Opinion

Struggle for economic independence: a bright continent with dark brains!

By: Ben Patrick

The sleeping giant should wake up otherwise it will die in its sleep. With a Continental Free Trade Area potential of USD4 trillion, Africa is still poor. Africa accounts for 75% global cocoa production yet reaps only 2% of the USD100 billion annual market of chocolate.

Africa only accounts for 1.9% of global value added in manufacturing with exports accounting for about 7% of Africa’s total economic output. Africa’s annual food import is $35 billion, estimated to rise to USD110 billion by 2025 and yet 60% of global agricultural land is in Africa.

Africa loses over USD60 billion a year in illegal outflows and price manipulation in the extraction of minerals, with most of the proceeds going offshore. In 2016, UAE imported about USD15 billion worth of gold from Africa. The sad part is that most of it was not recorded in the exports of African states.

That we are independent is an illusion, it has never happened. We are witnessing the worst form of colonialism because it is mental, economic and a clever extension of the political colonialism of the past decades. One of the tools used to achieve this is the manipulation of our education system, which has redefined civilization, stifled our production capacity and orientation, leaving us economically vulnerable and dependent on them, thereby perpetuating unequal relations in all spheres of life.

Where a $1m comes into African in the form of aid, $1b goes away in the form of poorly taxed foreign investments or projects executed by foreign companies. We are labeled corrupt but they allow our people to hide ill-gotten wealth in foreign accounts and they use it to develop their nations while pumping small bits of the same money back in Africa funding governance projects aimed at fighting corruption? Such are the double standards we are faced with. The objective of this article is not to pick fights, let me narrow down my discussion to education system.

As we continue searching for development, we have to look no further than restructuring the education system amongst the initial basic fundamentals we need to rework. Our current education system is at the center of the mess we find ourselves in. It is more of a problem than a solution. It is more of a colonial trap than a route to economic emancipation. We are not trained to produce but we are trained to work for producers who happen to be foreign as capital and means of production are either controlled directly by them or their agents. What is worse is that we are trained not to see this problem.

Our education system is run by educated people who do not see this problem and the need for change. They left us with an education system which does not teach us to innovate, explore and create solutions to our challenges and produce things we need. We are trained to work for them, earn money by working for them and spend almost all of it buying from them as they are the producers. In the end we continue on the path of poverty, remain dependent on them, hooked up by huge debt as they exploit our natural resources with impunity and ironically we end up borrowing the same money raised from our resources.

While Chinese students produce electronic gadgets we use and the clothes we wear, our students spend seven/eight years learning old/current affairs, another 6 or 3 years learning European history and then go to university where they gross over things that should be very important in three-month long compressed and packed semesters. We end up with planners. Most of our engineers cannot produce, they graduate as planners ready to work for foreign firms. Our agricultural students do not produce anything. They spend their compressed semesters grossing over soil and crop science only to go and sit in offices where they cannot interact with farmers due to lack of funding. Most of our students end up doing business courses and social sciences ready to work as sales representatives and clerks for foreign firms with a few getting into government to cement bureaucratic structures and systems.

The little they are paid is spent on foreign products as we remain heavily dependent on imports. In the end we keep singing job creation, which is driven by foreigners who are employing more technology intensive means of production, cutting down on costs including labour. What we hope to increase is what they hope to reduce, clearly contrasting objectives.

Our education system should be upgraded if not overhauled to transform tertiary institutions into production units. These have to be highly regulated to ensure quality. From early grades, students should be trained in entrepreneurship, innovation, creative thinking and build a stronghold foundation in things relevant to our needs. At tertiary level, students should be learning while doing or learning and doing.

When we start using universities to contribute to national production, they will not only become self-sustained but also earn us revenue. Can the faculties of engineering fail to work with government on some projects and apply their expertise?  We have planners and engineers being trained in these universities. We can mine, process and produce fine products.

We have enough land and water for agricultural students to produce enough for the domestic market and for export. Why don’t we make agricultural-related courses in these universities practical? Universities should run huge farms and production industries where they can apply their expertise.

We have close to 150 million people in DR Congo and other neighbouring countries that have perpetual food shortages. With support of agriculture students we should be producing and exporting 7 million metric tons of cereal crops and finished products?

We have enough resources for engineering students to work on sustainable energy solutions. We need more local players in the energy sector. Why aren’t we tapping the huge potential that lies in our universities to come up with innovative projects? 

Infrastructural developments. Faculties of civil engineering and built sciences should be doing most of the infrastructural projects.

We need a paradigm shift and there is no better time than now.

Ben Patrick is the Senior Consultant and Cofounder of ShimaHR Consultants Limited.

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