THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
The concept of
ownership has existed for thousands of years and is universal. It is
defined as the state or fact of exclusive rights and control over property
which may be an object, land/real estate, intellectual property or some
other kind of property and it is embodied in a right also referred to
The standard Anglo American model of governance is based on an "agency model" in which the goal of political governance is to have state actors act according to the will of citizens. The post colonial African governance model is in practice based on a “principal model” in which the goal of governance is to have state actors act not according to the will of the people but the whims and wishes of the political elites.
The ownership question as it relates to African resources has often been used to mask the leadership bankruptcy in the continent by explaining away the lack of progress in reducing the frontiers of poverty on ills of the colonial ownership legacy.
It cannot be denied that the class relationships that were inherited from the colonial order have been difficult to transform not because blacks are inherently inferior entrepreneurs but due to a faulty understanding of the complex interplay between ownership and performance.
It cannot be correct
to argue that transferring title to blacks will necessarily translate
into economic performance without investing in an understanding of the
key foundational principles required to create a successful economy.
If Africa needs sustainable investment from both domestic and foreign sources, it must critically interrogate its understanding of the ownership concept so as to correctly capture the kind of human imagination required to spur development and creativity.
Who should drive the African economic agenda? Should it be the state or the citizen? What should be the proper role of the state in post colonial Africa? Does Africa need intelligent leaders or enlightened and empowered citizens? Who should own Africa’s resources? What kind of Africa do we want to see?
The paradigm that has informed the majority of post colonial African economies has been premised on the state serving three different and conflicting roles i.e. as a shareholder of state institutions in which political actors with no experience in business are expected to transmit informed market signals to the firm as a market actor; as a referee in which it is expected to maintain the institutions of a market system and adjudicating disputes while accepting that the market system in foreign construct to a majority of African political actors; the state as a corrector in which it is expected to intervene in the market to correct some failure such as mispricing of externalities or to provide public goods while accepting that democracy in Africa can produce absurd outcomes in political markets.
The utility of any organisation is ultimately measured by its ability to respond to the needs of the target market. The construction of accounting rules to determine a surplus or profit at the end of each financial year is instructive. At the top of the income statement must be located a sales value to highlight the fact that an enterprise whose output has no market is doomed to failure irrespective of who owns it.
Accordingly, the primary purpose of any enterprise is to serve the customer and is so doing a surplus or profit can be generated. Underpinning this construction is the fact that the residual benefit from any enterprise must belong to the owner who is typically described as a shareholder in limited liability companies. A shareholder is nothing more than a holder of a piece of paper like a passport or birth certificate. Owning the paper does not translate into cash unless goods and services are produced and exchanged for value.
Equally at the top of the income statement of a government’s income statement must, therefore, be contributions by income earning citizens through taxes. Accordingly, no viable government can exist without contributions from citizens in the form of taxes.
It must be accepted that a successful entrepreneur has to be smart enough to know and anticipate what his target market needs. This does not require academic qualifications but different skills. A free society allows the consumer to make choices and it is incumbent in the model that the sole purpose of enterprise is to produce a good or service that someone is prepared to pay for.
Regrettably, Africa’s post colonial leaders are at their best using the colonial language and arrogantly attempting to think for their citizens rather than in serving them.
If Africa’s fortunes are to improve, it is important that a dramatic policy shift takes place in the construction of the development model from a prescription based approach to a user friendly one.
Ownership without performance is a hollow construct that serves no purpose in advancing Africa’s cause.
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