Find us on Google+

Monday, 1 February 2010

Soft bigotry of low expectations

Dambisa Moyo writes in the Financial Times on the "soft bigotry of low expectations" among our people :

A senior economist at one of the leading donor agencies in Washington DC had told me that out of 50-odd states in sub-Saharan Africa, his organisation would be comfortable leaving only two countries (your guess is as good as mine) to write their own economic strategy document. All the rest, he said, depend on outside agencies to do this for them. This, some 50 years after many of these countries attained their independence. According to him, this had little to do with the lack of skills and capability of African citizens and more to do with an ingrained attitude at the highest levels of many African governments; that, as someone in the aid agencies would do it, why should they bother at all?
There's much truth in this observation but I would put it differently. The attitude described is due to a combination of factors. Top of the pile is incompetence. Who can forget Edith Nawakwi's pitiful quote regarding the sell of the mines? The "devil made me do it" was the war cry! The leaders may genuinely pursue good objectives with high expectations but incompetence stands in the way. The other problem is lack of self - esteem. When Magande was looking to reform the mining fiscal regime, he didn't ask local economists. He hired a foreign consultant! Our government does not realise these so called foreign experts actually work for many Zambians abroad! I have seen and read about many highly qualified Zambians in the most prominent institutions. Many of them speak of the frustration they face to get heard, whilst government pays enormous attention to young graduates working for an NGO and other self declared "development experts". My friend whose a football expert reminds me that this phenomenon is not restricted to development issues. We see it in football as well, where a group of foreign coaches run from one African team to next with equally dismal reasons. A sort of foreign cartel of mediocre foreign coaches.

But here is the painful truth. We all have the governments we deserve and to some extent our government is incompetent because it reflects our society. Economic historians have for some time been puzzled on why Portugal, so prosperous in the 15th century began to decline from thereafter. A lot of reasons can be put forward, but one common and unmistakable reason was the decline in the trade of ideas. In Francis Parry's 1670 observations, "the people are so little curious that no man knows more than what is merely necessary for him".  A view echoed by the 18th Century visitor to Portugal, Mary Brearley, "the bulk of the people were disinclined to independence of thought and, in all but few instances, too much averse for intellectual activity to question what they have learned".

I fear the same can be said on why our government continues to rely on donor written strategies. Zambians trade very little in ideas. We are not doing enough to step out of the confines of our daily preoccupation and use our individual gifts to extend Zambian intellectual thought and  challenge those in government to think differently. You don't have to be in academia or government to do this - all of us have something meaningful to say! If you are into IT, elevate the debate on IT in Zambia! If you are an artist, speak out on how Zambian art can be promoted abroad! If you are an historian, blog about Zambian history and show us what history has to teach. The list goes on.... Through this intellectual exchange we will go on to build a better and new Zambia. Through this process, we can network and somehow challenge those who are incompetent and lacking self esteem. If we can do that perhaps we will begin to demand better from those in power. In time we shall elect leaders that look first to their people before they look abroad for experts.

14 comments:

  1. 'If Africa is to take her rightful place among the continents, we shall have to proceed on different lines and evolve a policy which will not force her institutions into an alien European mould, but which will preserve her unity with her own past, conserve what is precious in her past, and build her future progress and civilization on specifically African foundations.'
    J.C. Smuts - Africa and some world problems

    ReplyDelete
  2. Indeed. There's no alternative other than creating a unique approach to development that is intrinsically Zambian.

    The most durable reform is the reform from within. That is how Britain, USA, China and all other nations have done.

    ReplyDelete
  3. On Dambisa Moyo - I have problem taking advice from ms. Goldmans-Sachs.

    They are involved in the takeover of the US and world economy, have eliminated their competitors through corruptly becoming part of the government and thus eliminated Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, to increase their monopoly power over the financial markets.

    And this is the model we are supposed to look up to? And ms. Moyo is worried about donor aid increasing unaccountability of the government?

    Has she ever addressed corporate capture of the state, or the destruction of democracy by unfettered free market capitalism?

    But here is the painful truth. We all have the governments we deserve and to some extent our government is incompetent because it reflects our society.

    We have the best government money (mining interests) can buy. If there is influence by major corporations on the political process, you no longer have one man one vote, but one dollar one vote. If you have one dollar, you get one vote, if you have a million dollars, you get a million votes.

    Mining companies funding the government so they don't pay taxes and give the government an income independent from 'donor aid' is the problem.

    I don't think Ms Moyo has made the leap to wanting to increase taxes on the mines, has she?

    On the issue of Portugal. I think they were always caught between the intellectually stifling effect of the Catholic Church on ordinary people's thought, and their big brother Spain.

    Why think independently when everyone believes you can't control your own destiny? Independence of thought often comes with other forms of independence too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Zambia failure would appear to be a combination of factors. First, the leadership (ruling MMD Government) and those vying for leadership (big opposition) are plainly corrupt. Corrupt elements have no time to think big for the country. And neither can they embrace ideas that can bring development.
    Secondly, Zambia has a bad press that is extremely misleading. Take the Post, for instance. They do not report objectively as it is clear they have an agenda to destroy specific enemies. The type of debate they trigger ia about calling names and how bad the government is. On the other hand, the public media only taolk about defending those in power and so are no more than a Government Gazette. So the type of development debate we have in Zambia is skewed according to what the bad journalists in the Post and the Times of Zambia Daily mail are telling us.
    Third problem, Zambians are very docile and always want to hero worship a guy that gives them money for today.
    Fourth problem, Zambians are not hard working. They are lazy. When you combine laziness, with corruption, lying media and incompetent government and similar opposition, what do you produce? Underdevelopment.
    Fifth problem is that Zambians do not believe in themselves. That is why we believe that the Chinese can build schools better than ourselves even though we do not realise that a school worth US$3,000,000 means the chinese is taking back to China US$2,500,000. Thats our tragedy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi!
    This is an interesting debate. To begin with, I concur partially with what Moyo is saying, in that Zambians lack confindence in themselves. Unless technical advice is coming out of a foreigner, they don't believe it. That's lack of confindence. This is all over government, NGOs,private sector and even in universities. Someone with a cheap Bangladesh PhD would be preferable as Head of a Dept over a Zambian with M Sc from Cambridge. That's deplorable. This is in fact an enferiority complex.

    Then secondly, I agree with some elements Nzeru is bringing out except when it comes to laziness and corruption. Laziness has nothing to do with knowledge-base or flow of ideas. So is corruption. As a matter of fact sometimes corruption and/or greed acts as an incentives to new ideas. Mafias are amongst the most technically savy people. They are very imaginative. Corruption is not an impediment to ideas flow but slows down developement and makes it skewed in favour of a tiny few.

    I also agree to few elements in Mr K statements - we must suspect that Ms. Moyo is working for Goldman Sachs' agenda - whether she knows it or not. They always do. It is like belonging to a Secret Society. Their main agenda is always to influence the way things (economies)are designed so that they can eventually make money from it. Paulsen a former CEO of G & Sachs did not accidentally end up as Minister of Finance for GWBush.

    But, I reject as I always do, Mr K's condemnation of free markets. We need free markets - so long as they are not allowed to control themselves. Properly regulated free enterprise delivers economic progress. That is a fact.

    Finally, we do not have a free flow of ideas in Zambia mainly because of: - people are afraid to talk freely because they do not want to jeopadize their chances of working withing the system or blocking their benefits therefrom. They fear because Government people are vindictive. While private sector is also afraid of govt's punitive action in terms of awarding of contracts etc. This dampens peoples' free expression of ideas. Since allegiancies are diverse even amongst academia - people are cautious. Nobody wants to venture out in the wilderness.

    Then you have cadrerization of the political system. Cadrers are listened to more than experts or the knowlegeable. Worse more, as somone one has said - we have disfunctional media led by The Post, which is not objective. The day when Membe will leave the control of Post - will be a liberation day for free flow of ideas in Zambia. I used to send articles to Post. I stopped when they refused to publish aticles containing ideas they didn't agree with.

    What Moyo is trying to discover is the control nerve of the economic aid going to Africa. Once they do, they can decapitate it so as to leave the resources flow only open to private investors. Since they know this game so well nobody can beat them at it. The only people who can sabotage their grand plan are us - if we want our countries not to be highjacked yet again.

    So, guys we still have a long way to go. But we've to keep on pushing and raise awareness. Many of our people are in the dark as to what is happening. We are in the midist of scramble for Afracan (resources)- this time being conducted discretly (or covertly).

    Kaela Mulenga

    ReplyDelete
  6. A very interesting discussion. So far the contributors generally agree with the analysis put forward by Ms Moyo and subsequently extended by Cho. So do I.

    I particularly like MrK's concluding statement, "Independence of thought often comes with other forms of independence too."

    From that, my pennies worth of thought is that it's a bit of a vicious cycle, and not one "ailment" is particularly to blame. Thus, we cannot heap it all on say corruption, as that may be the result of other problems in the system. That's where my views depart from MrK's.

    Put another way, before corruption was so much of a problem in the KK era (we can debate that assertion of you want), things were not much better in the country than today. Therefore corruption may only have compounded the underlying problems which were already there.

    Lack of self-esteem as a people is somewhere at the bottom of this as a fundamental issue. Zambia is one of those countries were for a long time just about anything and everything foreign was supposed to be better than local. From culture, to manpower, and everything else. I am personally very glad that local music is finally beginning to take root in Zambia. It's long overdue.

    At the risk of sounding controversial, it is this low self-esteem that has caused some of our people taking up demeaning jobs abroad, which locals could never be seen doing themselves. Of course, they're not the only people doing doing those jobs; there are some other equally low self-esteem foreigners.

    I shall end here for now, running out out time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cho,

    I wonder if you are familiar with a book called
    Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences (Paperback), by Australian professor Steve Keen. I think his book should be up there with Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans.

    Dr. Mulenga,

    But, I reject as I always do, Mr K's condemnation of free markets. We need free markets - so long as they are not allowed to control themselves. Properly regulated free enterprise delivers economic progress. That is a fact.

    Controlled markets are not free markets though. What we have seen for the last few decades is that markets would somehow be 'self-correcting' and therefore would not need regulation or oversight. The result has been extreme corruption and intransparancy.

    Also, there are things that cannot be done by the market - the provision of basic services to all people. If there is no profit motive, or if the model is too risky, the free market is not going to step in. And as has been demonstrated again, markets are not self-correcting. Sometimes they take down the entire economy.

    Zedian,

    At the risk of sounding controversial, it is this low self-esteem that has caused some of our people taking up demeaning jobs abroad, which locals could never be seen doing themselves. Of course, they're not the only people doing doing those jobs; there are some other equally low self-esteem foreigners.

    Low selfesteem whether individually or in organisations can be remedied by positive enforcement and success. Moral can be built up by positive examples. Inversely, it can be destroyed by poor management, corruption, patronage, etc.

    If there was a national determination to have professionalism in government, to separate out the powers of state, of a clear separation between the government (president, cabinet, MPs) and the state (civil service, parastatals) in hiring and procurement; between the party in government and the government; there would be an increase in moral. And an increase in success, which would again boost moral.

    ReplyDelete
  8. MrK,

    I do recognize that regulated markets cannot, in a true sense be characterized as free. We must also be aware that – practically anything that is as a result of human endeavour is not flawless.

    But that given – the severity and potential catastrophic proportions of the recent economic meltdown, has forced us (rational) human beings – to limit our reckless behaviour. To avoid self-engineered calamities – that is why it has become preferable to be a little risk-averse.

    Rather than having completely free markets, a more policed one (regulated) has potential to produce the greatest good for us (mankind). As you rightly observe, sometimes markets “are not self-correcting”. That is why this immediate past experience from Wall Street, pushes us towards having some regulation or oversight.

    This preference for mild but enforceable oversight is supported by other considerations. First, although business activities are supposed to be as free as possible (at least in the Western model) – i.e., operate without too much government interference – we do want to (which is part of government responsibility) provide an environment for fair play. And we want ALL business participants to play by the rules. That is the only way we can put some control over, say unfair competition, limitless instruments such as derivatives, boundless profits, monopolistic tendencies, and anti-social behaviour in the market. Everyone who studies or practises capitalism, takes note of these anomalies.

    At a risk of prolonging this argument – let me however restate that, at least in theory, markets have the ability to correct themselves. The thinking is that – in the absence of heavy manipulation by external forces, and given the luxury of time – even the meltdown could have eventually corrected itself. The only drawback is what to do or happens in the interim period. The resource gap while it (the economy) is adjusting itself is the problem. You see, just like motor cars – economies do also need gas to propel themselves forward. It is the need for this lifeline, which necessitates interference or to take drastic measures like Barrack Obama took. When that happens then you people jump and say look! In this model – government and private sector do complement each other.

    So, I have no doubt in my mind that – over time, even the derivatives could not have continued to grow in perpetuity. Even without government intervention, as happened everywhere around the globe – some variable could have cropped in to dampen its expansion (cancerous spread). Human behaviour is replete with changes. If not that – there is only so much room you can play with artificial or paper money.

    Further, we all know that, left alone a dominant village H/Man can monopolize all the women in the village. Or a nut dictator can control a vital resource – such as the source of a communal river. Egypt feared that Idi Amin of Uganda could have interfered with the source of Nile River on which their existence depends. So they watched him very carefully...(cont.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. (cont...from above)

    By the same token, even though I like and support the existence of private sector – I am not blind to its abusive/exploitive character. Yet I will not go as far as MrK goes – who condemns everything business does as being totally evil. Instead, when we fail to get a fair share of the cake from the resources – I do not mince my words when I point an accusatory finger at the failures of our government itself and us the people. I depart from the generic position of putting the blame on only foreign investors.

    As an illustration – in USA, it is government which encouraged and mandated risky lending to the housing market. This error was compounded by the millions of people who, willingly took on mortgages they couldn’t afford to pay. Similarly for Zambia, when mining agreements were being signed – our people were dozing at the table – that’s why we missed to include an exit clause. And the people have been electing the same corrupt bunch year in and year out. No punishment for the arrogant and uncaring politicians. How do you then blame entirely foreign capital?

    Thus, MrK, I do admit existence of market failures or put in another way – market imperfections. There is always an element of that. But does that kill its bulk of usefulness? No! In spite of few undesirable points – the admirable features with markets still remain intact. These include: - acting as a fairer model for resource allocation and allotment of opportunities (economic and social). Moreover, non-free markets are well known for rampant inefficiencies and yes indeed, also corruption. And in terms of productivity, motivation or drive to do things or utilize resources more effectively – free enterprise performs better.

    But it is another argument IF the judgment or our objective is to select a more humane model. Only in that sense can we say that a socialistic model be ranked higher than free enterprise. But I would have thought that our immediate goal and concern, is to eliminate poverty as quickly as we can. Put simply – if we need quick economic progress, which model/vehicle should we use? That’s the question. And my answer is – free enterprise.

    Adding to this prognosis, I find Zedian’s last paragraph quite meaningful. That – “if there was a national determination to have professionalism in government, to separate out the powers of state, of a clear separation between the government (president, cabinet, MPs) and the state (civil service, parastatals) in hiring and procurement; between the party in government and the government; there would be an increase in moral. And an increase in success, which would again boost moral”. More comments are welcome!

    Kaela B Mulenga

    ReplyDelete
  10. Simply put. Am challenged. Thanks for this article.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dr. Mulenga,

    Please don't assign to me statements or beliefs I don't have.

    Yet I will not go as far as MrK goes – who condemns everything business does as being totally evil.

    I would challenge you to quote anywhere I said anything like that.

    ReplyDelete
  12. MrK,

    Sorry if I assigned "beliefs" which you don't have. Since I get so many emails and feedbacks, I must have picked it up from someone. Since you are one of the most proponents for socializing resources (i.e., against privatization)- I must have mistakenly linked those views to you. My apologies.

    However, I am still waiting for a discussion from you - towards recognizing the fact that - the ultimate goal of any 'good or responsible company', is to produce some social good along with profit making. For example, the purpose of a Bank is to lend money (@ interest), which can in turn be used to produce and create social goods for the society - so called "social responsibility". Banks are thefore, not supposed to be used for gambling peoples' (depositors/lenders') money. It is here where many anti-capitalists fail to see the distinction. And as I said before, to keep the free enterprise in check, that is why many of us prefer some level of regulation. Okay! I will be careful next time to stick to my beliefs only unless it would be a direct quote. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Dear Dr. Kaela,

    Sorry if I assigned "beliefs" which you don't have. Since I get so many emails and feedbacks, I must have picked it up from someone. Since you are one of the most proponents for socializing resources (i.e., against privatization)- I must have mistakenly linked those views to you. My apologies.

    No problem. I will set out my beliefs right here.

    1) Public ownership of infrastructure and basic services

    This basically ensures that all individuals and all businesses have access to the means of doing business - public roads, utilities, libraries, etc. Basic services like universal access to healthcare and education also benefits business because employees can add more value to the production process the more (relevant) education they have hadd. They also miss far fewer days at work and work harder if they are healthy.

    By contrast the neoliberals doing everything to reduce access to education, so there will be a larger pool of unemployed competing with those in employment, in order to reduce the wage component of cost.

    2) A regulated private sector

    We need consumer protections, labour protections to ensure high incomes and therefore demand in the economy, and protection against monopoly formation.

    When there is competition, prices fall to the cost of production, but in monopoly situations, prices are raised to where the market starts to collapse. This has the effect of sucking money out of the economy, where it would go to purchase other goods and services.

    For example, Microsoft can sell it's 10 cent cd with Windows for $200,-. Now if Microsoft didn't have a monopoly on operating systems, they would be selling for somewhere near $50,-. That is $150,- that is not going to buying a printer, applications, food, etc. So there is a direct economic cost to having private sector monopolies.

    I would be in favour of policies that ensure competition outside such basic not-for profit services as basic healthcare and education, as well as other traditional state tasks like domestic and international security.

    Basically, that is my position.

    ReplyDelete
  14. MrK,
    I wanted to let you know that I saw your remarks about your beliefs. Thank you I will take note of that.

    ReplyDelete

All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.