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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

ON JUNE 1, 2007, CNBC launched in Johannesburg, South Africa what it is describes as Sub-Saharan Africa’s first international business news channel, CNBC Africa.

President Mbeki was the inaugural guest together with about 70 business leaders. Africa. For those who watched the program, they would not have been surprised to recognise that Africa’s business architecture continues to exhibit the absence of Africa business leaders even after 50 years of Uhuru. CNBC is part of NBC Universal, which is owned by US giant General Electric (GE).

Business leaders from New York, London, Paris, and the Middle East were featured on the program and the profile of business leaders that were selected as guests for the program only served to demonstrate the challenge Africans face in this 21st Century in transforming the civil rights gains into platinum (economic) rights.

Anyone who dares to focus on the financial, business and economic news of Africa will soon realise that Africans (black) are predominantly missing in action. The Who is Who of African business has not changed significantly to reflect the raising of post-colonial flags. The critical decisions on Africa’s future economic issues are not made in Africa and the role of African governments has shifted from protecting the colonial political elites to entrenching the economic power of non-Africans. Yesterday it was the Caucasians and today it is Asians and yet the difference may ultimately be the same.

Africa’s intellectual and business minds will remain marginalised until we shift the mind set from what did African leaders do but what we are going to do from here. The issue when African countries gained independence was poverty and it is still poverty today. Over the last 50 years, we have become experts at what are against and not what we are for. We are against colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism (even embracing American values through CNBC Africa), neo-liberalism, capitalism etc.

Ignorance was a key raw material for slavery and it continues to be an enduring road block to African progress. What do Africans need to do in this century often dubbed the African century not because Africa for the first time is hosting the World Soccer Cup but because there was optimism that after the complete decolonisation of the continent, Africans will get their act together and claim a piece of the action in a fast moving global environment where other former victims of colonialism have demonstrated that with literacy, empowerment is not a pipe dream?

We continue to be challenges in our understanding about money and the construction of capital. Financial literacy for African children is generally low so is the absence of empowering economic education not only in the rural areas where the majority of Africans reside but in Africa’s boardrooms where the few Africans are assimilated often at the expense of African values.

I have no doubt that the new CNBC channel will continue to perpetuate the notion that Africans are better off integrating themselves into the global community of nations as second class citizens. Due to commercial imperatives, the business people that will be featured representing Africa will be those that can afford the expensive airtime. After all CNBC Africa is a commercial enterprise taking advantage of the knowledge, capital and execution gaps existing in modern day Africa.

It is obvious that Africa’s fight for equality and justice will not be waged and won in government offices and in the streets but in corporate boardrooms and financial literacy classrooms. Knowledge about institutions and money can be an enduring poverty alleviation tool because when someone knows better they tend to do better. Those of us who know better for some reason we tend to privatize and monopolize the knowledge with often unintended consequences.

Africa’s political leaders have managed to create a political base for Africans to decide on who should govern them but have failed to provide an economic base on who should feed them. Yes, South Africa has been integrated into the commonwealth of African nations that is characterised by poverty as the common thread that unites the quilt of nation states that still have a long way to go to give hope to their citizens.

Yesterday, political apartheid was not acceptable in Africa and yet the products and institutions of the same system are the new torch bearers of hope in Africa. If one looks at the real players in Africa, one will recognise that with few exceptions, the exploitation of Africa’s resources is the preserve of South African (white controlled), Caucasian and lately Asian people.

South Africa inherited a sophisticated industrial, mining and financial system that is being put to good use by the former beneficiaries of apartheid to the extent that the value system that informs African business is being mediated through individuals who believe that Africa’s future should be inclusive. It is not surprising that many African businesspersons who may be looking for business rights from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to distribute their products in Africa may discover that such rights are already allocated in perpetuity to South African entrepreneurs (often white) who do not see a need to partner with their historically disadvantaged black brothers and sisters.

Africa may have invested in human capital but unless its business institutions believe in African capacity, it is unlikely that the brain drain will be stopped. While Africans choose to vote with their feet other nationalities choose to come to Africa to exploit its resources often with the encouragement of African governments. Most African leaders believe that Africans lack capacity and, therefore, it is risky to put any real faith in them. With this mind set, any enterprising African businessmen is often labelled corrupt or a crony.

While African leaders dealt with issues of race and colour divide, we must find new ways to address issues of poverty and class in Africa. We need new strategies and fresh ideas to ensure that Africa lives up to its promise and potential. We need to begin to understand the capitalist system, integrate our financial resources just like we integrated the political divide with universal suffrage. Democracy should not be restricted to the political market but must be extended into the economic sphere.

There are many of us who are against capitalism and yet fail to show us what other system can deliver the goods. The Chinese and Indians were slow to recognise that it is through the individual that any nation can progress to greater heights. In the final analysis, it is up to us to invest in the new African identity that is deeply rooted in African values. Even the late President Nyerere recognised the futility of an ideology that emphasized distribution of the sweat of others at the expense of production. He bowed out of power not because he was no longer popular but because he realised that his ideas did not connect with the aspirations of his own people. How many other African leaders with obsolete ideas will be prepared to step down to allow their people to take ownership of their destinies?

Africa’s youngest child, South Africa, is fast becoming the repository of values that should inform the development options for the whole continent. However, to fast track the integration of historically disadvantaged persons (42 million blacks) into an economy dominated by about 5 million whites, the government has put in place a legal framework that on paper should see whites giving up their economic and financial hegemony to allow blacks to also enjoy the African economic sunshine. While this may represent a step in the right direction, one cannot but recall what the late Dr. King said in 1968 when confronted with the poverty that continued to visit Black America: “You cannot legislate goodness or pass a law to force someone to like or respect you……the only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economic parity.”

The Black America and Black Africa’s stories are not too different and yet in Africa, blacks are in the majority and cannot, therefore, afford to put in place legislation that conditions them to think that they are a minority that needs legal protection. If we use our majority spending power into economic power, I have no doubt that we can create our own Mittal, Gates, Buffett, Soros, etc. However, in the vocabulary of business, we seem not to be challenged by the fact that we have been incapable of investing in the transformation of converting African cheque cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, micro, small and medium scale business owners into large scale business owners with sufficient interests to prevent African political leaders from using Africa as a football for failed ideologies and bankrupt ideas, minimum wage (and no wage) workers into living wage workers, and the economically illiterate into the economically empowered natives.

Transformation of Africa from a desert of poverty to an oasis of affluence requires collective action. We can use our individually meagre savings to create an integrated pool of investment capital that African dreamers can tap into without expecting those who dislike us to feel pity for our condition. How many of us are comfortable being passengers in other people’s cars where we have no rights to determine the speed and destinations of the journey? Africa started a journey 50 years ago and yet we seem confused about who should drive the process. We have perfected the skill to blame others for our confusion. Many cynics have observed that there appears to be a conspiracy between Africa’s political elites and foreign business leaders (and white Africans) to ensure that African capacity is marginalised and house “niggers” are more acceptable than independent minds.

If channels like CNBC Africa were to ask African political leaders to identify even 10 African businessmen who should be given airtime, I am confident that they would come up with names that are not African. Can you imagine that in the top 1000 African companies there may not be any that is genuinely African in the same sense that for an instance an Indian company is Indian? Our most famous African brands from mining to banking are controlled and managed by people who may also believe that Black Africa has no capacity in as much as African leaders have accepted this notion. What is surprising is that no leader in Africa or anywhere for that matter is elected because of their intellectual or management expertise and yet when they are so elected they end up believing that they alone are the custodians of morality, wisdom and intellect.

Black economic empowerment (BEE) will not get us where we need to go if it comes from legislation only but if it is a result of the collective consciousness of the natives that it is only through their actions today that Africa will have a claim to a brighter day tomorrow. Yes, it is easy to expect the rich nations to look out for the poor but I think that any nation that is alive to the needs of its people must build its own pyramid of hope. Those at the top should realise that those at the bottom are necessary in as much as those at the bottom should find hope in the possibility that they or their successors can be at the pinnacle.

In a market system, it is the consumers who determine the success or failure of any economic enterprise but in Africa’s political market, citizens often end up helpless. How many Africans have been forced to join the ranks of those in the diaspora because of bad policies and misguided ideologies? How many African minds are imprisoned and victimised by bad leaders and yet Africa’s poverty continues to be blamed on third parties?

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New every Monday. You can contact him at:

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