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African Economics and Leadership

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George Ayittey : TED Talk: Cheetahs vs Hippos

Posted to: African Economics and Leadership by Jim Carroll (70), Sun, 26 Aug 2007 12:32:32 PDT
Edited: Sun, 26 Aug 2007 12:39:09 PDT
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Tags:  africa business-economics cheetahs cultural-heritage globalization governance ted video
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Viewed: 1963 times by 69 members

The inspiration for this group is a talk that I saw at TED recently where George Ayittey talks about the economic realities of Africa, and how the local governments are not set up to foster economic growth.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id /151

I'd like to dissect the talk, and connect the parts to other sources in an effort to increase my understanding that I'm sure others already have.



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By Jim Carroll (70), Sun, 26 Aug 2007 18:55:24 PDT
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So he talks about the informal economy, and the different traditional economy. Did anyone catch the difference between these two? They both seem to be under-the-table.

By David Frayne (25), Sun, 26 Aug 2007 21:26:40 PDT
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I'm guessing the difference is that the informal economy deals with modern goods and services traded under the table, whereas the traditional economy deals with ancient technology (such as herbal remedies) that hasn't ever been recognised by the modern economy.

By Linda Nowakowski (230), Sun, 26 Aug 2007 23:15:32 PDT
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This is precisely, exactly what I see happening in Opok Farm Village. The need is to build the extended family from a group of child-headed households.

I need to watch that a couple of more times. Thanks, Jim.


By John Powers (139), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 00:57:30 PDT
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I may be quite wrong, but I don't think that Ayittey is talking about about a traditional economy and an informal economy. I think he's talking about a traditional sector and an informal economy. That's plain as mud, I know, but Ayittey's critique is African governance.

Part of his solution is to build upon traditional institutions, among them the marketplace. But as Ayittey, points out, traditional African notions of markets are not premised on property as an individual, but as a clan. So in most African countries there are laws more or less built upon Western ideas of individual liberty and property, but the traditional systems also must be accommodated. There are various ways of doing this across African countries, and even within countries.

Another part of his solution is to encourage investment in the informal economy. Now what the informal sectors are, I think are as fuzzy as Ayittey's short hand of the traditional sector. One of the conversations I want to put out relevant to this discussion is from Benin Mwangi Africa in Business. I definitely recommend the blog, but I'm a bit miffed that my comment wasn't posted to the discussion, I'm linking to.

Mwangi is an American, in banking. LOL I'm a blogger in my basement. But I think there's some ideological blind spots that happen around the provocative discussions prompted by Ayittey. It's one thing to buy into his construction that African problems are for Africans to solve, and another to try to bend everything to fall into Ayittey's world view. He is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, but the distinction Ayittey makes about traditional sector ideas of ownership get glossed over, and probably doesn't fit as neatly with AEI's agenda as neatly as people think.

Anyway, my unpublished post to the thread at Benin Mwangi's site was prompted by a post about Chinese Entrepreneurs in Africa at Dani Rodrik's blog. I found the comments to the post there, and actually the post itself smelling of a privileged perspective and carelessness. It's very hard to talk about "Africa" really because of so many ingrained stereotypes. My basic point of the comment was that the Chinese entrepreneurs gathered capital within the informal economy of China and invested in informal sectors in African countries--the example was Malawi.

As the business grow they have to interact with the modern economy in any case. Once they're big enough they really are part of the modern economy.

One of Ayittey's big fans is Emeka Okafur and at his blog Timbuktu Chronicles many businesses along this continuum are highlighted.

Ayittey's talk prompted a bunch of discussion. Here are some blog posts that give a flavor of some of the discussions in blogs.

Ethan Zuckerman is one of the essential ones. Ethan I think mentions Eric Hersman, aka Hash. Hersman blogs as White African. His parents were Bible translators so he grew up in Sudan and Kenya. Something I love about Hash is he is able to argue in the African way--not sure how to describe what I mean. Hash is always nice, but give as well as he takes. Something else about Hash is he's a Geek and is able to translate Geek to Cheetah.`Grandiose Parlor`_ makes the argument that Africa can't discount the Hippos, something that other bloggers in Africa did as well.

People are inspired by Ayittey, but "God is in the details" as they say. I've read "Africa in Chaos" and would recommend it. I ought to read "Africa Unchained." While I think his ideas are important, if for now other reason than they spark so much productive discussion, It's very hard to make sense of "Africa" instead of the diverse situations of particular places in Africa.

There's a good interview with Ayittey by Bill Moyers online.


By Mark Grimes (222), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 11:27:32 PDT
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some info pulled from the video

NPO/NGO's and "aid" helping the African governments..."It's like the blind leading the clueless."

Fundamental question, who do we want to help in Africa? The people, or the governments?

Wealth creation versus wealth redistribution

three main sectors:

Modern (where most of the corruption is, and most of the aid goes)

Most of the people exist in the next two sectors...(and they sectors are governed by two tribe types, those that have no chief/leader and despise tyranny of leadership, and the sector that has a chief, but he/she is surrounded by council upon council upon council of advisors to make sure the chief if acting on behalf of the people. Decentralization of power.

Informal (trade, black market)

Traditional (agriculture, crafts)

Western POV: I am because I am

African POV: I am because WE are

And African markets were dominated by women.

Institute change from within and take Africa back one village at a time.

Great video Jim, glad you shared it and started the group.

By John Firth (26), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:06:12 PDT
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A quick initial point but I think it's wrong to characterise informal markets as being either 'under the counter' or 'black markets'.... (with apologies for dubious use of the term in this context)

An informal market can simply be bartering or exchange i.e. a 'market of exchange' based upon a mutual recognition of the others worth (what they bring to the table) that is not reliant upon the sale of goods or current market money values.

After all, George Ayittey's tone when he refers to informal markets is positive and there are more 'markets' than the 'free marketeers' would have us believe. ;)


By John Powers (139), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:15:40 PDT
Tags:  africa cultural-heritage governance property-rights
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The way I see it is when Ayietty is talking about the traditional sector he's not talking about agriculture and crafts per se. Ayietty talks about the traditional sector more as a paradigm, rather patterns in Africa's story, that need to be remembered and applied to the new African context. He make the point that markets are an ancient part of the African story, as well as the notion of limited government being a part of the African story--the idea of de-stooling the king. Also in the context of limited government the role that women play in markets and limiting the power of kings.

I think these patterns that Ayittey references when he talks about "traditional sectors" are meaningful. But the problem is that the traditional sectors exist in real contexts and within the real contexts the logic pursued is not always in a positive direction. In most African countries there's civil law, and those laws have to accommodate the traditional sectors, for example in dealing with property. Mostly these arrangements seem awkward, and the governments--often corrupt as they are play the traditional sectors corruptly to assert power.

In Uganda The Buganda had a King; the Acholi once had a king, but abandoned that model prior to Arab and European encroachment. In modern Uganda the traditional sector must be accommodated, but doing so often leads to intrigue. Fitting the traditional sector is not a simple matter.

I very much agree that investments that target small enterprise and village-based economies can yield positive results for many.

But those commentators who argue that it's impossible to ignore the Hippos entirely make a good point too. Some large capital investments are necessary, and in any case the governments aren't going to go away any time soon. African people do have a stake in creating more effective governments.


By John Firth (26), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:45:47 PDT
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John, I understand that you are quite rightly flagging up differences and I'm not sure how far George Ayittey is actually going with a 21C Pan-Africanism but I do get nervous about your immediate inferences about limited government and markets and civil law.

Surely, the neo-liberal echoes that I'm hearing don't require explanation ?

I think George Ayittey is actually saying something much simpler when he talks about traditionalism and informal markets.

Isn't he really talking about 'bottom up' democracy ? Isn't that why he is appealing to the Cheetahs to challenge the 'top down' Hippos ?

But I would guess that he also recognises the difficulties of his own sound bite descriptions because the list of great (post colonial) African leaders he quotes also includes those who were once Cheetahs who then became Life Presidents who could not be removed.

A deliberate irony that tells its own subtle story and also poses the greatest challenge to the rising generation ?


By John Powers (139), Mon, 27 Aug 2007 22:01:10 PDT
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What me a neo-liberal! LOL, John, I'm not that together.

I really should read Ayittey's "Africa Unchained." to get a more current handle on his thinking.

Another link that may be of interest is Emeka Okafur's blog dedicated to discussing the solutions put forth there, Africa Unchained

In the book "Africa in Chaos" in the chapter "Alternative Solutions to Africa's Crisis" Ayittey wrote:

"As we have argued in chapter 3 and elsewhere, all Africa needs to do is to return to its roots and build on an modernize its own indigenous institutions [footnote to "Indigenous African Institutions. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Transnational Publishers 1991] There is now a greater awareness of the need to reexamine Africa's own heritage. A return to traditional institutions will ensure not only peace but stability as well..."

What I was trying to do is to point out that Ayittey's "all Africa needs to do..." point needs to be unpacked. It's not as if these "indigenous institutions" have been mothballed just waiting to be brushed off and they'll work as good as new. But that's what Ayittey seems to say over and over.

There are problems with the how to, for example a widow's right to the property with the death of her husband.

In most African countries traditional institutions still exist and have real legal power. But the institutional mechanisms which limited and controlled this power often have not remained robust as the relative strength of traditional institutions has been diluted.

In Uganda, a very multi-ethnic country, the role of traditional institutions is often a political football.

Imagine being a Ugandan. Well, I've never been to Uganda, so there's a whole bunch that I don't know that makes my imagining really difficult. But I know that I would be part of a clan. I would also have an ethnic identity within the culture. Where I live, I would be subject to civil laws, and also customary rules, that might or might not be governed by people of my own ethnic identity.

Now consider an issue in Ugandan politics: Federalism. The rhetoric of Federo is very much in keeping with Aiyettey's rhetoric. Maybe if I were Buganda (some Ugandans say I've got the nose to be), I would be a strong supporter, after all it seems it would probably serve my interests well. But what if I identified as one of the more than fifty other ethnic groups in Uganda? Well, then probably not so much. And what of my clan which is likely composed of people with several ethnic identifications?

Warning: I'm a white American, and my understanding of Uganda is limited. I certainly mean no offense if my choice of words, like ethnic group, clan, identity, etc. is inelegant.

What I'm trying to show in my imagining myself as a Ugandan is that while the traditional sector is enormously important to me, building and modernizing indigenous institutions is quite political with winners and losers (probably sore ones).

In my imaging I didn't mention religion, but it's important to consider too. How to fit the notion of traditional African institutions with modern religious expression isn't an easy nut to crack either.

Ayittey may well recognize the limitations of his sound bite descriptions. However, I think it's clear that spreading his sound bite descriptions far and wide is a central mission of his. He's best at critique, not at building solutions. That's not a criticism, and maybe an ill-formed opinion anyway.


By John Firth (26), Tue, 28 Aug 2007 09:01:11 PDT
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John, you can duck the 'flattery' if you like. :)

But I agree with you that Ayittey's point about traditional institutions or social relationships needs to be unpacked because it's either a polemical device which is intended to be a nudge and a wink to those in the know or he is saying something much more specific and concrete.

He is obviously marking the difference between American (or European) notions of individualism and the African sense of community but I think he skips the politico-economic conclusions that might follow from those differences.

A 21C emphasis on collective rather than individual social values could hold great promise and it would be interesting if the exploration of current (rather than historic) traditionalism opened up insights into valid social solutions based on co-operation rather than competition - but I suspect George Ayittey's argument is simply steering us back towards the 'answers' of civics and free markets.

Maybe an enquiry which enabled us to look again at 'bottom up' democratic social solutions that have been chucked out with the state socialist bathwater would be even more invigorating and productive - but, despite the rhetoric, I don't think George Ayittey is travelling on that road.


By David Braden (59), Tue, 28 Aug 2007 11:10:22 PDT
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Very interesting comments John and John.

I claim no deep understanding of Africa's situation - but I found the description of "vampire governments" interesting and not so different from our own - government by for and of the campaign contributor. I am also interested in the idea of the need for the cheetahs to take matters into their own hands - rather than waiting for the government to solve their problems. That is the idea behind the Self-help Corporation - and Local Organizing and the Planetary Mind to move as much decision making as close to the people affected as possible.


By John Powers (139), Tue, 28 Aug 2007 12:45:10 PDT
Edited: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 12:51:50 PDT
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After I wrote about Federalism in Uganda here I got a chance to hear what a friend in Uganda had to say about it. Funny that we'd never talked about it before. Something I find over and over is the more I know, I discover how little I know.

I'm an American. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that as a people and as an idea, we're horribly off-course now. I think when people are lost it's very hard to figure out where we are, but we try to find out.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote:

"Europe is the source--the unique source--of the idea of individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom. These ideas are European, not Asian, or African, or Middle Eastern, except by adoption."

I got that quote from Caetano Veloso's book "Tropical Truth" and Veloso is in turn quoting Samuel Huntington quoting Schlesinger.

Ayittey's point about the good in traditional African institutions is counter Schlesinger's insistence on the European origins of liberal values.

Ayittey's point is very valuable to an American feeling that we have lost our way. One reason I think so has to do with appropriate responses to violence called terrorism. I abhor violence, but lately have found myself listening to what military theorists have to say, and I find what John Robb has to say often quite cogent. Robb stresses the importance of resiliency. In learning more about the history of African people, their genius for living well in small societies becomes evident. So Ayittey makes an important point that Africa has lessons from its traditions about liberalism (for lack of a better word).

Feeling lost as an American, "individual freedom, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom" are all part of what course I think we should be traveling, and the path we seem to be diverging.

Ayittey's bit about coming up with a list of African leaders is a trick question for Westerners for how little our media has paid attention to Africa; and when it has the distorted lens used to project its image.

I thought of one of the blogosphere's best writers, Koranten Ofosu-Ammah. If you don't already know Koranteng's Toli a great pleasure awaits there. Koranteng is Ghanaian, living in the US. In the spring, around the commemoration of Ghana's 50th celebration of independence, he posted about Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. Not all the links in the piece seem to work, so I want to point to one 1979 by Busia Koranteng links, Is Democracy of Universal Application?.

Busia provides a list of essential democratic principles:

  • the recognition of the essential dignity of the individual and the equality of all men;
  • the acceptance of the principle of free and fair elections with the offer of genuine choice;
  • the derival of the just powers of government from the consent of the governed;
  • the accountability of these governments to their electorate and the acceptance of the right of genuine opposition;
  • the principle of justice and equity before the law,
  • and the cherished freedoms of speech, association, movement, conscience and religion.

He then adds Tolerance and expands a bit on that.

Part of Ayittey's rhetoric about traditional African institutions seems to me really to say that liberalism is not foreign to Africa. Ayittey is pointing to the principles Schlesinger and Busia are pointing to too. These principles are fundamental, but not in themselves solutions. Our task is to build institutions upon these fundamentals.

Right at the end of the Reagan years, Frances Moore Lappe wrote a book "Rediscovering America's Values." It's a difficult book, as a Socratic dialog, that in some way doesn't quite work. It's very important because Moore Lappe addresses the crisis with the failure of a liberal worldwiew and the urgency for a better worldview.

"Frankly, my hope in writing this book is to assist us in letting go of a worldview that I believe no longer serves us, a worldview I believe constricts our capacity to find answers to our most pressing problems. My charge will be that this worldview has failed us, both because it profoundly misunderstands our nature and because it is dogmatic, accepting, as it does, certain human-made rules as absolutes."

Frances Moore Lappe is hardly: anti-individual freedom, anti-political democracy, anti-rule of law, anti-human rights, nor anti-cultural freedom. The book is not entitled "Returning to American Values" rather "Rediscovering." In a similar way, Ayittey isn't saying that all Africa need to do is to return to traditional African institutions. He's expressing that the way forward entails rediscovering deep values.

Have mercy! I've blathered on so long and don't think I've made much sense. But, I thought just now of the Langston Hughes poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Man, do I ever get into trouble when I get into discussions with black Americans online! Part of it is a contention that all of us American are "colored people."

Oh yes, there are great troubles caused by blurring distinctions. Still Hughes' poem moves me so.

Something that bothers me about Schlesinger's quote isn't of course the liberal principles he espouses, but the "ownership" he insists is important. Moore Lappe's critique that we've reified, and thereby ossified, values when we should imagine them more as living and growing qualities.

Actually, I think Ayittey understands this distinction between returning and rediscovering when he talks of traditional African institutions. I maybe really wrong about that. He travels in right-wing circles in the USA. Still, my hunch is that the right wingers don't really understand how subversive Ayittey's views are to their privileged interests.

"A Negro Speaks of Rivers" sings out Soul Power. I like Soul Power, that what some back in the Civil Rights used to render the Gandhian construct satyagraha. The ways of satygraha in the American context is a good example of how Ayittey's traditional African institutions might be interpreted in the new African reality.

So I say: Ungawah--Soul Power!


By Christina Jordan (269), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 17:08:58 PDT
Edited: Thu, 30 Aug 2007 17:10:00 PDT
Tags:  africa bribes business-economics informal tax traditional
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haven't been able to watch the video, but I read some of the terms I am seeing in the following ways:

  1. the informal market is a term commonly used for businesses that operate beneath the radar of national tax authorities. You can call it black market, but in Africa (unlike in Europe or the USA) it's not an intentionally dodgy state of affairs on the part of the small business-person.
Quite simply put, many countries in Africa have very week tax administration and collection systems. So the result is that the vast majority of African business activity happens beyond the governments' capacity to record and follow it. Tax administration systems were typically introduced by the colonialists, who simply didn't design those systems to take the small African traders and market sellers into account. In today's African market setting, such traders expect to pay a small market fee that contributes to running of a market they participate in, but their incomes from doing business at those markets are never recorded or taxed, or counted into GDP. They are the informal sector, they are everywhere, but they do not represent a tax base for the government budgets. Small home based businesses are also everywhere - in the same black hole of unrecorded informality.
  1. The traditional African economy revolves around and is driven by ONE thing: family values. In the USA, we use the term in political rhetoric. In Europe, many countries have tried to incorporate family values into government policies. In Africa, every single person from a peasant farmer to the President is expected to share what s/he's got to contribute to the well-being of their extended family.

The clan owns and apportions to you the land you live on in the village you come from. No matter if you were born somewhere else, you are always from the place where your clan's land lies. If you leave that place (ostensibly for better opportunities), you simply can not ever come back empty handed. When someone from the clan has achieved a high position, it is UNTHINKABLE that they would not do whatever they can to improve their family and clan's wellbeing through that position. In the west, we call it nepotism. In Africa, they call it family duty - and the pressure on public servants and business people to share with their families in the village is very, very high.

Now combine that with low salary levels and voila you've got the perfect conditions for seeing what we in the west call corruption. And it's not just at high levels of influence. When it's school fees time for their kids, the traffic police stop more cars and collect more bribes in order to afford to send their kids to school. On their $100/month salaries, they would not be able to otherwise. From one angle it seems slimy, but through another lens that policeman who collects a bribe is being a good father.

More on clans that I've been learning about lately.... to post later. Fab discussion all!


By Christina Jordan (269), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 17:15:45 PDT
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Linda Nowakowski said:

This is precisely, exactly what I see happening in Opok Farm Village.

Linda, since I can't see the video, can you expand on this thought?


By Rory Turner (18), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 17:33:44 PDT
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http://www.jstor.org/view/001041 75/ap010075/01a00060/0

I wish this link gave the whole of this marvelous article. Christina is as usual on the mark about the deep problems that the two publics (One official and post colonial, the other local and thickly stranded) have on politics and action.

That's why Ayittey's approach and Christina's is so critical, look to the strength and virtues of partnerships with true muscle whether informal or traditional, and build on them.


By Rory Turner (18), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 17:37:00 PDT
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From this (http://www.codesria.org/Links/co nferences/accra/osaghae.pdf) nice commentary on Ekeh's work:

As Ekeh points out, a plunderer of funds in the civic public “would not be a good man were he to channel all his lucky gains to his private purse. He will only continue to be a good man if he channels part of the largesse from the civic public to the primordial public…The unwritten law of the dialectics is that it is legitimate to rob the civic public in order to strengthen the primordial public” (p.108).


By John Powers (139), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 19:02:49 PDT
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Christina's post is so great. Speaking about the kinship system as a white no-nothing American like me is just so hazardous, I keep stepping in it. But it's good to learn and so hazards come with the territory.

It's hard to talk or listen to talk about African issues without the issue of what Christina is talking about with the traditional African economy coming up. When I hear "the big man" school of governance, my American-centric racism detector sounds an alarm. Goodness knows that much written and said about Africa IS racist but all that sounds racist often does not have a racist intent behind it.

From the comments left at Dani Rodrick's blog post I referenced earlier was a link to a paper dealing with these kinship systems having an adverse impact of economic development, The Kin System As Poverty Trap?

It's very important to find ways of talking and thinking about these values. Of course much more important for Africans to talk. Aiyttey's emphasis on traditional values is very important, but complicated. For example the situation in Uganda where people from the western part where Museveni hails are often thought to hold too much power by virtue of patronage.

But when I read the World Bank piece I just linked to about kin systems, I thought of a 1968 book, "Pigs for our Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People" by Roy Rappaport. Rapapport worked to develop a cybernetic anthropology. The article at Wikipedia Human ecosystem is a good primer.

It seems equally absurd to me to say that all Africa needs to do is to return to a traditional system as it does to say that all Africa needs to do is to let go of the mores that hold Africa back. The cybernetic approach that Rappaport pioneered provides a way to begin to understand complex systems like the traditional sector.

There is great power in Aiyttey's thesis, but it's a mistake I think, to take what he says about the traditional sector on surface value. We get stuck when we imagine culture as a thing fixed. The focus on functional relationships that Rappaport used provides a clearer understanding of of dynamic information systems.


By Christina Jordan (269), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 20:09:11 PDT
Edited: Fri, 31 Aug 2007 03:11:54 PDT
Tags:  family land marriage tradition
Comment feedback score: 3 (* * *) +|-

The basic asset that every family has is land. On or associated with adding value to that land (and thereby increasing the wealth of the whole clan) we also have traditional assets that are commutable: people and livestock.

Traditional marriage is an economic exchange between families. We'll give your family one of our daughters if you give us some of your livestock. If she's actually leaving the clan (sometimes encompassing thousands of families), the price should be higher, because of the loss she represents to the clan. If she's been educated, the price will also be higher, because the value she adds to the family she's joining is higher. The traditional clans are like ethnically based states within kingdoms (or tribes/nations). In the old days arranged marriages were also a form of diplomacy.

So when we talk about traditional African economies, it's not about crafts & agriculture. Those are simply commodities from the traditional systems which can carry over into a western system. For me, when you talk about traditional African economies, you're talking about whole different systems of exchange, where the extended family unit (the land-owning clan within a linguistically homogenous kingdom) is a self-governing socio-economic whole. I've even heard of clans who specialize - one example is the clan in the Baganda tribe that makes the royal drums. No drum will ever be used by the royal family that is not made by that clan. It would greatly upset the order of things.

In an office setting here, you find people expecting transport and food allowances in addition to their salaries. At the beginning I found this ridiculously difficult to understand, until I realized that it has roots in the traditional system of clan/family based governance. When your elders are called for a meeting to discuss an issue that's relevant to your life (your marriage, a dispute you are in, an opportunity you are considering), it's on you or your parents to provide the food and drink - a goat to slaughter, some local brew maybe. It's also upon you to honor their time with a gift (their only compensation), and to pay their transport costs. That's how the community governance system sustains itself. So when people go to work, they expect the same thing from an employer. Either food or a food allowance, your gift of compensation, and a transport allowance.

I've often thought about the kinship system as a poverty trap, but I am actually not so sure that's really it. It's not the kinship system that keeps people poor, but rather the conflict between the kinship system and western property systems that messes things up. In our system we measure success by how much you've personally gained; in the African traditional system your success is measured by how much value you've added to the clan.

I can think of a concrete example where this clashes all the time: imagine a family member from the village comes unannounced to a small business person's home in a town somewhere to ask for help for - say - a sick child who needs medical attention back in the village. They have (typically) come without the return bus fare to get back home, and without means to sustain themselves in town. As a family member who has a business, you absolutely can not say "I don't have the money to help you" and put that day's earnings back into your business. Your duty is to share what you have with your family... and you will have to host that person in your home until you've come up with a way to give them what they need. In terms of western measures of success, you are doomed. But in terms of African traditional values it's the right thing to do to help a sick child in the village who is, after all, your family.

... more to share on the effort to rejuvenate the clan system in Northern Uganda. Fascinating stuff, IMO.


By Christina Jordan (269), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 20:43:16 PDT
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Oh - but then there are also the nomadic tribes. I wonder how they differ.

and a caveat - my observations are only that - an attempt at making sense out of what I think I've learned about Uganda... but it's so different and often hard to understand on some levels that I really could have it all wrong.


By John Powers (139), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 20:51:47 PDT
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"It's not the kinship system that keeps people poor, but rather the conflict between the kinship system and western property systems that messes things up."

That's such a good observation. Aiyttey makes the point too. But somehow western property systems have to be accounted for in the system. I don't think that such accommodation is only a matter for African people to figure out.

The disastrous American invasion and occupation of Iraq really highlights the failures of thinking as we tend to about globalization. The folly of imagining Iraq as a freemarket nirvana seems incredible. Yet most Americans, still think it's "our way or the highway." John Firth's "neo-liberal echoes" he was hearing from me gave me pause, because I'm desperate to find out how we've gone so wrong and to learn changes myself.

I didn't like The Kin System As Poverty Trap? paper. I have to say that plainly because I realize that it may have seemed as if I was holding up that article as an example of Rappaport's emphasis on functional relationships in information flows.

The authors of that paper proceed from the premise that a modern economy functions with the "right" rules, and foremost the paramount value of efficiency.

If Christina is right--and I think she probably is--that it's, "the conflict between the kinship system and western property systems that messes things up" it doesn't necessarily follow that the solution is simply to banish western property systems. Another way is to look at where the conflicts are in functional relationships and to improve their functionality.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 20:58:10 PDT
Comment feedback score: 6 (* * * * * *) +|-

For Christina:

Identifies the Cheetah generation - a new breed of Africans who brook no nonsense about corruption. They understand what Accountability and democracy are. THey do no wait for government to do things for them.

Hippo generation - the ruling elite who are stuck complaining about colonialism and imperialism. You can not ask them to change things because they benefit from the status quo.

Africa is rich in mineral resources but these resources are not being used to lift Africa out of poverty.

People want to help. Help has been turned into a theatre of the absurd - the blind leading the clueless.

Africa's begging bowl leaks. Wealth made in Africa leaves Africa.

Each year:

Corruption - $148 billion Capital flight - $80 billion Food imports - $20 billion

In the '60s Africa not only fed itself, it exported food. Something went wrong. We could spend all day talking about how. FOrget it. Move on to the next chapter.

Who do we want to help in Africa? The people or the government (leaders)?

A previous speaker referred to the past leadership in Africa as abysmal - that is a charitable characterization.

Since 1960 there have been 204 African heads of state. Asked people to identify just 20 good leaders. Came up with Mandela, Kruma, Arrera, Kinyata and someone even suggested Edi Amin..... They couldn't get past 15. The leaders of Africa have been a group of military foo-foo heads, Swiss Bank Socialists, Crocodile liberators, vampire elite sucking the economic vitality out of their people. Bandits enriching themselves and their cronies. They are all rich. Where does the wealth come from? Wealth creation? No. It is scraped off of the backs of their people - wealth redistribution.

The second false premise: We sometimes think there is something called a government that cares about the people and serves the interest of the people.

It has been said that in Africa there are two problems: rats and government.

If we want to help Africa, we need to know where Africans are.

There are 3 sectors in Africa:

  1. Modern - The abode of the elites, the seat of government. In most of Africa it is not functional. It is rather the source of the problems. This is where development money and aid has gone.
  2. Informal -
  3. Traditional - Where Africa produces agriculture. Why it can't feed itself.

Most of the people, the real people are in the informal and traditional sectors. You can not help Africa by ignoring the traditonal and informal sectors. We need to know how they work.

Indigenious political heritage -

Traditionally Africans hate governemnts. Traditionally Africans are organized into tribes and want to have nothing to do with central authority. No chiefs. These are represented by the Ibu and the Somali. There are tribes with chiefs but they have made sure that the chiefs are surrounded with council upon council to prevent them from abusing power. For example: in one tribe the chief can't pass a law without approval of the council of elders. If the chief doesn't rule for the people, the people remove or abandon the chief and go someplace else and set up a new settlement. Africa has been a model of confederacy characterized by a great deal of devolution of authority and decentralization of power.

In the traditional sector the means of production is privately owned in an extended family system.

In the west the basic unit is the individual. In America things center on I. In Africa it centers on we.

The extended family pools resources together. They decide what to do. They decide what to produce. When they produce, they sell in the market and the profit is theirs to keep...not to give to the chief. We had a free market system for a long time. Market activity has been dominated by women. WHen the west came it became a different kind of capitalism, a western capitalism. Then the leaders said that Africans were ready for socialism. But a particular kind of socialism - Swiss Bank Socialism which allowed the leaders to take the money and deposit it in Switzerland.

We must go back to African's indiginous systems. Go back to find the Africans in the traditon and informal sectors. He is trying to get the African diaspora to invest in these sectors - for example big boat building that they can catch bigger fish and employ more people and generate wealth and have external effects in the economy. There is also traditional medicine. And investment in agriculture.

Also invest in change and take Africa back one village at a time.

The develpment of Opok Farms Village will be an investment in agriculture. The investment in the learn by doing educational system will be grass roots and usable and will empower the people from the grass roots. The biggest concern that I have is how much of the traditional knowledge has been lost. This kind of development can be revolutionary in that it empowers the people to success without outside assistance and govenment intervention. This is powerful stuff.

Does that help, Christina?

You explanation certainly makes it much clearer!


By John Powers (139), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 21:57:17 PDT
Comment feedback score: 0 +|-

Wow Linda, if you ever need a second job, doing close captions for TV shows might be a good fit. What's above seems an accurate transcription of Aiyttey's talk. So cool that you post it here.

By David Frayne (25), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 22:54:36 PDT
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Christina, the problems you describe are so fascinating.

10 years ago I came up with the idea of eradicating poverty through real estate investment, which works in the USA and other countries which treat land as a productive commodity and people as inherently "placeless".

But I can see it wouldn't work in Africa, or any place which treated people as somehow inherently connected to land.

I am working on a variation now not based on monetizing the value of real estate. The idea is to look for ways to unleash people's capacity to make other people's lives wonderful. (Like the story about hell being where people try to feed themselves with 3 foot chopsticks and heaven being where people feed each other with 3 foot chopsticks. You can't make your own life wonderful. You can only do it for others.)


By Jim Carroll (70), Thu, 30 Aug 2007 23:35:55 PDT
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Thank you everyone, I have just learned (what feels like) critical underpinnings of understanding a whole culture that up until now just seemed 'poor.'

With this understanding, every once in a while, I see a glimpse my own western ways as poor with regard to family and community.


By Jeff Mowatt (30), Fri, 31 Aug 2007 01:32:30 PDT
Comment feedback score: 3 (* * *) +|-

Some years ago a friend, also from Ghana explained the extended family system to me and at the time I found it difficult to understand. He'd been asking me to save old shoes which he'd take back on his next visit. What he described at first seemed like his moderately wealthy family had obliged all their relatives to work as servants. On the contrary, they had been taken into the extended family when parents had died in the absence of a formal welfare system.

It's come back to me now because It's just dawned on me that this Traditional family culture and welfare is exactly where I've been heading, while thinking of it as somethibg new. African traditionalism is inherently people-centric and pro community investment. It is us who need to catch up with their way of thinking.

True enough, real estate investment won't do much for poverty in Africa but intiatives on land ownership/usage such as the UN Habitat's Global Land Tools Network might well provide us with new tools to develop opportunity.


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