate change, pressure on natural resources, and conflict.
We can respond to these challenges if we are better organised and in partnership.
I have come to the conclusion that in the quest for human development, it is risky to trust any person, let alone a leader, to do what one cannot do for oneself.
What we know is that working together there is no mountain that is not scalable with effort and determination.