Time Magazine just came out with its annual list of “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” One trend that stood out for me was “Africa, Business Destination.” I try to keep pace with development trends affecting the continent, but I must say that I was surprised at some of the research cited in the article. Here’s a sampling of the good news:
In 2006, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, foreign investment in Africa reached $48 billion, overtaking foreign aid for the first time . . . As the senior adviser in Africa for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), David Nellor, noted in a report last September, sub-Saharan Africa today resembles Asia in the 1980s. “The private sector is the key driver, and financial markets are opening up.” War is down. Democracy is up. Inflation and interest rates are in single digits. Terms of trade have improved. Crucially, said Nellor, “growth is taking off.” The IMF puts Africa’s average annual growth for 2004 to ’08 at more than 6% – better than any developed economy.
In an article for the online journal allAfrica in February, “Oxford University economist Paul Collier and Witney Schneidman . . . noted that Africa now offers the world’s highest rate of return on investment. ‘Africa, usually the poorest performing region in the world economy, is now likely to be among the best-performing, . . . Or as Stephen Hayes, president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, puts it, ‘Africa offers more opportunity than any place in the world.'”
How can this be? Africa is supposed to be a basket case of war, starvation and disease–a continent filled with victims of social injustice; a continent where this turmoil feeds an entire multi-billion dollar aid industry which has become dependent on the continuation of this stereotype.
The problem with this entrenched stereotype is that it does serious damage to the God-given humanity of Africans themselves.
Ironically, it is the Chinese who are benefiting from the economic potential of Africa, in part, because they see Africans not as helpless victims, but as potential business partners with something to offer and something to gain. Because their view of humanity more closely aligns with the Biblical view, the Chinese – and the Africans who work with them – are coming out the winners.
Arnold Ekpe, CEO of the Togo-based Ecobank says, “[The Chinese] are not setting out to do good, they are setting out to do business. It’s actually much less demeaning.”
The Time Magazine article continues…
And that gets to what, for Africans, is the emotional heart of the matter – and why joining the business world means so much. Though it rarely occurs to Westerners who’ve been instructed that Africa needs their help, charity is humiliating. Not emergency charity, of course: when disaster strikes, emergency aid is always welcome, whether in New Orleans or Papua New Guinea. But long-term charity, living life as a beggar, is degrading. Andrew Rugasira, 40, runs Good African Coffee, a Ugandan company he set up in 2004 to supply British supermarkets under the motto “Trade, not aid.” He is emblematic of a new generation of African antiaid, antistate entrepreneurs. For Rugasira, aid not only “undermines the creativity to lift yourself out of poverty” but also “undermines the integrity and dignity of the people. It says, These are people who cannot figure out how to develop.”
I’m not sure if Andrew Rugasira is a Christian, but he understands something all Christian development workers should understand. “Charity is humiliating . . . living life as a beggar is degrading.”
As bearers of God’s image, we are made to be creative workers, stewarding and developing the earth. In the Biblical story of Ruth, Boaz protected the humanity of Ruth by allowing her the dignity of work by gleaning the fields, rather than just giving handouts. While it may seem more humane to “feel sorry” for Africans and to see that as victims of Western injustice, it can and often does lead to activities that degrade the very people we want to help.
For more on a Biblically informed view of Africa and development, please visit the DNA Store and check out Against All Hope: Hope for Africa. You may also wish to visit the website of our Africa partners, Samaritan Strategy Africa. You can find the whole Time Magazine Article here.