Emerging Africa – A review

Kingsley Moghalu has written a fine and timely book and I congratulate him on that. He has also lent a distinctive African/Nigerian voice to the discourse that is largely dominated by non-Africans. As I have said and many have said before, Nigerians need to write and read more for obvious reasons that we need not regurgitate here.

While the book is on Africa, I will largely concentrate in my review on how it applies to Nigeria for I firmly believe in charity begins at home. The book made many interesting observations, provided insights on may key issues and offered solutions to move Nigeria forward. Some of these are discussed below.

  1. The book argued that a fundamental reason for Nigeria’s (Africa’s) condition of underdevelopment is the absence of a worldview. That is we seem not to know where we stand in the community of nations, what we stand for and where we want to be and who is responsible in getting us there with any degree of confidence. In Nigeria, even our nationhood is sometimes challenged and it is thus difficult to pull ahead as one with a shared vision. And to truly transform, a country needs to energize its citizens and accept that its development is its responsibility and there is no international community waiting to develop any country.
  1. Nigeria needs a growth model driven by manufacturing to satisfy internal demand first and then spreading across Africa and then the world. This makes sense for Nigeria since with its size, the internal market could be decisive if properly harnessed and subsequently satisfied.
  1. The book is also consistent with other research and writings such as that of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, that argued that institutions matter and that geography or natural resources are not a destiny. Nigeria therefore needs to continue the institutional reforms started by OBJ.
  1. Foreign aid is not essential for development and a country that relies on organized handouts cannot be said to be truly independent. In addition, some studies have shown that aids has failed to lead to development in Africa as it has fuelled unproductive consumption rather than investment. Nigeria though is not one of those basket aids cases. What the government needs to do is to create an environment in which ordinary people can create wealth for themselves and others.
  1. There are 4 types of capitalism; a) state directed capitalism (e.g. China), b) welfare capitalism, c) crony capitalism and d) small business capitalism that took hold in the US. Crony capitalism is alive in Nigeria in which a few men control the country’s economy. Small business capitalism (entrepreneurial) could if properly nurtured propel Nigeria’s development and create millions of jobs that are needed. Innovation, property rights and capital are needed if the entrepreneurial opportunity is to be harnessed and these are unfortunately not adequately developed in Nigeria. For example there are very few business incubators or venture capital firms in Nigeria and a lot of work is still needed in the area of property rights.
  1. Moghalu identified three areas that need to be developed if Nigeria is to move forward; infrastructure, access to capital and institutional reforms in governance and regulatory environment. These are consistent with the previous point and have been identified by many as key to any transformation and need no further elaboration.
  1. Other foundational questions that need to be answered are whether Nigeria should restructure itself and devolve political and economic decision from the center to regions or states or remain with a strong center as such reengineering is not necessary. This is one area of the book I find a bit uncomfortable. Somehow Moghalu ended up without saying so explicitly, both arguing for a more confident Nigeria (Africa) and at the same time advocating weakening the center and promoting a culture of we against them that pits oil producing states against those without oil. Do we need 36 states? Of course not. Can states work harder at generating more internal revenue? Of course yes. But the current dialogue of oil or no oil or regionalism is not good for Nigeria and I cannot see Nigeria taking its rightful place as a nation to reckon with unless we pull together as one.
  1. There is a need for a clear, properly articulated and well thought out industrial policy that is also workable in practice. I agree. Policies need to be workable in practice otherwise they wont succeed no matter how nice they look on paper.
  1. Nigeria needs a strategic vision, the right team selected on merit, the government must mobilize the citizens to buy into the vision and the agenda and Nigeria must invest in training and educating its civil service to effectively implement its transformation agenda. Good advice but you cannot mobilize the citizens towards a common vision while on the other hand advocating resources control of the type being advocated.
  1. Nigeria should have a coherent development strategy that identifies its specific challenges, the options for addressing these challenges and which options to pursue. The strategy should be focused on how to create an environment that promotes productivity and private sector participation.

In all, Moghalu has done us a favor by writing such a comprehensive and insightful book. The challenge as usual is for our elected leaders to seize the opportunity offered to them by the citizens and make the right choices and take actions that will propel Nigeria on the path of inclusive growth that lifts the majority of the citizens from abject poverty to a less harassed life that is not dominated by struggling to survive.

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