Paint a Canvas of Africa

I really wish I knew how to draw/paint; I’ve always dreamed of one day being able to pick up a paint brush and getting lost in colour, textures and emotion. Maybe it’s a block, maybe it’s not, but for now I’ll settle with knowing how to draw stick people, stick flowers, stick mountains and stick cars. I am constantly in awe of people who have the talent.

There’s something about art, music and words that draws us closer to God, nature, to our essence of being human and strips us to our basics. They make us authentic. Think about that love song that once made you cry, smile or laugh. Or the words of a friend, or from religious scripture that gave you courage and hope. There so many examples to pick from.

Stephen Covey in his renowned book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People reminds us that the creative process is one of the most, if not the most terrifying part of being human because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don’t know what new dangers and challenges you’ll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, discovery, and creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness.

Creativity is indeed the God-force extending itself through us and to us; the artist is the channel. Art evokes emotion, one gets lost in its dimensions and finds themselves again.

There’s an art piece that does just that for me. ‘Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies’ by Wangechi Mutu.

This piece grapples with the sensitive topic of female oppression and the need for women’s empowerment to achieve our development goals as a continent.

Ms. Mutu has kept the story of the female at the centre of this piece and it’s a reminder that women and girls are the backbone of society. Through this piece of art she depicts women’s ‘bodies’ as the place where various social hierarchies are inscribed and as the place most vulnerable to change social norms; transforming them for the better. It attempts to break down the barriers that stifle progress in society.

This piece depicts a man, woman and monkey on top of each other doing a risky balancing act. The man is crouched down with his head facing up, feet firmly perched on the grass and mouth ajar expectant of the woman to meet his needs. While the woman on the other hand is above him bending over backward as if to reach his mouth but her arms are being held back by the monkey.

The woman bending over backwards is a reminder of female oppression which continues to engulf the African society today. This same woman who is expected to meet the man’s needs is being held back by tradition. The blood splotches portray to me the effect of a relationship rooted in abuse.

Dear readers, talks on gender equality is not noise. If one looks at the richest nations in this world, particularly if we zero in on the Nordic countries, one will realize that they have cemented the fact that achieving gender equality is not idealistic when improving society; it’s mandatory and they have kept their aspirations on this lofty. I encourage you to do a study and one of the things you’ll realize is that the development institutions in these countries report to the gender and finance Ministers. Closer to home, have a look at Rwanda, the country that holds the no. 1 position in the global ranking of women in parliament.There’s nothing obscure on why these strong economies do so.

Where women are given equal opportunities they make a real and lasting difference for everyone. Too many studies have been done and the results have indicated the same thing, when you invest in women, you invest in generations; women invest back in their families 90% of their income, men 30%. This is not about power play, it’s about interdependence.

This piece continues to challenge me especially when thinking about the current state of affairs in Africa, and the changes that need to be made for effective and sustainable development.

Which creative piece does this for you?

Marxism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa: Letter from Thysville Prison to Mrs. Lumumba

My dear wife,

I am writing these words to you, not knowing whether they will ever reach you, or whether I shall be alive when you read them.

Throughout my struggle for the independence of our country I have never doubted the victory of our sacred cause, to which I and my comrades have dedicated all our lives.

But the only thing which we wanted for our country is the right to a worthy life, to dignity without pretence, to independence without restrictions.

This was never the desire of the Belgian colonialists and their Western allies, who received, direct or indirect, open or concealed, support from some highly placed officials of the United Nations, the body upon which we placed all our hope when we appealed to it for help.

They seduced some of our compatriots, bought others and did everything to distort the truth and smear our independence.

What I can say is this—alive or dead, free or in jail—it is not a question of me personally.

The main thing is the Congo, our unhappy people, whose independence is being trampled upon.

That is why they have shut us away in prison and why they keep us far away from the people. But my faith remains indestructible.

I know and feel deep in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of their internal and external enemies, that they will rise up as one in order to say ‘No’ to colonialism, to brazen, dying colonialism, in order to win their dignity in a clean land.

We are not alone. Africa, Asia, the free peoples and the peoples fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world will always be side by side with the millions of Congolese who will not give up the struggle while there is even one colonialist or colonialist mercenary in our country.

To my sons, whom I am leaving and whom, perhaps, I shall not see again, I want to say that the future of the Congo is splendid and that I expect from them, as from every Congolese, the fulfilment of the sacred task of restoring our independence and our sovereignty.

Without dignity there is no freedom, without justice there is no dignity and without independence there are no free men.

Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me.

The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations.

It will be the history which will be taught in the countries which have won freedom from colonialism and its puppets.

Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.

Do not weep for me. I know that my tormented country will be able to defend its freedom and its independence.

Long live the Congo!

Long live Africa!

Thysville prison


The Growth-Governance Paradox in Africa

By Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance

The essential features of Africa’s Growth-Governance Paradox were delineated in 1990 by scholar Jeffrey Herbst. Economic reform programs prescribed by international financial institutions, often called structural adjustment, were premised on reducing the distributional role of the state and maximizing the play of market forces. Herbst noted a contradiction: governing regimes were being encouraged to alter the clientelistic political systems on which their power rested.1

A quarter-century later, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced the most continuous period of economic growth since the 1950s and 1960s. What explains this development: high commodity prices, economic liberalization, better governance and democratization? Some development economists, such as Mushtaq Khan, do not see the necessity of implementing the full “good governance agenda” to achieve a turnaround in economic performance. A theoretical framework, “developmental patrimonialism”, has also been advanced by a group of Africa experts to explain authoritarian modernization in a few countries.

Blending qualitative and quantitative analyses, Pierre Englebert and Gailyn Portelance move beyond competing analyses. They inquire why relatively small changes in governance in a group of African countries called “developers” (in contrast to “laggards”) has had such a disproportionate impact on economic performance, and notably in attracting foreign direct investment. Their preliminary report and key hypothesis warrant careful study by scholars, policy analysts, and domestic and external investors.2 It can precipitate a wave of incisive research and better understanding of the political economy of contemporary Africa.


Over the last year and a half, we have been involved in a research project that addresses some of the questions that have also been central to AfricaPlus since its founding.3. In this contribution we summarize our progress and offer the main hypothesis that our research has generated so far.

We address two central questions. First, is the economic growth of resource-poor African countries linked to improvements in their economic governance? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, what is the political rationality of such governance improvements? Interestingly, as this research note will hopefully make clear, the answer we found to the first question significantly altered the nature of the second question.

A few words of clarification. By economic governance we refer to both rule-of-law type governance (e.g., property rights and corruption) and state or bureaucratic capabilities, or what Mushtaq Khan calls “market-enhancing” and “growth-enhancing” governance.4 The political rationality question addresses what struck us as a potential contradiction between governance-based explanations of African growth and the general understanding of Africa’s previous stagnation as the result of neopatrimonial politics.5 If African politics is based on a neopatrimonial logic of instrumentalization of the state and its resources for political benefit, how can it produce governance improvements without rulers committing political suicide? Did something change in the nature of politics in some African countries that suddenly made such improvements politically feasible? This is an important question because its answer might challenge our understanding of African politics.

There has been significant innovative scholarship on these very questions over the last few years. Some authors have suggested that the political transformation of the early 1990s have been sufficient to usher in a greater degree of institutional accountability and, with it, more responsive governance.6 Others have called our attention to the wide variation in the extent of neopatrimonialism in Africa with the result that some regimes have been able to shape more developmental governance.7 More recent contributions in the same vein have suggested that special features of neopatrimonialism can make a difference. Particularly when regimes can concentrate rents and develop longer time horizons, neopatrimonialism can be developmental.8 Finally, some recent contributions argue that clientelism in and of itself is universal and not inimical to better governance, provided existing political arrangements, and particularly alliances between political and business elites, share a commitment to growth.9

Much of this work has focused on a few case studies of apparent developmental success stories such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, or successful moments in other countries such as the 1960-75 period in Côte d’Ivoire or the 1964-78 period in Malawi. Ethiopia and Rwanda, particularly, have figured centrally in the discussion of the possibility of developmental statehood in Africa, with the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi making no secret of the ambitions of his regime in this respect.10 These two countries are, however, in some fundamental ways continental outliers, not least because of their very unique security situations. Having learned a lot from their experiences, we were nevertheless eager to go beyond these specific case studies and try to identify more aggregate patterns, since many more African countries have experienced significant growth.


Methodologically, we have limited ourselves to resource-poor countries in order to control for the widespread commodity boom which is responsible for much of the continent’s recent performance. We first ranked all African economies by their rate of per capita economic growth from 2000 to 2013. We then excluded those that derived more than 10% of their GDP from mineral rents. From the remaining countries we selected two “most different” samples: one including the ten fastest growing countries and the other the ten slowest growing. The first group, which we call the “developers,” includes Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, and averages 5.33% growth.11 The second group—the “laggards”—comprises Burundi, the Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Malawi, Togo and Zimbabwe, with a collective growth performance of -0.45%. A visual inspection of their divergent growth trajectories suggests the need for some explanation.

Line graph of per capita gdp in developers and laggards

Our next step was to ask whether similar differences are observable between these two groups in the realm of governance. Using raw scores from the Mo Ibrahim Index which seemed more reliable that the usual World Bank aggregate governance indicators,12 we do indeed observe statistically significant variations in some rule-of-law and capacity-type indicators of economic governance.

Table comparing laggards and developers on indicators of state capacity and rule of law with data from the mo ibrahim index

However, once we looked more carefully at these differences, we observed that they were constant and rather limited in absolute terms except, interestlingly, for bureaucracy and red tape . In other words, for the whole period of time for which the Mo Ibrahim Index has data, these two groups of countries display steady but usually limited differences in governance quality, in contrast to their increasingly divergent economic performance. The graph below illustrates this point with the example of one variable but the same pattern applies to the others. Note that the performance of the developers remains below the mid-point of possible values, suggesting that while governance is better in these countries, it is still not good, an important point to which we return later.13

line graph of accountability and corruption in the public sector of laggards and developers

This observation led us to ask when this difference in governance began. Were developers always better than laggards or did they undergo some change in the quality of their governance at some point before 2000. If the difference was always there, then governance might not have much to do with the growth difference between our countries. But if a separation took place at some point before 2000, then it might be related to the increased growth divergence over the same period and it might point to a specific event or set of events that could help us explain the changes.

Because the Ibrahim data do not precede 2000, we switched to another source, the Inter-Country Risk Guide (ICRG) from Political Risk Service. While ICRG data are available from the mid-1980s, the indicators are not exactly similar to the Ibrahim variables. Moreover, there are no observations for Cape Verde, Lesotho and Rwanda among the developers, and for Burundi, Comoros and Eritrea among the laggards.

Nevertheless, working with what we have and aggregating three different relevant ICRG variables (bureaucratic quality, law and order, and corruption), we found that there was indeed a moment in the first half of the 1990s when developers (which were performing worse than laggards at first) overtook the laggards in terms of governance quality, as the graph below indicates. Both groups then sagged in the second part of the 1990s before stabilizing at fairly constant distance from each other as also indicated by the Ibrahim data.

line graph of icgr triple governance compound for developers and laggards

The two main findings are as follows: First, there is a specific moment when differentiation takes place instead of a permanent difference or continuous governance improvements for developers; and second, the performance of developers is good relative to laggards but still below the mid-point in terms of absolute value – in contrast to their growth which is fast in absolute terms. This performance is a far cry from developmental statehood.


To what extent does current work on Africa’s growth and governance help us make sense of these patterns in our data? At this stage of the research, we can provide only preliminary and tentative answers to this question. We look here briefly at the apparent merits of three types of argument: the role of democracy, developmental patrimonialism, and the possible effects of security dilemmas. We then move on to explore a new hypothesis which emerged from the data.

The most obvious correlation in the time trends is between improvements in governance and the democratization of the early 1990s. This pattern might support the hypothesis that democratization brought about these improvements . The graph below, using Freedom House ‘s inverted scale, shows indeed that laggards are more uniformly non-democratic than developers.

Box plot of Freedom House Political Rights in developing and laggard countries

There is no shortage of theories as to why this would be the case. Peter Lewis has written of the “elective affinity” between political and economic freedoms, of the greater accountability of democratic regimes to demands for better governance (a claim also made by Steven Radelet), and of the greater political voice of business communities in democratic regimes.14 Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle also argued almost 20 years ago that democratization in Africa proceeded from economic grievances; and Peter Lewis reminds us that we should not be surprised to see economic agendas at the core of democratic regimes.15 Ann Pitcher’s latest book, although focusing on privatizations more than overall governance, nevertheless makes the applicable argument that the more enforceable commitments of democratic regimes might provide some degree of explanation.16

However, the box-plot diagram above also indicates that developers are far from being uniformly democratic (actually, Ethiopia and Rwanda are two of the top three fastest growers). Booth and Cammack have also rather compellingly argued that development is less a principal-agent matter of accountability than one of collective action.17Moreover, while there is consistency in the democratic and governance transformations of the early 1990s, that does not necessarily mean that the former triggered the latter. Both might have been the effect of some other factor.

The developmental patrimonialism argument suggests that centralization of rents, long-term horizons and pro-active industrial policy are the hallmarks of developmental regimes in Africa.18 While this model matches Ethiopia and Rwanda fairly well, it is more of a stretch for the other developers in our sample, all of which are closer to the “competitive clientelism” model. The latter, however, is considered inimical to developmental governance. Even the likes of Ghana, Mozambique or Tanzania show relatively little of the proactive control that a developmental state is expected to exert over the economy. And a recent paper by Henning Melber calls the Namibian state “incompetent” rather than developmental.19 It seems to us therefore that the threshold provided by this theory is too high for explaining growth and development in most of Africa.

Finally, there is a convincing argument, mostly elaborated in the context of some Asian states, that security threats discipline states into being developmental.20 Again, this argument matches well the conditions of Ethiopia and Rwanda where minority regimes issued from violent conflicts rely on development to generate the legitimacy they need to survive. But, it is once again less of a match with the rest of the sample, although we note that there are a few post-conflict states in our group, including Mozambique, Uganda, and Namibia, but these regimes have not recently faced an existential threat. However, we could see some post-conflict rebound in our data, or maybe the reflection of more structural changes brought about by such violent crises. In the same vein, it is worth noting that there is a large number of post-socialist countries in our “developers” group.


While all these theories contain powerful explanatory elements, our data point us towards an additional albeit tentative hypothesis. What bothered us, to some extent, were the high thresholds of state behavior projected by the democratic, developmental-patrimonialism, and security theories. We did not see such transformed or transformative behavior in most of our “developers.” Rather, we saw minimal, almost baby-steps of enhanced governance somehow matched by large improvement in growth. It seemed that a more modest theory was needed to make sense of the economic turnaround in these countries, but one that could also make sense of the large effects of small changes.

We were also intrigued by the behavior of another variable that matched the growth performance of our two groups fairly well: Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). As the graph below suggests, our “developers” have been the recipients of significant and exponentially rising amounts of FDI, quite in contrast to the nearly flat line of “laggards.”

line graph of FDI net inflows in developers and laggards

We wonder to what extent “developers” might be engaged in a signaling exercise aimed at foreign capital. Maybe small but noticeable governance changes, in their bureaucracies and institutions, have been sufficient over the last decade or so to attract large flows of FDI, especially if such changes contrast with the countries that have not introduced them. In an era of low interest rates, these small changes might have been enough to mitigate the perception of risk investors associate with Africa. Their investments might be in some early stages of manufacturing or in the provision of goods and services for African consumers. They can also tap the more limited but still substantial export commodities of some of these countries, particularly agricultural, and they might represent exploration costs in mineral or energy sectors (as in Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia or Tanzania).

Interestingly, such marginal changes would be quite possible without any fundamental political restructuring and would thus be compatible with the continuation of neopatrimonial practices. By and large, a different regime can be applied to foreign investors than exists for domestic actors. “One-stop shops” and other efficiency islands can be developed to reduce transaction costs for foreign investors and improve the ease of doing business, while prebendal and neopatrimonial logics persist in other state institutions.

Such an approach would reproduce the signaling practices of many African countries towards donors. Matt Andrews has shown that a few easy and relatively costless steps are usually taken to get the aid flowing before reforms actually stall.21 It would also be consistent with the “partial reform syndrome” that has been prevalent on the continent.22 More importantly, it would not require any significant changes to neopatrimonial practices (nor much institutional or policy capacity), as it would essentially bifurcate the institutional environment, making governance improvements in some sectors largely aimed at foreigners, while maintaining the same neopatrimonial logic for the rest of the state (and using some of the resources derived from the foreign sector to feed redistribution in the domestic one).

In this respect, the similarity between the logic and timing of governance and democratic reforms might not be particularly causal. They might both derive, on average, from the same signaling logic and might both preserve in the end, rather than reform, neopatrimonialism.

Although it must be emphasized that this hypothesis is at a preliminary stage, the combined data from both groups of countries is consistent with such a signaling argument. As we mentioned earlier, and the two graphs below illustrate, “developers” do not perform particularly well in absolute value. However, once countries pass a minimal threshold of differentiation with the performance of “laggards”, there is a visible FDI response.

Scatter plot of FDI and control of corruption for sample countries

Scatter plot of FDI and bureaucratic quality for sample countries

In conclusion, we suspect that the economic turnaround in Africa’s resource-poor countries might derive from marginal and politically affordable governance changes largely geared towards attracting FDI without undermining the redistributive logic of domestic politics. If this hypothesis turns out to be accurate, then such strategies might be tested by likely changes in monetary policy in the West which could affect the cost-benefit calculus of investors.

Once again, our findings are preliminary and we offer them in the hope of contributing to discussions of this important topic. In summarizing our findings here, we have glossed over some nuances and variations. The next stage of this research will involve refining the quantitative work, breaking down the nature and sectors of foreign direct investments, developing qualitative narratives of governance reforms in “developers” to further examine the signaling hypothesis, and implementing other useful suggestions that readers of this blog will be kind enough to share with us.


  1. “The Political Adjustment of Politics in Africa,” World Development, 18, 7 (1990).
  2. The full title of the draft paper from which this essay is derived is ‘Small steps for Governance but a Giant Leap for Development? The Politics of Growth in Resource-Poor African Countries’. Some of these preliminary findings were presented at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, this past November.
  3. For example, see and
  4. Mushtaq Khan. “Governance and Growth: History, Ideology, and Methods of Proof.” In Akbar Noman et al (eds.). Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Development Strategies. Oxford University Press, 2012, 51-79.
  5. E.g., Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle. Democratic Experiments in Africa.Cambridge University Press, 1997; Richard Joseph. Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria. Cambridge University Press, 1987; Richard Sandbrook, “The State and Economic Stagnation in Tropical Africa.” World Development, 1986, 14(3): 319-332.
  6. Steven Radelet. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way.Washington, DC: Center for Global Development, 2010; Peter Lewis. “Democracy and Economic Performance.” In Ellen Lust and Stephen Ndegwa (eds.). Governing Arica’s Changing Societies: Dynamics of Reform. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012, 45-72.
  7. Ann Pitcher, Mary Moran and Michael Johnston. “Rethinking Patrimonialism and Neopatrimonialism in Africa,” African Studies Review, 2009, 52(1):125-156; Daniel Bach and Mamoudou Gazibo. Neopatrimonialism in Africa and Beyond.London: Routledge, 2012.
  8. Tim Kelsall. Business, Politics and the State in Africa. London: Zed Books 2013; Booth, David and Fred Golooba-Mutebi. “Developmental Patrimonialism? The Case of Rwanda.” African Affairs, July 2012, 111(444): 379-403.
  9. Hazel Gray and Lindsay Whitfield. “Reframing African Political Economy: Clientelism, Rents and Accumulation as Drivers of Capitalist Transformation.” London School of Economics: Working Paper Series 14-159, October 2014.
  10. Meles Zenawi. “States and Markets: Neoliberal Limitations and the Case for a Developmental State.” In Noman et al. op.cit., 140-174.
  11. We did not include Liberia because of the role of donors in its economic performance, which has disconnected policy choices from domestic political realities. See Amos Sawyer. “Emerging Patterns in Liberia’s Post-Conflict Politics,”African Affairs, 2008, 107(427):180; and Radelet, op.cit., 7.
  12. The index starts in 2000, but not all indicators have data for every year. We average data for available years.
  13. Ibrahim extrapolates this indicator backwards from 2006 to 2000, hence the straight line over that period, but the trend is similar for those that have actual data going back to 2000.
  14. Peter Lewis, op.cit., 47-48; Radelet, op.cit.
  15. Bratton and van de Walle, op.cit.; Lewis, op. cit.
  16. Anne Pitcher. Party Politics and Economic Reform in Africa’s Democracies.Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  17. David Booth and Diana Cammack. Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems. London: Zed Books, 2013.
  18. Kelsall, op.cit., inspired by the work of Khan.
  19. Henning Melber, “The Namibian State of Development: Evidence for a Developmental State?” Paper presented at the 2014 meeting of the African Studies Association, Indianapolis, Indiana.
  20. Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie and Dan Slater. “Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective,” International Organization, 2005, 59, 327-361.
  21. Matt Andrews. The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development: Changing Rules for Realistic Solutions. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  22. Nicolas van de Walle. African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 1979-1999. Cambridge University Press.

Article cross posted from

Is the African Union needed?

The African Union summit in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, ended on Saturday with delegates from more than 50 member states attending.

The plan was to discuss gender equality and sustainable development across Africa. But the African Union’s overall purpose is much wider.

Its goal is to protect human rights, defend African positions on international issues, and bring the continent together on social and economic topics.

But has the African Union been up to the job? Can it still help Africans?

Presenter: Sami Zeidan


Michael Amoah – Research associate with the Centre of African Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Thembisa Fakude – Researcher at the Al Jazeera centre for studies.

Dismas Mokua – Deputy president of Africa Axis, a consultancy focused on doing business in Africa.

Erastus Mwencha – Deputy chairman of the African Union.

Source: Al Jazeera

A Word On Innovation From The World Economic Forum 2015

The movie ‘The Last Samurai’ comes to mind. The armies of the forefathers were far more equipped strategically to deal with matters of war and this certainly did not rest on the battalion numbers and equipment. One of the lessons from that movie. . .be careful who you think you can govern. Heritage takes precedence over everything.

Turn on CNN and you’ll find the news as it is….sometimes exaggerated; there’s very little good news at the moment. The current state of the world is at a point of strained cadence. Globally and geographically the world may have seemed flat, but economies are overwrought. This is accentuated by the fact that companies and governments alike seek sustainable solutions to “do more with less.” Certain natural resources are no longer plentiful for various reasons, food is simply scarce because most of it is wasted. Populations and urbanization continue to rise due to employment centralization and the snail’s pace of infrastructure development to accelerate economic activities in stagnant areas.This is a resident nuance in Africa.

Today however, the world is looking to emerging markets, particularly Africa. They have their eyes set on us. Let us remember that while CEO’s at the WEF 2015 stated that technology is great for learning in Africa, who of them reported this as part of their annual results linked to profit margins? Technology companies are profit driven and invest in profit driven growth.

Pic credit:

In droves they come, setting up shop as multinational companies. Included in their suitcases are an array of experiences and skills that have been tried and tested in developed economies. Soon enough they realize that more challenges and risks exist rather than opportunities – if not managed well.

“Innovation for us is coming from emerging markets… All the great ideas are coming from the outside” – Coca cola CEO

If these investors do not have a ‘pack’ case full of effective methods and behavioral studies that satisfy the needs of local markets that liquesce into local communities, environments and cultures, they will not achieve success.

German engineer Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered automobile without knowing that he had not just created an engine with wheels but stirred a revolution of inventions. For generations to come, he set the chain-ring in motion for an industry that revolutionized the way in which society was structured, and it has evolved ever since. Similarly, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee had not just built the world’s first Web site, he became Alexander the Great because of what we now know today as the World Wide Web. As with many inventors they unselfishly and not through ignorance, ignored the impact of that which we enjoy today.

There are four critical elements to note that will guide us when it comes to innovation in Africa going forward.

The first is ethical compass: the world is riding a wave of super waves from economic growth in places such as Africa.

Frankly speaking,we still have a large uneducated population who seek the ability to “consumerise” and not make financial decisions that would impact sustainable livelihoods. This is the continued theme of the Africa Progress Panel; to slow and ultimately halt corruption being channeled through illicit outflows. We have the multinational CEO’s who use these opportunities to take advantage. This is how it plays out. Corruption is pointedly carried out in sovereign countries by their respective officials and it is then that money that is shifted to tax havens by multinationals. This subsequently stunts innovation. How? Through lack of investments in local economies and research for African solutions; Africa is losing out as a continent.

Innovation must have a moral compass. Innovation must initially rectify and advance life in Africa and then serve as an economic export. The CEO of Coca-Cola recognizes this, he reiterates that if it is African then Africa must reap the financial rewards and hold the intellectual property rights.

Secondly, sustainable innovation: according to the WEF 2015 report; Most consumers in emerging markets desire and prefer products which are cost effective and that enhance innovative functionalities. Therefore, finding the optimal balance between innovation and cost is one of the most significant elements of driving sustainable innovation.This is also an essential dynamic to gain customers and achieve sustainable growth in emerging markets.

Nonetheless, there is some level of disagreement here. Innovation functionality must solve a problem from the perspective of the African consumer. No longer based on the notion of limited resources, can we invest only in consumerism? Innovation resources must have a source. If this source is in Africa, what are the sustainable impacts given the lagging stages of development on the continent? We have to think much deeper.

Thirdly, speed to market via infrastructure: at an average growth rate of over 5 percent in most African countries, sustainability is an acute question. If we measure the cost to benefit ratio of a smartphone to the majority of consumers in Africa, cost will top actual productive use and household affordability.

“If we can extend [the internet] to more people, we increase voice… we increase economic opportunity… and we increase equality.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA

If we investigate the number of internet users from the 400 million smartphone users, can we honestly say that there is an impact on improved quality of life? Again, this may be creating room for understanding or misunderstanding the playing field in new markets. Despite an increase in growth, there can be the possible dangerous misconception of linking investment and population poverty to economic mainstream conversion and migration alike.

In the current form, speed of delivery of innovation must meet speed of infrastructure innovation. Plug the annual $40 billion infrastructure funding gap and let’s get the ball rolling.

Fourth, Meet the Local Partner: ideally there should be qualified local partners who can meet the expectations of handling major investments. This is ideal to enable investors to integrate well into local geographies as well as provide the know-how on navigating local markets.

If we go back to the history of the industrial revolution, specifically the depictions of economic progress, we find that there existed many economic models that tested negative.

Thus, the stories being put forward on innovation in Africa are to some extent ignoring the fundamental narratives of the African people, history and status quo.

I have browsed most quotes on innovation from the the internet and from the WEF 2015, a body and gathering that I hold in high regard; I find that there is a deficit in research, particularly on Africa and emerging markets; the research is more steered to making innovation of European and US based technologies available to African consumers.

In a world where the US and Europe are lagging in growth and emerging markets continue to receive the bottom of the shoe coverage irrespective of the fact that their markets have the greatest growth and prospects for investment, one wonders who to listen to.

We need change and the Chair of the WEF ought to take cognizance that African CEO’s who have built billion dollar companies across the continent should be the ones steering thought leadership.Or maybe, just maybe, innovation should start with sufficient and quality media coverage which showcases African’s skills and talent; a people with a history of storytelling well.

Article originally posted on Ventures Africa

Story by Elton

(Edited here)

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