Why Collective Self-Reliance Must Now Become Africa’s Urgent Imperative

Why Collective Self-Reliance Must Now Become Africa’s Urgent Imperative



One cannot live on borrowed salt forever” and more so “water that is continuously begged cannot quench the thirst”. These African proverbs contextualise what is a matter of Africa’s urgent imperative. The need to divest from old long entrenched dependency and externalisation of her solutions, to embrace contextual local solutions to the continent’s challenges.

Africa’s story is filled with broken pieces, miscalculated choices, and sometimes ugly truths. This story also has a fair share of major comebacks and moments of pride. Among them, include the regions fight and triumph over colonialism. In recent times, the region has also registered notable milestones in its journey towards competitive, inclusive, climate resilient economies. Among notable ones, was the regions leadership in successfully negotiating for the first time, to have climate change adaptation, elevated to a par in priority and stature, with climate change mitigation in the global climate change compact called the Paris Agreement. Another was the adoption of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) deal, which is billed as the largest trade deal since the World Trade organisation (WTO). AfCFTA is set to consolidate a 1.2 billion-strong market with a combined GDP of over $2.3 trillion. It is projected to increase intra-Africa trade, currently standing at a mere 12 percent, by a whopping 52 percent – taking it to about 70 percent by 2022. This is an ambitious figure, and is higher than trade within the European Union, currently the world’s highest at 65 percent.

With these successes on one side, are also some notable missteps and miscalculated choices consequent from a culture of externalising continental solutions. The ongoing COVID-19 emergency and global crisis has been the latest stark reminder of this misnomer. For over three months now, Africa, like the rest of the globe, has been in a crisis like no other in recent history. Schools, workplaces, places of worship, travel, recreation spots – all aspects of ordinary life and enterprises have all been curtailed. The economic fallout is shaping out to be an even worse crisis. While Africa even without COVID, needs to create no less than 12million jobs every year, in an economy that is 20times less productive than competitors in the global space, an estimated 50% of all jobs on the continent are projected will be lost in addition to multiple enterprise opportunities. The result is over 1.2 billion citizens, being pushed further up the vulnerability scale. To salvage the situation, Africa needs an estimated $100billion in emergency response and to buffer its economies. Who is bailing out Africa “at this crunch time? Your guess is as good as mine. We have seen many continents focused on handling their own emergencies- providing multiple rounds of stimulus packages running into the trillions of dollars to buffer their own economies. This is another blunt demonstration to Africa that “one cannot survive on borrowed salt alone”. Hence, there is an urgent need to embrace the approach of local solutions to contextual challenges because externalising solutions has proven time and again to be a non-starter. This reality is a resounding wake-up call, that the time for the continent to apply the emergency brakes on the path of dependency is long overdue. A lesson to all of us in African, that we can only bet on what we have at hand - which is the essence of collective self-reliance.

Creating a space for collective self-reliance and redeeming from a failed pathway

One encouraging African proverb reminds us, that “to get lost is to learn the way”. 60 years ago, when the wave of independence was sweeping across Africa, the optimism for accelerated growth was high as countries anticipated the goodies of self-determined rule. Among major motivations, was the prospect of controlling the vast natural wealth of the continent. As I said in my book “Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism” “A people without the knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. I have come to implicitly conclude that the open secret to development that our founding fathers failed to consider is that winning over self-determined rule was just but the tip of the iceberg. As leaders of countries on a continent that seemed by all accounts to be capable of self-sufficiency, hence the envy of many, they would have to overcome extreme odds to make anything significant out of their much-deserved independence and benefit from what their countries and continent offer. They could not do it alone but needed partners. And the most fundamental and critically important partner to this end was their citizenry. To make these partnerships count, they had to prioritise investing in developing the ordinary people in their countries and assign them to be guardians and custodians of development across the continent. This is the significant blunder of our founding fathers. They looked to develop material resources without prioritising the people. And the result till today has been a consistent trend of devaluation for the continent. A devaluation so chronic that a common person on the streets in any part of the globe – including in Africa – believes the continent to be a place of nothing but adversity. This was the first mistake of post-independence Africa – betting on minerals and material resources as the primary capital to drive transformation. As opposed to betting on an empowered citizenry as the sovereign capital. It is now time to learn the way, accomplished as follows:

  • First, our mindsets must be renewed. The time of “passing the buck” of continental development is long gone. Individual citizens must take the continents development as personal responsibility. And it all starts with a simple question of self-reflection & evaluation – which is – “what can I do with what I have in my reach to touch many lives”. More fundamentally, the question should be – “how can my skills, talents, interests, and ongoing initiatives, tap into our local economy and create enterprise solutions that touch many lives?”. From the answer, will result an unborrowed vision for every citizen, one which transcends them, to usher the continent to the path of collective self-reliance.

  • Second, we must remember what an insightful Africa proverb tells us – that “an orphaned calf licks its own back”. Africa must use what is within its reach, to engage the population to marshal her own climate resilient economic recovery and rise. What we know is that African economies hinge largely on the actions of the informal sector which cumulatively employs over 80% of the population. This sector has also been described as the “present and future” of work in the continent. Buffering informal sector players in the continent’s catalytic sectors – of clean energy powered agro-value chains and its derivatives – provides the shortest, most accessible route to gain competitiveness, economic inclusivity, and climate resilience. The continents work force, in the diversity of its skills, talents, interests, disciplinary backgrounds and ongoing initiatives should be structurally engaged to undertake enterprise actions in their own areas, but which converge to reinforce competitiveness in this catalytic area.

  • Third, we must learn to count our blessings and name them one by one. Many are they, that find solace in complaining about the continent’s lame state but deflect all responsibility for action to the “political class”. What we forget to realise is that politics across the globe, is first and foremost a career like any other – only maybe less noble. Ultimately, most people get into politics to build their careers. What we must do is appreciate the existing enabling policy and regulatory environment we have and get going down the solutions path actioning our catalytic areas. It is our operational successes that will inform better policy refinements as by nature, successes are embraced almost universally while ideas are not. Through Innovative Volunteerism, youth are already retooling their skills for application down this path. Youth with skills in marketing, ICT, anthropology etc., are investing their time to get guided to work selflessly in developing mechanical solar dryers using locally available materials. They are decentralizing these dryers to farmers in local markets, to enable them to dehydrate and preserve their harvest and sell when demand peaks. This has proven to increase across the entire chain by up to 30times for upstream actors - the farmers. With such better earnings, they afford better housing, transportation, Medicare, education etc. And this spirals to create more income opportunities including in the formal sector. This is just a one-dimensional example, that can be extrapolated to demonstrate the multiplier effect across the entire economy, of ordinary citizens, strategically focusing on maximising productivity of informal sector actions, in the continent’s catalytic sectors. And we have the tools to get us going. The structure of local cooperatives across Africa for instance, stand as timeless institutions of raising low-risk capital, and of accountability & traceability of actions. All it takes is for us to embrace selflessness and take the first step down this new road of personal responsibility for the continent. And drive out unborrowed visions through the lens of proffering solutions that touch the lives of many.


“I didn’t have shoes and was full of complaints. Until I saw a person who did not have legs”. “I hadn’t eaten well for days and was crying, until I saw a beggar who had not eaten well for months”. “I didn’t have a job and was miserable, until I saw someone who didn’t have arms and legs but was excited to be alive and hope for better days”. Folks let this epilogue be reflective of our mindset – counting our blessings while applying ourselves with laser focus towards better days for the continent. Africa’s transformation is not about complaining and blaming others always, but about looking at the mirror, and challenging the one you see to act. Africa’s transformation is about challenging yourself, to shun individualism, embrace selflessness and become a solutions provider leveraging what you have within your reach. Let us cheerfully apply ourselves to wean Africa off dependence and usher in a new era of collective self-reliance as an urgent fierce urgent of now.

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