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African voices

February 11, 2011
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Short article here on how Nigerian artistes used their star power to “hype” civic awareness rather than their next single, video or live performance.

Through Twitter, Eldeethedon, one of several musicians, urged people to “be the change” and Register Select Vote Protect.

More than (5000) five thousand young Nigerians were said to have been followed by Eldee in the course of the voter registration exercise.

 

Not quite sure “levels have changed” until the last three parts of RSVP are concluded. Keeping expectations up till April will be a drag. What’s clear, however, is a new sense of Nigerianness — a vacuum being filled by musicians, sport persons and writers — is on the rise.

It’s part of our search for identity. Manthia Diawara, New York-based professor of African film and comparative literature, recently pointed out at the iREPRESENT (iREP) International Documentary Film Festival that:

Africa’s hip-hop stars are erasing a continent’s artificial borders

Will this generation of artistes help Africa find its voice, after slave trade, colonialism and bad leadership have wrecked havoc on our self-confidence? Prof Diawara thinks so.

Africa’s hip-hop stars sing and rap of one Africa. They are becoming role models. (Have you seen BBC Focus on Africa’s 50 African icons? A mix-bag of politicians, artistes, writers and sport personalities. Of the lot, Agbani Darego is the youngest! And there’s not one single entrepreneur/business person.)

African visual artistes: movie and documentary directors, can help tell Africa’s story. The danger of a single story told by western media does more harm than good. The Malian professor also decried the absence of African public intellectuals. We’ve become insular:

Malian problems are now Malian problems alone; Nigerian problems are now Nigerian problems not necessarily those of other African countries as well. Media from outside the continent like the BBC, VOA and Reuters now tell us what we need to hear about Africa, they set the agenda for us about public affairs. This has caused the problem of alienation for Africans.

Things are changing. “I’m waiting” a song from Ade Bantu‘s new album “No man stands alone” is also a soundtrack for the upcoming movie “Relentless” starring Nneka with a cameo by Ade Bantu. See the video courtesy of Next.

What’s the business of business?

January 12, 2011
Map of Nigeria

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There’s a push by companies to “do well, by doing good”.  Sunil Mittal, the CEO of Airtel reckons doing social good is wired into his company’s DNA (thanks for unleashing the mobile-phone price war and widerrrr coverrrage in Naija).  Mr Mital also argues for a reduction in the tax telcos pay. Hmm.

Kiva, a microfinance institution, was profiled in a new book “Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.” (read a review here).  Chevron has an ongoing campaign with slogans like “Big oil should support small business. We agree”. IBM Corporate Service Corps is an initiative that mimics the Peace Corps (see story here). Its best and brightest are signing up to serve in Africa and Asia.

Nonetheless, I hold a strong opinion that the first CSR of local and multinational companies in emerging countries like Nigeria is toprovide jobs that pay living wages. There are not enough businesses in Nigeria. Focusing on “CSR projects” is cheap (see Companies aren’t charities).

If government does its bit: public investment in education and health, companies will eventually come round to genuine CSR work. Primarily because their staff will demand it and future employees will consider such things as a criteria for working there — companies will comply in order to attract and retain healthy and well-educated staff.

Jim O’Neill mints

December 14, 2010
Brics Flags

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Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, economist  and their rock starlooks at the global economy of 2036.

The man who coined the term Bric has, in my opinion, manufactured another acronym. In an interview with The Economist he speaks of MINTs ie, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey.

All four countries are part of Mr O’Neill’s next eleven (not bad for a football fan). In his view, the MINTs will be Bric-like in 20 years.  Nigeria’s chance being a long shot, but a likely surprise. If we sort out the usual suspects.

Going forward, look out for  for a potpourri of acronyms trying to capture the emerging, emerging markets of this world. Some see Eagles soaring where Civets fail to thread. Some others are piling Cement. Mind you there’s bric-a-brac (or if you wish Brici-a-Braca) about whether Indonesia or the African continent should join the club. South Africa is lobbying to be the “s” in Brics (How about Bricza or Bricsa?).  Yes sir!

We have takeoff

November 17, 2010
SVG file, it's recommended nominally 550×550 i...

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As Asia rises so will Africa. Thanks to the continent’s vast natural resource wealth. But is Africa, touted as the “last frontier”, ready? Several think-tanks, economists and global institutions are Afro-optimists. Private equity firms are cautiously bullish. They are wary of poor infrastructure and a limited pool of local talent. Yet, the facts tell a compelling story. According to Vox, a think-tank:

“economic performance in Africa improved strongly in the period from 2001 to 2008 after two decades of weak performance. Post-economic crisis, African countries have also benefited from the quick rebound in commodity prices, and their growth has been shored up by investments and trade with the emerging economies. A significant reduction in the debt burden for many countries, together with greater inflows of private capital and better macroeconomic management, means that the prospects for many African countries are better than they have been since the 1970s.”

That said, a negative perception persists.  Besides there are 52 countries in Africa. And thus, as many views. Add to that a $31 billion infrastructure deficit. Nevertheless, China and India have no qualms doing business in the region. Reuters reports that infrastructure* is “the next big move for China firms”. China’s president-in-waiting is on a tour of South Africa “for minerals and investment”.

Western economies and multilateral organisations don’t want to be left out. China’s no-string attached trade-focused foreign policy footprint is all over the continent. Winning the hearts and minds of African leaders (a good number with a knack for undemocratically holding onto power forever).

Though the World Bank’s performance on the continent got feeble rates in a recent test, it wants to play a role.  With a promo video and “political risk” insurance — in case of war, civil unrest or expropriation.  Fingers crossed.

*Little wonder. It’s part of the Seoul Consensus (see The G20 aftermath: The Delhi Consensus)

In Seoul, even as other emerging economies fretted about capital inflows, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, pointed out that many developing countries would benefit from additional foreign investment in infrastructure. In his vision of global rebalancing, surplus savings should be invested in the roads, ports and power plants of developing countries, rather than America’s Treasuries. Indeed, the G20 will try to drum up more money for infrastructure as part of what it called the Seoul Consensus.

Mobile marvels: Inform, involve and empower

November 17, 2010

The title isn’t original. It’s a mash-up of a special report by The Economist and the tag line of Ovi Life Tools by Nokia.  The prospects for developing countries are staggering (see table below).

Information and communication technologies can be a digital lifeline for the poor. The analysis in a report “Information Economy Report 2010” by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development:

“[D]raws on specific cases from around the world – for example (a) mobile vendors in the Gambia; (b) mobile money services in Afghanistan and Kenya; (c) “social outsourcing” in India; (d) ICT manufacturing in China; (e) animation services in Nepal; (f) village phone ladies in Bangladesh, Uganda and Ghana; (g) PC/Internet-related micro-enterprises in Nigeria; (h) ICT use by dairy farmers in Bhutan, onion growers in Ghana, fishermen in India, women weavers in Nigeria, farmers in the United Republic of Tanzania, and artisans in Viet Nam.”

Two press releases here and here summarise the rise of micro-enterprises and how mobile phones are a worthy tool in alleviating poverty. This report coupled with a soon to be published report on access to financial services in Nigeria by EFInA are a must read. Enjoy the video!

Conflict and corruption

November 16, 2010

Conflict and corruption are real threats to Nigeria. Because of our oil wealth, Nigeria needs institutions to check corruption and resolve unending conflicts.  Robert Calderisi reckons that it’s

“plain that institutions, policy, and individual effort [are] more important than money”

Ethnic conflicts, one explanation for Africa’s poor growth, adversely affect income, growth and economic policies. But identifying and understanding the strands and processes of identity mutation: ethnic, regional, religious and political, reveals what makes Nigeria so vulnerable.

In Nigeria, the roots of sectarian conflicts are often political and economic. The 1999 power-sharing agreement of the PDP somewhat neutered the issue of politicised religion. However, events of the past three years have questioned the effectiveness of this “grand compromise” of zoning.  The events before  Yar’Adua’s death confirmed that our democracy is a “sham”:

“The average Nigerian doesn’t mind who his or her president is – their main concern is that they are being beaten black and blue economically. They simply want a government that will provide decent services.”

In short, the compromise has not addressed Nigeria’s problems eg, good governance. The adoption of Sharia law by 12 northern states was a reaction to absence of the rule of law. But it was politicised.

The state is weak. Terms limits and constitutional checks and balances like the public procurement and fiscal responsibility act are necessary but insufficient to curb the untrammelled power of politicians. At most, they have reduced the incentives to implement bad policies. Recent constitutional amendments that make the judiciary, electoral body and legislature financially independent are welcome. More is needed.

Take two pending essential bills: the freedom of information and the anti-money laundering bills. Both will further enshrine accountability. Nigeria’s democracy is expensive. Ongoing banking reforms have denied politicians that relied on bank loans to fund their campaigns. Banks are now required to report large movements of cash by “politically exposed people”.

However, what’s more intriguing is the seesaw between the presidency and the legislature over the anti-money laundering bill. President Goodluck Jonathan, has written the National Assembly thrice to expedite the bill. In his third letter on 6 August, the president cautioned the National Assembly against making amendments to the bill. Lawmakers are seeking to water down three clauses. The president noted that:

“the draft bill presented to the National Assembly [is] consistent and in compliance with global instruments which Nigeria has signed and ratified.”

The bill is likely to put an end to anonymous bank accounts. Such accounts have helped kidnapping, oil theft and drug peddling to thrive.

Stolen oil is as lucrative as cocaine. Oil theft and illicit drugs generate $1 billion annually in the West African region. (According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2008 Ghana and Nigeria respectively received $1.293 billion $1.290 billion in official development assistance).

What’s more, bunkering directly fuels instability. The proceeds go to militants and corrupt officials. (Recently, a political aspirant in Nigeria was caught trying to smuggle 2.12kg of cocaine, apparently to fund his political campaign for the Edo State House of Assembly). Six lawmakers are allegedly linked to the 450.4kg of cocaine (with a street value of 4 billion naira) that was seized at the Lagos port recently.

Rather than pass the bill (the deadline elapsed in June), the National Assembly is pre-occupied with the nationwide registration of names and addresses of mobile-phone subscribers. One of the measures noted in the April 2009 Crisis Group report that:

“may improve security in the short term but are insufficient to resolve the [Niger Delta] crisis permanently.”

Outgrowing poverty

November 16, 2010

An interesting video on the Institute of Industrial Technology: educating Nigeria’s burgeoning youth by giving them multi-skills and through agriculture is the best dividend of demography.

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