It should be understood that by doing this I am not playing a genius, I am just trying to be honest and stretch our thinking a little. I know I have blind spots somewhere, so I would greatly encourage feedback and comments.
I have to start by providing snippets of the comments from this esteemed reader, so that we can all be on the same page:
“In fact the whole concept of globalization or international economy has been designed with giant players in mind and the new roles for action accommodate their best interests. The industrialized countries impose barriers on agricultural products from African countries that are five times higher than the manufactured products from their countries”.
The reader went on to add:
“ Since the intensification of globalization, the debt burden of African countries has risen tremendously. In 1973, Africa had a debt of $13.1 billion. Currently, the debts of 52 African countries have reached $315 billion...”
That sounds as a serious attack on globalization. That sounds like someone who’s very, very mad at the industrialized countries. The good news is that I will try my best to provide an alternative thinking. That is not because I’m “westernized”, but because as a true African, I feel that Africans, particularly Tanzanians, have to embark on a whole new thinking mode. I can honestly see the above comments being given by sorry African leader who has no clue what is going on. I sincerely hope that my reader is above that level.
So here is my “rebuttal”…
It is the responsibility and the right of EVERY country in the world to do what is best for her citizens. Fulfilling that duty includes having protectionist policies with regards to the quality of products and services that are delivered to citizens. I dare you to name me a country that is just running wild without some sort of policies and regulations geared towards serving the best interest of her citizens. Well, may be in Tanzania.
With regards to market entry –which the reader complained about – the truth is this: regulatory environment is part and parcel of a market condition. As such, it is the responsibility of the African business community and producers (since Africa is pretty much moving towards private enterprise, this goes to the Mengis and the Manjis) to produce what meets the market demand and meets or beats the regulatory environment. Besides, isn’t the entire free market phenomenon based on letting the market decide? The problem is this: we are sooo used to just doing the minimum in Tanzania. When that minimum does not cut it when we get outside Tanzanian borders we start complaining.
But even in Tanzania, don’t we have Tanzania Bureau of Standars, which is charged with putting some major roadblocks on products and services deemed inappropriate or of low standards for the Tanzanian consumer? (Case in point: Tanzanian government has imposed restrictions on importation of used/second hand vehicles) Why then, would a Tanzanian in sound mind, complain that United Kingdom, for instance, is imposing sanctions on fish fillet from Tanzania that the UK government regards as of low quality? It is their prerogative. If a Tanzanian businessman wants to sell fish fillet to UK, they HAVE to produce, package, and price it in a way that meets the demand. I don’t see anything Africans v. Europeans in that. It is simply business.
Part of the reader’s challenge, which I didn’t include here, is that I should provide solution to the problems I identify. I believe I have been doing that. Nonetheless, with regards to barriers to entering the industrialized countries’ market, I don’t have to provide any strategic solution. All the business folks in Tanzania need is to change their attitude. Well, even Tanzania Chamber of Commerce’s chairman, Elvis A. Musiba, thinks that Tanzanian business community has never been serious about business opportunities, including the AGOA opportunities. That is an attitudinal issue, which has nothing to do with strategy.
I am glad that the obversation came from TCCA boss, not from me. Now, some people in Tanzania still think the issue is with the market, and not with the marketer. That is a twisted mentality, which does not make any sense from a practical standpoint.
With regards to ballooning of the African debt, we can’t simply run and attribute that to globalization. First of all, how that does globalization, which is pretty much a free market concept, cause African countries to acquire more debt? I would seriously need more education on that. As far as I know, the expansion of debt is an outcome of strategies, vision and policies. Case in point: the United States’ debt , which has grown over time, but has increased or decreased based on whether Democrats of Republicans are in power. All that is happening while the country is purely capitalist. So why would one tell us the African debt has grown because of globalization?
This is would be my explanation as to why African debt has grown over time. The African population is growing and policies are changing. With that comes the need to expand infrastructure and other services. Question: what was the length of paved roads in Tanzanian in 1973 compared to 2007? Was the paved road expansion done for free? What is the most likely source of funding of such capital projects? You bet it is through acquisition of debt!
Well, leaving aside policies and strategies, we have to take a deeper look internally. Do you know why donors coined the buzzword “good governance” as a condition for financial aid? It is because Africans leaders have failed, by the Western standards, to do the basics for their own people. Good governance does not only translate into such areas as media freedom, it also goes down to fiscal discipline.
Let’s take Tanzania as an example. What can we really show as a “product” of debt that we took, let’s say in 1992? Even, better, did Tanzanians starve because BWM decide to service the prior debts? I strongly believe that the reason African debt ballooned over the years is this: Leaders got the money, but they never used it for its intended purpose. As a result, the capacity to service the debt flew out the window (not to mention lack of a strong will to service the debt in hope for cancellation). If you think I am kidding, just read the recent Auditor General’s report on fund misappropriation. In 2005/2006 alone, ten ministries, departments, agencies and ten regions incurred payments of roughly $67 million lacking proper documentation. Try to imagine how much has been "stolen" in the last ten years.
And then we have the audacity to sit here and condemn globalization for our problems?
This is my point. Africans need to be responsible. We do all the wrongs things, but quick to shift the blame somewhere else, most likely on the Western world. As far as I am concerned, industrialized countries are doing what is best for them – and that is their prerogative. If we truly want it, we have to go get it. Nobody will ever hand you anything, particularly in this era of fierce competition. If you can show me that African leaders and business folks have done the right things, but the only thing that is blocking them is some Western trickeries, then I can honestly shut my mind down. But as far as I see it, a typical Tanzanian thinking leaves a lot to be desired.
As I said it before, I’m saying it again: If we (Tanzanians) don’t play, we’ll get played. It is that simple. Well, it just happened that Kenyans and South Africans are playing us right now, while we are dancing to Bongo Flava tunes. Please ponder this: why can’t Tanzanians penetrate the Kenyan market? IF we can’t even knock at the neighbor’s door, why do we think we can effectively handle the American or European markets?
I am not willing to jump on the “we are not developing because of the West” bandwagon. Not yet. Even more, I cannot blame globalization for African own bad attitude and mindset. That is up to us to solve first. Sadly, it appears we are not willing to take an internal inventory of our own doings.
Photo credit: Mjengwa