African competitiveness will not be determined solely from growing output, but also from the efficiency and sustainability of the engines producing that output. Pure consumption driven by a sudden availability of credit and the by-products of globalisation is probably not sufficient to drive the African economic miracle.
A middle class that lacks a shared social consciousness cannot rebuild the political and economic institutions required to make growth transformational. The lack of attitudinal solidarity and the internal contradictions (to mock a Marxian allusion) within the African middle class means that it is unlikely to play the role that the middle class has played elsewhere in exactly the same way. It will not be the ‘all-purpose’ motif so beloved of consultants, or derided by their critics, but instead an important if also anguished study in how African countries can modernise their societies while still recognising the actual ways indigenous capital is being created in contemporary times.
Which is not at all to say that the middle class in Africa will not grow in size, or that it will not have a positive impact on society, but rather to say that: economic factoids are useless in understanding the true opportunities represented by the fractured and problematic notions of the middle class in Africa.
One needs to savour the complexity of the fractals, the tension, the depth of the unclear and still evolving in order for one to draw the right inferences and lessons for Africans whose destiny is in play here.
So very true.
Applications for the 2013 Spark* Changemaker Program are now open.
Spark* Changemakers engage with Spark* throughout 2013/2014, but the live-in Accelerator Summit is near Nairobi from the 1st to the 6th of September 2013.
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“It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were DOING a different job … one said ‘I’m a healer. I create sterile spaces in the hospital. My role here is to do everything I can to promote the healing of the patients.’”
A Yale professor interviewed a group of hospital janitors about their job. Many of the workers griped about their responsibilities, but another group described the same job in completely different, completely positive terms. Amy Wrzesniewski calls this “job crafting”: Creating the work you want to do out of the work you’re assigned to do
Why create? Because you’re the only person who can do it with your style, based on your perspective, with your abilities.
Creating changes your life, by allowing you to share your stories with others, inspiring and defining yourself as you go.
But you can’t create simply because you…
Heavy sleeper? A new alarm app makes you shake your phone until you’re awake.
“Placing your hand over your phone will trigger the snooze, while flipping over your phone will turn off your alarm. And for heavy sleepers like us, there’s the shake mode, which forces you to shake your iPhone until you get up.”
Technology is cool, but its the intersection of human interaction that makes tech useful
African brilliance from Cameroon.
24-year-old Arthur Zang, a Cameroonian engineer, invented the Cardiopad. The Cardiopad is a portable, touch screen device that enables heart examinations such as the electrocardiogram to be performed at remote locations while results of the test, are transferred wirelessly to specialists who can interpret them.
Arthur Zang also became a finalist in the 2012 CPS Distinguished Award for the Sciences.
Image and commentary via African Heritage City.
Brilliant. And changing the face of Africa
Dan Colman, openculture.com
During recent months, we’ve been busy enhancing what’s now a list of 700 Free Online Courses from top universities. Here’s the lowdown: This master list lets you download free courses from schools like Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, Harvard and UC…
A world of knowledge abundance… What to prioritize??
Good question. I’ll start with (no particular order):
- Cars: Past, Present & Future - iTunes Video – YouTube – Michael Shanks, Stanford
- Science Fiction and Politics - iTunes Audio - Web – Courtney Brown, Emory University
- Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science – YouTube - iTunes - Course Page – David Malan, Harvard
- Artificial Intelligence – Machine Learning – YouTube – iTunes Video – Multiple formats – Andrew Ng, Stanford
- The Future of the Internet – iTunes – Ramesh Johari, Stanford
Stay hungry, stay foolish
Ghana’s President John Mahama has launched a project to build a $10bn (£6.6bn) IT hub near the capital, Accra, within three years.
Dubbed Hope City, it will have Africa’s tallest building, at a height of 270m (885ft), an investor says. It will be built on empty land and will employ about 50,000 people and house 25,000 people, the investor adds.
In January, Kenya unveiled plans to build an “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” within 20 years at a cost of $14.5bn. (via BBC News - Ghana’s John Mahama launches Hope City project)
Nigeria is famous for corruption, yet at issue is more than thievery. Members of the elite systematically loot state coffers, then subvert the electoral system to protect themselves. Everybody knows it, and a few straight arrows in the government talk about it openly.
Perhaps half the substantial (but misreported) oil revenues of Africa’s biggest oil producer go missing. Moderate estimates suggest that at least $4 billion-8 billion is stolen every year, money that could pay for schools and hospitals. One official reckons the country has lost more than $380 billion since independence in 1960. Yet not a single politician has been imprisoned for graft.
The day that Nigeria works properly, the battle for Africa’s future will have been won.
One step at a time
Such an outcome is not inconceivable. Take Lagos, the commercial capital, long a byword for chaos and skulduggery. The bus from Accra inches forward on an eight-lane bridge in dense traffic. The last 30 miles take longer than the previous 300. The city is choking. Roads jam up daily. Commuters sometimes sleep in their cars. Businessmen schedule at most two out-of-office meetings a day.
Built on a swamp by the Atlantic, Lagos spreads out unplanned. Two out of three residents live in wooden slums. Already home to 20m people, the city is expected to double in size within a generation. When most of the public infrastructure was built in the 1970s, the population was perhaps 2m. But help is on the way.
The governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, has begun an impressive campaign to clean up the city. Yaba bus station, where the bus eventually arrives at 9pm, used to be full of pickpockets and rowdy vendors. Now there is an orderly queue for taxis.
The Chinese are building a vast urban rail network. Public buses have been assigned separate lanes. When the governor heard they were being used by unauthorised vehicles, he strode out one morning and made a citizen arrest of a stunned colonel.
The governor is playing to the crowd, but why not? The transformation of Lagos is worth trumpeting. Its economy is now bigger than the whole of Kenya’s. Tax revenue has increased from $4m to $97m a month in little more than a decade.
Tax rates have stayed the same but the amounts being collected have risen dramatically thanks to the deployment of private tax “farmers” who get a commission.
Better governance is creeping beyond the metropolis. When your correspondent e-mails the governor of Ekiti state in impoverished central Nigeria he gets a reply within minutes, with the entire cabinet copied in and being told to assist with a visit.
After a six-hour drive north, seven interviews across the capital, Ado Ekiti, are arranged in the space of a few hours. Cabinet members are mostly foreign-educated and highly motivated and have private-sector experience.
A new employment agency sends out job advertisements by text message. All secondary-school pupils are getting free laptops with solar panels. All civil servants, including teachers, are tested annually; those who fail stand to lose their job. To be sure, this sort of governance is still the exception.
A visit to the capital, Abuja, another six-hour drive north flanked by red earth dotted with filthy shacks, is sobering. The seat of government moved here two decades ago to escape swampy Lagos; now it is as chaotic as the former capital.
A programme to subsidise fuel alone cost the government $6.8 billion in theft in three years (on top of the billions wasted on the market-distorting subsidy itself). Shady deals between officials and oil companies have swallowed an estimated $29 billion in the past decade.
Yet more than half of all Nigerians live on less than $1 per day and get almost no electricity because the grid has collapsed. Still, even Abuja is not without hope.
Inside gleaming ministerial palaces dotted along new ring roads a band of reformers is at work. They are in a minority, but seemingly fearless. The central-bank governor has started cleaning up the financial sector.
The finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who recently published a memoir entitled “Reforming the Unreformable”), is reducing fuel subsidies and thus the scope for theft. A special task force in the president’s office is privatising electricity assets.
The reformers have encountered strong opposition, as much from an understandably suspicious public as from the wily crooks who stand to lose out. The good guys are winning, but it will be a long time before they triumph.
Nigeria, my Nigeria. I certainly pray the good guys win. It’ll change the global economic landscape.