African history is replete with our fore fathers commercial and trading exploits. The stories of trade between communities on different sides of the Sahara and the trans-Atlantic dealings between communities on the west coast of Africa and South America will liven up any history class lesson. The rise of trading empires like the Mali Empire and Kanem Bornu were stuff of legends. Commerce in its latent form. Calling it capitalism will be stretching it but it was a strand of it.
Twenty-first century Africa, however, has not found a place for capitalism in its societal values and rightly so. As doing that will be putting the cart before the horse.
Last week, in Washington D.C., respected Nigerian Banker, Mr Tony Elumelu, suggested that the private sector take the lead in the economic and social development of Africa. His assertions were based on the his experience in banking. As he put it, "we have made great profits, but we have also changed lives".
I'm a firm believer in the market economy. The advancement the world has made in the last fifty years is due to the leveraging of the benefits of capitalism to our advantage.
However, for a market economy to work, a foundation has to be laid for the private sector to build on. The foundation I refer to are both economic and social. They include adequate infrastructure for transport and communication, education (at least to secondary level), housing, social security benefits, primary and secondary care health,adoption of a sound macro-economic policy, law and order. Without these, we might as well return to caliphate and kingdom era societal structure.
Europe and America built such foundation in the first half of the twentieth century. This has allowed the private sector to flourish from then on.
The vast majority of Africa is still struggling to build that foundation. And no, we cannot trust the private sector to build that foundation. We cannot afford a foundation that has solid and weak spots. We need an all round solid foundation and only the state can do it.
The private sector can however push the state to build this foundation and quickly. The private sector know what it is best at but that should not include usurping the role of the state or sitting idly by while the state drags it feet on these matters.
We all must make a functioning state a priority. If all goes well, by 2030, we should see the states in Africa hand the baton of development to the private sector.
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