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Stop the self-approbation that Africa’s trade, investment and development will come from Africa

Columns Stop the self-approbation that Africa’s trade, investment and development will come from...

By Edward Chisanga

You’re not African if you dispraise Africa

When writing about Africa and Africans you often must say what they want to hear in order to be on their side. If you don’t, you’re branded as Africa’s enemy even if all you’re doing is stating statistics and numbers that were not created by you but you’re simply analyzing and reporting them. While working for the United Nations, I was on missions in Africa to make presentations about its economic and trade performance. I showed statistics that highlighted that the continent’s economic trade and growth was pelting down uncontrollably. All economic and trade indicators show a sad story for the continent and was asking why. No sooner did I finish my lecture than I was confronted by angry civil servants’ audience that accused me of not being African, saying that if I were, I would not be saying negative things about my own continent. They expect nothing but self-approbation. That is in its leaders too. In Africa, no leader is told negative things even if they’re what may serve them.

Africans want to hear that Africa’s wealth will come from Africa

Most Africans want to hear that Africa can only be developed by Africans. They want to hear that trade and investment must come from Africans. They don’t want to hear that Africa and Africans have no wealth. They don’t want to hear that Africa’s development cannot come from Africa. To claim that Africa’s development will come from Africa sounds very reassuring, patriotic and African. Yet, this is nothing but self-approbation because Africa has no wealth. If it had, after almost sixty years of independence, at least one single African country excluding South Africa would have created this wealth. Some will attribute lack of creating wealth to corruption, but surely, not every African country is corrupt. Or once upon a time, no single African country was corrupt. Corruption arrived in the 1990s, long after almost every African country excluding South Africa acquired independence.

There’re others who think that Africa has wealth manifested in natural resources such as minerals, oils, forestry and others. But what is the point of having natural resources that Africans cannot convert into quality wealth? If these raw materials were wealth, and we have had them for many years, why is Africa not developing? Wealth is when raw materials are converted into manufactured goods, a skill most lacking in Africa. So, I urge these Africans to stop cheating themselves that Africa has wealth because it is nothing but self-approbation. If Africa had wealth, surely, in the last 57 years of African countries’ independence, one African country would have developed into one like in Asia, such as Thailand, Malaysia or Viet Nam. All those who think that Africa has wealth and that Africans can create wealth are simply using their heart rather than the head. The heart often remits emotions while the head remits rationality.

They want to hear that trade among Africans can create wealth

The school of thought of Africans who think that trade among African countries will create wealth for Africa are only cheating themselves because Africa’s trade is nothing but sales of sweet potatoes, raw beans, maize, unprocessed vegetables, onions, tomatoes and many other things one finds on the African market among traders. These are not things that will help Africa develop. Yet, they are largely the products likely to be lined up in intra-Africa trade of the future after the creation of the AfCFTA. We will hardly see trade in manufactured goods because most countries, in particular the majority thirty-one least developed countries have no means to produce them. What will Benin export to Zambia or Zambia to Benin apart from raw beans, copper, maize and vegetables? What will Malawi export to Senegal, Ghana or Niger? Poor countries are manipulated into thinking that the AfCFTA will create manufactured goods. Where in the world have we seen trade liberalization creating manufactured goods? Not in Europe, not in Asia. So, it will only happen in Africa? Europe and Asia first industrialized, then introduced trade liberalization to create markets for abundant goods produced.

But Africa’s wealth comes from trade with rich countries

For many years, Africa’s wealth has been created by trading with rich countries, not poor countries in Africa. For example, in 2020 Africa’s exports to outside Africa accounted for 82% of its total exports to the world leaving intra-Africa trade with only 18%. Vilferdo Pareto’s rule says, “If 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, it is better to spend more resources to the 20%.” In other words, a few rich countries provide more wealth for Africa from trade than the continent of fifty-five African countries. Therefore, Africa should continue to focus on trade with rich countries.

It is the same for foreign direct investment (FDI). Apart from South Africa, Africa has no FDI. DRC cannot provide FDI for Zambia. Nigeria is investing banks in African countries, but how much? No matter how much we want to assure and make ourselves happy, Africa’s wealth from FDI comes from rich countries. In Asia, you find intra-Asian FDI but it is from rich Asian countries like China, Singapore and Korea, etc. Bangladesh can hardly provide FDI for Cambodia. And most of it comes from rich countries. It doesn’t matter if a cat is white or black as long as it catches mice. If I’m getting wealth from rich countries, why would I want to resort to trade with African countries that have no wealth? Creating wealth is not about blind African solidarity which amounts more to political than economic outcomes. You create wealth from wherever you can and feed your people. For how long has Benin been trading with Ghana without creating wealth? Zambia trades with DRC but its citizens continue to be poor. Rwanda trades with Uganda but no wealth is available on the poor family’s table.

There has been a misconception that Africa’s trade with rich countries has not helped the continent to add value to exports and create wealth. That it has been lopsided in favor of rich countries obtaining raw materials from Africa to enrich themselves at our expense. What about Asia? Why has Africa not done like Asia whereby rich countries are in fact scared of the former? It has been lopsided because for almost sixty years since independence, no African country apart from South Africa trades in dynamic and more products. Some will say that rich countries are applying WTO rules to block Africa from industrializing. What about Asia?

It is not intra-Asian trade that has helped Viet Nam to overtake Africa, the whole Africa in world exports of manufactured goods. It is not intra-Asian trade that has helped Bangladesh, an Asian least developed country to overtake Africa in world exports of textiles and clothing products. Bangladesh’s main export markets are USA and EU. Even in USA where it doesn’t benefit from free market access which our continent does, it exports more than Africa. For example, in 1995 Africa’s world exports of textiles and clothing stood at $9.5 billion compared to $2.6 billion for Bangladesh as shown in Figure 1 below.

Yet by 2020, Bangladesh’s exports reached $30 billion relative to Africa’s $17.8 billion. Again, as usual, instead of debating how we can catch up, we will have some Africans making clever answers and comments to rebut this fact.

How can you promote intra-Africa trade when trade is now going to Asia?

Once upon a time, Africa’s trade was largely with the USA, Japan and the EU. Then, Africans argued that they should trade more with each other. But they did not. Instead, even at the height of the AfCFTA, they divested from the USA and are now trading more with Asia than the USA because Asia too has wealth. Yes, Africa must trade with Asia because that is where new global wealth is being created. Of course, that meanwhile is a deterrent to increasing intra-Africa trade. But who cares when you can create wealth for your people from Asia where Africa’s exports amounted to $145.0 billion in 2020 compared to only $20.0 billion to the USA and $70 billion to Africa shown in Figure 2 below?

This low intra-Africa trade will not be converted into miraculous trade and wealth simply because of the AfCFTA. It will take non-trade actions, such as developing the supply base to propel intra-Africa trade and create wealth.

And, that is a missing link which requires massive financial, human, technical, infrastructural and technological investment which Africa doesn’t have. Africans can please themselves in public statements that AfCFTA will bring structural change in Africa. If it does, Africa will be the first continent on earth where structural change was generated by trade liberalization because in Asia, it was not. Industrialization generated trade liberalization and wealth.

Even African richest businessman, Mr. Dangote has warned that wealth from the AfCFTA will only be created if Africa industrializes, not before. In fact, he is quoted as saying, “AfCFTA will fail unless African countries encourage industrialization.” He is not alone. The AfCFTA secretariat is based in Ghana. Yet, the Ghana Union of Traders’s Association is quoted as saying, “The initiative will not flourish as expected. The AfCFTA will not succeed ..it can never succeed until we have made conscious efforts to industrialize Africa.”

Stop the self-approbation and accept that Africa’s wealth will not come from Africa

In concluding, it seems appropriate to state that the money being spent on liberalizing Africa’s trade should have been spent on building production and industrialization. That is Africa’s priority in terms of using trade for poverty reduction. Poor trade doesn’t deserve financial investment to create larger markets. Why create a larger market when countries have failed to utilize smaller ones in regional economic communities (RECs), as well as larger markets in rich countries? In all these RECs, no single country except South Africa has used it to create wealth. Why? It is because member states do not have wealth to utilize trade as a tool for development. Viet Nam whose exports of manufactured goods in the world is about 2 fold higher than that of Africa needs more market access for exports. Not Africa. Africa has had free market access for many years in rich countries but failed to create wealth from them. Now it thinks that can happen when its members trade with each other. But trade what products? Please stop the self-approbation act and accept that Africa’s wealth will not come from Africa.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Edward we to talk and as you are just confusing yourself and africa , as those countries the South Asian Tigers that what they done they even had to use the sub-regional growth triangles to enhance trade among themselves , look africa imports over USD34Billion annually in food staples when actually they foods are here and can be grown here . But the problem is schooled people like you misguide our people and speak for white people sad and shameful indeed.

    So if you donit understand the subject just leave it , if we import from others what do we use its the money and that wait starting with zambia we shall change things soon , so get in touch ,but stop misguiding our people

    Yours faithfully,

    EDWIN ZULU
    ELIF Business Solutions Ltd – CEO
    Think Tanker – Africa Think Tank…

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  2. This was a difficult read, and I was getting defensive reading this. But alas, this provides some answers as to why, for a period of over 60 years, we have known the DRC to be a market for our agricultural produce and we have been exporting copper with little change in our economies.
    However, if Zambia does industrialize, do we exclude our neighbouring countries for trade and focus on the rich countries?
    This article has provided more questions than answers, I must add it provokes the mind to think differently, and it’s a great follow up to the earlier article.

  3. He’s using statistics formulated to “prove” the western ideological grip on the third world countries. Wealth can be created by strongly ensuring that associated goods and services are locally procured. That must be hand in glove with policy change to ensure locals provide services to the foreign mining houses that are busy extracting Africa’s natural resources. Locals should also step up and provide quality services. That’s what the west does.

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  4. Edward’s reply to Edwin Zulu
    Dear Mr. Zulu
    I refer to your comments on my article, “Stop the self-approbation that Africa’s trade, investment and development will come from Africa.”
    Your main comments are:
    1. South Asian tigers and their growth triangles
    2. Africa imports what can be produced from within Africa
    3. People like me misguide our people
    My comments.
    1. South Asian tigers have products, dynamic products for that matter that justify having growth triangles. Africa doesn’t. That is why even Viet Nam has overtaken Africa in exports of manufactured goods. You can tell from the small size of intra-Africa exports of only $70 billion for all products and for manufactured goods of only $30 billion. But for many years, Africa has been making money from exports to rich countries…

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  5. Dear Nabilungu

    If you have products, no one is asking you to export to rich countries. Export to the nearest, which is A”frica. But you have been exporting to rich countries that last 57 years since independence. Why? Your sentence, “Wealth can be created by strongly ensuring that associated goods and services are locally procured” is “CAN” because Africa has no products. I’m saying continue to export what you have now to rich countries. Don’t simply keep on saying “We can, we should” or create continental free market in Africa where you have no products to export. For now, continue to export to rich countries. No choice until you are like Asia

    Edward

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  6. Edward, I am dissatisfied with this article. It is blindsided. please google Howard Nicholas, International Institute of Social Studies. Underdevelopment in Africa. Watch the video on YouTube so that you can the white man presenting to the institute with your own eyes. Then rewrite your article.Sub Sahara Africa has been destined as a supplier of raw materials and to be ridden with poverty. As black Africa, We need to start somewhere, no matter how small. Better to try and fail which I hope we won’t than not to try at all. Send your articles for peer review before you post. Disappointed.

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  7. Ba Chisanga your article is only serving to confuse your audience. I will tell you as a story teller myself that how you tell the story is important because your message will be lost when you have annoyed your audience. That said , what you should know is that Africans have been told by invaders for 500 years that their solutions economic or spiritual or whatever will come from outside not from inside Africa. This was a brainwashing of the African that you may be a victim of yourself thus you keep putting faith in outsiders..
    This is is why in the past 30 years or so the narrative especially among academics, has had to change. Yes that is why Most Africans want to hear that Africa can only be developed by Africans. They NEED to hear that trade and investment must come from Africans…

  8. They NEED to hear that trade and investment must come from Africans. This is very positive talk that the African needs so as to introspect and spark development from within. For industrialisation to occur the African has to focus inward. That is a large part of what the Asian tigers and China did. For lack of space I will end by saying We cant keep looking outside for help.

  9. Useless Article very misleading and full of wrong statements. Africa is Poor? The writer is a Joker. It is those who think only whites and foreigners can bring development to Africa. This kind of stupidity is what has always brought us behind. Stand up for yourselves. See what has happened with Omicron Variant they have Blocked you all over. We don’t need Foreigners and true. African Trade and Investment will come from AFRICAN.

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  10. What I find nauseating is Africans who still blame slavery and colonialism for Africa’s poverty………

    Or those nutcases who see conspiracy plots in every white man who to them is only intent on keeping Africa down while stealing minerals………

    Fooools ……..

    FYI even Chinese and indians were once enslaved, yet have moved on……..

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  11. From Edward to Kaizar Zulu

    Dear Kaizar
    If you use your head instead of your chest, you will see the meaning of my article. If Africa cuts trade and investment from rich countries, that will be its end because for now, it has no other source. If Zambia decides to stop exporting to rich countries and export to Africa, which country has money to buy all its copper, and for what use? If Benin stops exporting cotton to rich countries and instead exports to Africa, who needs that cotton in Africa, and for what use? If they needed it, they would have imported already but it exports to rich countries and Asia.
    What you want is for Africa to continue to export raw beans, maize, bunga, kapenta – all non-dynamic products. Make money from where you can whether rich countries, Asia or wherever…

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  12. Dear Bashi Chite

    I ask in the article, why complain that rich people stole raw materials from Africa, that is why it is not developed. What about Asia? Asia has not such raw materials to steal. But it is developing and the West is envying it. Forget about what a white man or red man, or black man presents on video. I’m simply saying there is no wealth in Africa. That is why I would not look for wealth from trade or investment in Africa. Apart from South Africa, no other country has investment. Nigeria is investing in financial sector or banks but how much? Where will FDI come from in Africa for the continental free trade area? What will Zambia export? You just want me to be patriotic, Africa-centric and tell Africans that they can create wealth where it is not? They must begin with…

  13. Edward. We have been trading with the outside world for 500 years. Unfortunately, including our own race as slaves. Who has benefited? Africa or the West? China has come on the scene, who is going to benefit when we negotiate on country by country basis with mighty china. Why did late Magufuli reject a Chinese deal to build a port in Tanzania? Lunatic conditions given to Tanzania.Who is going change this attitude towards black Africa? There is strength in numbers if Africa approaches the rest of the world as a continent rather than individual countries.
    Ever heard of JOHARI window, blindsided view of situations. Don’t get too stuck in statistics. Neither should you be rigid or filled with pride. We all make mistakes, myself included. Take time to digest the criticism Ask for…

  14. Edward. Investment should come from within Africa. Lots of rich people in Africa with cash stuffed offshore. FDI should be second priority and no wholesale repatriations. Zambia can start exporting food to DRC as a start. I witnessed cargo planes after cargo planes landing in DRC with agriculture produce all the way from Brazil

  15. Funny that people preoccupied with the race of Africa’s trade partners are the ones who claim to be enlightened. Yet this obsession with the perceived ill intent of Whites in every facet of Africans’ lives is itself evidence of how thoroughly these minds are poisoned by colonial indoctrination. So confused that they quote White people to make the case that all White intentions toward Africa are evil.

    Indeed Mr. Chisanga we need to be pragmatic. Strike the best deals with whoever gets us the biggest return and serves our interest best.

    Couldn’t agree more with @Spaka . Let’s compartmentalize and be rational or sentimental as appropriate. Africa is not the only place to suffer injustice from outsiders.

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  16. @ Son of 18 million. The black African is the most dehumanised race in the world. I will not bury my head in the sand. If that makes me unenlightened, it’s fine with me because I have chosen to identity with my downtrodden people. I have traveled the world and yes RACE is an issue no matter how successful a black person is.

  17. @Bashi Chite some people need to be taken into a concentration camp to learn black history.. They get born with frivolous priviledges and start to think everyone who doesnt have them is a fool . Only an Uncle Tom will not see that black people are targetted by other races for exploitation or even killed just for the fun of it. If your eyes are closed to such mistreatment go live on Mars where there are no races. .
    Just presently in the US we are seeing the case of a black young man killed just for running into a white enclave and one wants to pretend we blacks are not victims? This kind of mental slavery is what will make Africa undeveloped forever. It is precisely because of colonial indoctrination that some people start thinking such a superior being as a white man couldnot have…

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  18. .. It is precisely because of colonial indoctrination that some people start thinking such a superior being as a white man couldnot have come here for bad. Yet he did and you can see that he stole all the black man’s resources and has never paid for them.Whether one likes it or not the black man has been persecuted because he is black.

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  19. #18  Ntwanikane 
    November 29, 2021 At 7:31 pm

    “.. It is precisely because of colonial indoctrination that some people start thinking such a superior being as a white man couldnot have come here for bad. Yet he did and you can see that he stole all the black man’s resources and has never paid for them.Whether one likes it or not the black man has been persecuted because he is black…”

    I would argue that racism is found in every continent , ……..

    Also even Chinese and indians suffer racism at the hand of whites…….but they seem to brush it off and work harder…

    The white race also took a lot of wealth from Asia, China, South America……not only Africa.

  20. Despite all his rantings, Mr Chisanga is merely urging Africa to INDUSTRIALISE. Wealth will then follow us. Without that, the we will doomed to exporting our raw materials and getting meager benefits in the end.

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  21. If you examine why other races that also suffer racism at the hands of whites , a common thing is they work as a team.

    Indians work as a team……..first amongst them selves then they give leftovers to other people ……..

    Same with the Chinese………

    They create their own markets that are satisfied by their own products…..only threats of sanctions from the whites do they grudgingly let in others…….

  22. @ Spaka. Our colleague Edward ends his article with the following sentence. “Please stop the self-approbation act and accept that Africa’s wealth will not come from Africa.” Implicitly he is urging Africa to continue to look outwards to China, America, Europe etc to actualise it’s wealth. I have huge problems with Edward’s view. I hope he just phrased it wrongly. Quite right Africa needs to trade with the rest of the world but Africa’s wealth needs to emanate, reside and be anchored from within Africa.

  23. Reply from Edward to Ntwanikane

    Boss, follow the argument instead of introducing unnecessary odium. In trade, in particular exports, Africa’s wealth for many years has been coming from trade with the West. Zambia exports more to the West and Asia than it exports within Africa. If the West exploits Africa by exporting manufactured goods to Africa and Africa exporting primary commodities to them, so does China, India and even South Africa. Zambia imports more manufactured goods from South Africa than Zambia exports manufactured goods to that country. Exports of copper is what Zambia depends on for is economic activities but this is exported to the West and Asia. I’m simply asking Zambia to continue instead of thinking that exporting to Africa will bring wealth in Zambia. It will not…

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    • Your argument has been followed by not only me but most of those posting here but you don’t seem to be understanding the responses some of which agree with certain point you raised and by the way there is no unneccessary odium in my post. You cant advocate for the continuation of a status quo that hasn’t worked for half a century based on the conservative thinking that that is what it has been all along.
      Any progress on earth needs a revolution. Ask yourself why revolutions like the French and many others happened. Zambia trades with Europe in the way it does because that is what the colonisers wanted 400 years ago: an Africa that offers them raw materials. Its a slave market relationship. That benefitted Europe. Its time for Africa to create the industries needed to beneficiate its…

    • Its time for Africa to create the industries needed to beneficiate the raw resources that it is currently exporting so that Europe can export back to Africa. Industrialisation can be helped by removing the current trade barriers we have which are inherited from the colonizer. Yes they are neo-colonial because each African country trades with its former colonial master more than with anyone else.

  24. @Spaka no race has been persecuted like the blacks. Slaves were exclusively black. China was never colonised by Europe they only annexed parts of it like Hong Kong. Japan the Koreas were never colonised by Europe. Japan colonised its neighbours. but the entire Africa except Ethiopia was usurped by Europe. India has never recovered from British colonisation. and its current racism was inherited from colonisation.
    Africa suffered mental slavery being told for centuries to look down upon everything African including its culture. That is why every African even clings to European names. Its not something we did voluntarily. It was forced on us to brainwash us into believing humans we should admire were white not black. Europe was out to wipe out everything African and we now seem to have…

  25. Europe was out to wipe out everything African and we now seem to have become fatigued with the mental war and we want to give in . For bashi Chite’s objective of Africa’s wealth needs to emanate, reside and be anchored from within Africa., Africans must emancipate themselves from mental slavery.

  26. Europe was out to wipe out everything African and we now seem to have become fatigued with the mental war and we want to give in . For Bashi Chite’s progressive objective of Africa’s wealth to emanate, reside and be anchored from within Africa., Africans must first emancipate themselves from mental slavery.

  27. @Spaka21 “not only africa” you dismissively state.
    You need to study History and the underlying politics. The white race took a lot of wealth from the rest of the world but in others they took the land too. They then settled there.
    North and South America were invaded by Europe and the natives who were called Red Indians were exterminated. These continents became home for Europeans. Their plan was to do the same in Africa but read Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe who explains that moving into tropical Africa, whites were felled by the mosquito and therefore couldn’t stay to kill off all Africans. They resorted to colonizing Africa. In colonisation they could take the wealth from Africa while controlling it remotely. Africa’s persecution by Europe is therefore very different from that of other…

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