Africapitalism in search of Africonsciousness: the emergence of an economic philosophy for Africa?

June 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

Kenneth Amaeshi, PhD

There is no gainsaying the fact that Africa is riddled by a plethora of challenges – poverty, diseases, conflicts, bad governance, poor infrastructure, et cetera. A special report on Business in Africa by The Economist (Sept 9, 2006, p. 79) succinctly states thus: “the prospect of investing in sub-Saharan Africa can cause businessmen to break out in a cold sweat. The region is often seen as a corporate graveyard of small, impossibly difficult markets, where war, famine, AIDS and disaster are always lurking… For many African entrepreneurs, operating legally brings too many headaches and too few benefits”. Conceding that this perspective is gradually changing 7 years down the line, The Economist is not alone in such perceptions of dire conditions of entrepreneurship in Africa. Notwithstanding, in the midst of these harsh challenges, there are equally sparks of untapped opportunities including – natural resources, population, endogenous energy, et cetera. Hence, while Africa might well be a challenging business environment, the continent also offers significant opportunities and latitude for business involvement in addressing some of its inherent challenges. The potential opportunities in Africa are undoubtedly driving the new rush towards Africa as the last frontier of capitalism and the focus of Africapitalism.

Tony Elumelu’s injection of Africapitalism into the business lingua is a welcome development. According to him, “Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth”. Mr Elumelu argues that “Africa’s renaissance lies in the confluence of the right business and political action” – The Africapitalist, Q4, 1(1), 2012. This is a desirable call for many reasons.

In the first instance, it is a subtle push back on global capitalism, which does not pay appropriate attention to the unique factor of “place” in economic production and consumption. Globalisation prides itself on its ability to extract value wherever value is found irrespective of place and space. This view tends to see the opportunities of a globalised world and cares less about the global distribution of wealth. Despite the positive attributes of globalisation, it, more often than not, ends up creating a lopsided world of immense inequality and injustice. Then again, globalization leaves the world open to raw competition and the demise of the relevance of place (location) in cross border trade. It also leads to the so-called “north-south” dichotomy in trade relations, a distinction that ensures that the south (i.e. the developing economies) remains worse off. Africapitalism consequently becomes a pragmatic way to rein in run-away globalisation and its discontents, and a platform for refocusing attention on the significance of place in capitalism. The reintroduction of place in capitalism is not necessarily new as economic patriotism remains an essential part of western democratic institutions. What is rather novel, on this score, is the focus on Africa – the dark continent of diseases and poverty – as the last frontier of capitalism.

Another positive element of Africapitalism is its anchor on the Creating Shared Value (CSV) concept of Porter and Kramer, and the repurposing of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a phenomenon beyond mere philanthropy. Africapitalism embodies the desire for the private sector to contribute to the development of Africa. Indeed, CSV emphasises the need for businesses not to divorce societal benefits in their pursuits of economic goals. CSV sees the intersection of business and societal needs as a superior expression of entrepreneurship and manifestation of capitalism. Unfortunately, CSV is global in outlook and geography-less. Its articulation of society is as broad and meaningless as the society of the globalised world. The focus of Africapitalism on Africa is a significant mark of distinction, and is a courageous aspiration to save geography (location and place) from the onslaught of globalisation. Nonetheless, it comes with its consequences, implications, and challenges. One of the challenges and implications is that Africa will be prioritised in economic/business decisions, even when that prioritisation does not necessarily meet the strict tenets of the global economic world order. For instance, the choice and decision to prioritise Africa should not necessarily be made on the basis of cost and profitability alone. In some cases, especially where the trade-offs are marginal and inconsequential, Africa could be prioritised against other economic geographies as a result of the pursuit of Africapitalism. While this appears as a laudable agenda on the surface, it will require a complementary mindset – i.e. Africonsciousness – to be realised and sustainable.

Capitalism has historically been regarded as a form of economic coordination with strong cultural influences and undertones. The European form of capitalism is different from the Anglo-Saxon variant. While the former is socially oriented, the latter is very economic in outlook and orientation. These varieties of capitalism are informed by distinct socio-cultural philosophies. The emergence of capitalism in China, for instance, has its peculiarities and uniqueness given the role of the State in furthering economic advancement. All these forms of capitalism are reflections of how the different societies have chosen to be organised. They are products of much deeper intellectual project. In other words, what are seen today as mere expressions of markets, are historical products of well-articulated socio-political philosophies. As such, Africapitalism needs to be founded on a robust philosophy and worldview. This philosophy and worldview will in-turn embody an Africa-consciousness. This consciousness will be a form of re-imagined Afrocentricism, which places the interests of Africa and her people at the epicentre of business decisions, and will guide Africa’s renaissance.

Africonsciousness is a socio-mental awareness of Africa and her people first as a continent and human beings with genuine needs, before being a market with viable consumers. The former is empowering and humane, and the latter is exploitative and dehumanising. The sudden characterisation of Africa as the last frontier of capitalism bears the hallmarks of the exploitative form of capitalism, which will not be good for the continent. Africonsciousness helps to neutralise the onslaught of globalisation and redirects the positive energy of capitalism in Africa to meeting genuine development needs of Africa and her people. Otherwise, Africapitalism without a strong philosophy behind it runs the risk of being hollow and ungrounded.

As much as Africapitalism is still work in progress, Mr Elumelu deserves the credit to pioneer its articulation. However, it now needs to be engaged as an intellectual project to enhance its robustness and application. The suggestion of Africonsciousness as a complementary business philosophy to Africapitalism is an attempt in that direction.

Amaeshi is an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, UK, a Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management, and a Visiting Professor at the Lagos Business School, Nigeria. He is also a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria


Poly-tricks, Belly Politics, and New Politics in Nigeria: Challenging the Status Quo?

June 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

Apparently, the battle in Nigeria today is between those who want to keep the status quo (the political dominance of a region and religion) at all cost, and those who want a new Nigeria where merit, hard work and opportunity for all will be the order of the day (irrespective of region and religion). The former is mere primordial sentiment, and the latter has a positive potential to be ideological. At the end, it comes across as a battle between what could be an ideology for a good Nigerian society and the emotional predisposition for self-destruction which have held us back since independence. Despite the visible tensions, both views are likely to form the battleground for the emergence of new politics in Nigeria. It will be definitely a battle between poly-tricks and sensible politics.

Many of those who parade themselves today in Nigeria as politicians do one thing extremely well: they whip up regional, ethnic, and religious sentiments for personal gains and ride on that wave. They do this because they have mastered the gullibility of the average Nigerian, which has become a collective problem. True to their nature as politicians of ‘poly tricks’, they will always be good at what they do best: gross deceit and unfathomable manipulation. They set us against each other. They achieve their personal selfish goals of power acquisition. The status quo of stagnation remains. Nigeria continues to suffer from ineptitude. We moan and die. They dance on our graves.

As 2015 approaches, the politrickians have started their games. Posturing and pretending to be super heroes – grand defendants of the masses and their regional interests. They have started fanning the embers of regional hatred across the ethnic groups – North, South, East and West. This could be seen from many current happenings in the polity – from the Nigerian Governance Forum (NGF) debacle to the clamour for the return of power to the proverbial and imaginary “Northern Nigeria”. Selfishness is present in all these political intrigues and manoeuvring. What is obviously absent is a genuine sense of national patriotism and common good. Despite their attempts to hide their selfish interests through packaging them as regional or religious interests, they manifest as primordial and unenlightened quest for naked power. This is in no way surprising given that enlightenment is a rare commodity in a country ravaged by poverty of the mind, brute craze for all things material, and obnoxious level of ignorance. The politrickians understand this too, and work effortlessly to use it to their benefits at our collective expense.

The period before 2015 and its madness presents an opportunity for us to sit back and think carefully before the politrickians run us over in their usual style. The power is with us and not with them. They know this too. That’s why they do all they can to sway us to vote for them even when they know very well that they do not have our interests at heart. Sieve through their messages with more care and rigour. Do not be in a haste to form an opinion. Remember the difference between a politrickian and a chameleon is very negligible. When they come with their sweet tongues and deep pockets, it will be sensible to always explore what their vision for Nigeria and the Nigerian society in Africa and in the World is, and how they think we can achieve it. This is new politics! Avoid engaging with them on the basis of where they are from and the God they believe in, for they are usually rootless and godless. The very few among them who are sensible and civilised may not have very deep pockets; it is our duty to discern these people and support them. They may not be as loud as the majority; they will need our collective voice to trump the mighty in our land who have held us hostage in similar patterns and styles characterised by deep seated corruption and underdevelopment. Again, this is new politics!

All things being equal, 2015 is a year of battle between the politrickians and the Nigerian people. They have started their games of deceit and divide and rule in earnest – playing one group against the other. Let’s not fall for their antics or allow ourselves to be sucked into their unpatriotic and destructive powers. Let’s unite, stand up to, fight, and defeat the politrickians in 2015. If you are still at sea about who the politrickians are, they only fly flags of two shades: ethnic and religious sentiments. With a close eye on these, you will not miss them despite their adeptness in portraying their selfish goals as common goods. They will never present a clear and practical ideology of Nigeria as a good society, which is quintessentially new politics.

The battle line is drawn. Spread the message. By their fruits we shall know them, and victory shall be ours if we put Nigeria first in all things.

Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria, and an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy and International Business at the University of Edinburgh, and a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School.

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