We have heard the tale for decades now. Africa is behind, economically, because of European colonisation in the 20th century. The continent gained independence decades ago but some believe the colonisation remains, in the form of neo-colonisation.
It is hard to argue against this neo-colonisation when it is defined as the “further development of capitalism that enables capitalist powers (both nations and corporations) to dominate subject nations through the operations of international capitalism rather than by means of direct rule.”
However, if this neo-colonisation is a problem for the whole continent then should it not affect all countries? Why then are some African countries doing much better despite not having that many natural resources to talk about?
Also, if we look outside Africa we find some former colonies doing better than others. There must be differences in how these countries are run. Singapore, for example, got its independence from Britain just 17 years before Zimbabwe got its and yet Zimbabwe feels like it is centuries behind.
Why is that? Magatte Wade, a director at Atlas Network, Center for African Prosperity has thoughts. In an interview with Jordan Peterson, she laid out her case for why we can’t keep pointing to colonisation as the major reason for our struggles.
Colonisation was the way of the world
Africa may be the last region to be conquered but that was the way of life for millennia, she says. Recency bias makes it seem like what happened to Africa had never before been seen on this earth. In reality, many territories, including our colonisers’ homelands were all colonised at some point but they all had to build back better.
The Singapore example is especially relevant to talk about. The former British colony is now richer than its former coloniser. That is wild to think about. This means a country is not doomed to stay poor just because it was colonised during the industrialisation period.
Hong Kong is another good example of this. And back on the motherland, Rwanda, with all its flaws seems to be going in a better direction than some of us. As are Mauritius, Kenya and a few others.
How come some are succeeding?
Wade says, “economic freedom is at the centre for prosperity building.” That’s really the crux of the matter. You can easily guess how well an economy is doing by simply enquiring about how easy it is to do business in it.
Singapore became one of the most business-friendly economies in the world and lo and behold, businesses actually thrived in the country, even as foreigners flocked to operate in the little country.
Even the communist country of China is only where it is today because they created special economic zones which were freer than even the United States. China supported these zones and many multi-billionaire companies sprung from there, lifting China in the process.
Those that have succeeded have been the ones that are easy to conduct business in. Even our President Mnangagwa knows this, hence why he campaigned using the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ motto.
So, if Zimbabwe was supposed to be open for business, how come we are no closer to becoming the Singapore of Africa?
No lip service please
Zimbabwe may have been or may be still is open for business on paper but the reality on the ground is much different.
Taxes are high, and policies and laws change overnight as we saw when banks were barred from lending for a little while. I know of at least two small companies that had to shelve their microfinance plans for good when that happened. They could not trust that their investment would be safe.
Currency challenges complicate business as do the transaction limits imposed to deal with said currency challenges. There are many other reasons why you really can’t say Zimbabwe is business-friendly. Then there is the spit in the face that is the relatively complicated company formation process.
Credit where credit is due. The process has been somewhat simplified in the past decade but it’s still nowhere near as easy as it is in Rwanda for example. Over there you can register a business as a foreigner on arrival for free and be up and running within 24 hours.
Imagine! You can’t open a company that fast in Zimbabwe as a local.
The 2 major necessities
Wade says it is imperative that locals be able to join the party. It has to be easy for locals to set up their businesses if a country is to succeed. I wholeheartedly agree. It is one thing for foreigners to bring in their products and services and it is another for locals to create solutions for specific local challenges that no foreigner could ever fully understand.
That’s not to say you don’t want the foreigners with their different ways of looking at things coming in. You want to support both locals and foreigners, get out of their way and let them create magic.
Then the other major game changer is the regulatory framework. Here again, Zimbabwe looks good on paper. English common law is praised the world over for being a good framework to support business. Here in Zimbabwe we mostly use Roman-Dutch law but many English common law tenets are infused in our laws.
So, it’s not really about what official documents say. It’s about what is on the ground.
What do you think?
You can watch the YouTube video of the Jordan Peterson-Wade interview here.
What do you think about all this? Let us know in the comments below.