Ban African Politicians from talking about Agriculture and Tourism in Public
Sometimes, radical solutions are needed to address radical problems. African countries, in general, are lagging behind the rest of the world in manufacturing. Sub-Saharan economies are largely based on the extraction of minerals, growing crops, and tourism.
At face value, there is nothing wrong with Agriculture and Tourism. They provide jobs for millions of Africans and are regarded as the backbone of the economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is reality. It is as much of a reality as it is a salient problem.
Agriculture and Tourism do not create massive value. They are at the bottom of the value creation chain. Tourism is an extra-curricular activity whilst subsistence agriculture is sub-optimal use of land and human resources.
African politicians have stressed the importance of agriculture and tourism at every given opportunity. The rural masses and some urbanites largely agree with the messages.
Here lies the problem. No nation has ever dragged itself out of poverty through agriculture and tourism. Only manufacturing can lift a country out of poverty. Through manufacturing (anything, everything) China uplifted 850 million people out of poverty between 1981 and 2015, and the poverty rate fell from 88% to under 1%.
How many goods are being manufactured in Sub-Saharan Africa? How much value can you capture in the global supply chains without manufacturing?
If African politicians are banned from mentioning agriculture and tourism at any public gathering, they will quickly run out of content. They know nothing else. They do not have an industrialization policy. They have obviously heard about the word “beneficiation” from their bureaucrats and use it a lot but do not have an idea what it actually means.
Ignorance feeds on ignorance. The problem does not sit with the politicians alone. It sits with the public too. The average Sub-Saharan African likes to hear about agriculture and tourism because these are the only things that they know about. These are their main sources of income, sustenance, and livelihood. They cannot think of them or their kids being able to manufacture television sets and bullet trains. They view it as unpractical and unattainable.
As such, the African politicians continue to dish out what the people want to hear about.
In order to divert attention to the real issue, i.e. the need to manufacture goods, the masses living in Sub-Saharan Africa have to force politicians to stop talking about tourism and agriculture.
It is up to the youth to dream big and steer the conversation to pertinent issues. University students have to be awakened. There is an overwhelmingly large proportion of college students and graduates in Africa who think that they (themselves), their countries, and the continent need to do better at farming and attracting tourists in order to eliminate poverty. Obviously, this is a false doctrine, probably a relic of colonial education that needs to be un-installed in the mind.
College students and graduates are opinion leaders in society. Civil society and NGOs are also opinion leaders. But they also peddle the “better farming methods” and “attracting tourists” mantras.
A clear message needs to be sent out to the nation that agriculture and tourism are not going to take the continent forward. Emphasis on these two is actually retrogressive because it steals attention away from the real issues of manufacturing and industrialization. In fact, it can be argued that the overreliance on agriculture and tourism has kept the Sub-Saharan African economy where it is now (i.e. at the bottom of the ladder).
I am typing this on a Logitech keyboard made in China, the laptop is made in Taiwan, the LG monitor is made in South Korea, the computer is using a Microsoft operating system from America, am typing on the Medium platform which is an American software product. You are accessing this article through a range of products from other countries such as a browser offered by an American company and the internet you are using is provided by a local company that uses telecommunications equipment manufactured in China.
Look around you, your TV is manufactured in China, South Korea or Japan, your car is made in Germany or Japan. The machines that are used to bottle the milk you buy from shops, or the ovens used to bake the bread are made from another country.
The food you eat is important, but it is only a small component of the goods and services you consume on a daily basis. If your local farmer is capturing the value for food, who is capturing the value for all the other things.
The emphasis on tourism is misplaced. Okay, Sub-Saharan Africans want tourists to come in droves. Can Sub-Saharan Africans themselves afford to be tourists elsewhere? The tourists we desire so much, where do they get their money from? Sub-Saharan Africa is a destination market. Fine. Let’s talk about the source markets. Where do they get their travel money from? It is coming from manufacturing goods and providing services.
If we were good at agriculture, the extraordinary emphasis placed on it would get a tiny bit of vindication. However, we are bad at it. Our product costs are so high, we cannot compete with the overseas markets. We overly rely on manual labor, our processes are too disparate to harness efficiencies, we do not manufacture farming equipment so we are forced to import tractors and combine harvesters at expensive prices, our seeds have poor yields, we lack sufficient fertilizer manufacturing capacity, among other challenges. In short, we are bad at farming food. We use vast lands and too much human labor for a tiny output of yam, maize, or cassava.
Russia and the USA can produce maize and wheat at lower prices than Sub-Saharan Africa. Even Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina have a cost advantage over us. Brazil can produce chicken cheaper than both South Africa and Zimbabwe. Even if we factor-in shipping costs, chicken from the USA and Brazil will still be cheaper than anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Of course, there is an issue of subsidies and GMOs. Developed countries subsidize agriculture such that their farmers can sell at lower prices. This is seen as unfair. However, the fact that they can afford to do so for prolonged periods of time means that they are making enough money elsewhere to the extent that the necessary but low-value economic activity of food production can be subsidized.
The issue of GMOs is a touchy one. I prefer eating real biological food from the earth, natural and organic. However, GMOs lower the cost of production such that no one goes hungry. Currently, we have millions of hungry people, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Purely organic food can not be produced at a massive scale that ensures everyone can eat and stay alive for now, though stoking health problems for later. If Sub-Saharan Africa was good at farming organic food, hunger and starvation would not be a perennial problem, with or without drought.
The farming of food is currently being overhauled by technology such that very soon lab-grown food will be better than organic food because it will be grown at scale under conditions (water, light, soil fertility, and nutrients, etc) optimized by algorithms and computer formulas. Toshiba is growing the purest lettuce and spinach in a lab. They tout it as better than organic. Sooner or later, Big Tech will jump into the production of lab-grown pure food and lower the costs to a level that large scale farmers cannot match, let alone African subsistence farmers tilling the soil.
There is no future in subsistence farming and tourism. They are essential but they will not deliver Africa from its abyss. The future is in manufacturing and tech. Emphasis has to be shifted to these. The change begins with verbal emphasis. Spoken word and written word.
Ban African politicians from talking about agriculture and tourism in public.
Of course, a literal ban is not possible.
However, a mental ban is very possible. In your mental frame, know that whenever they start rattling about agriculture and tourism, they are just talking Sh*t.