Former US President, Bill Clinton once said: “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.’
In the past, Africa has made mistakes. However, it never learns much from the mistakes. Africa is again poised to make a major mistake by missing the point on Brexit and possibly a disconnected and refugee traumatised Europe.
If you sum up media reports, especially from Anglophone countries, it has focused more on how Brexit will impact on Africa.
This coverage reflects the effects of colonialism, where Anglophone countries see Europe through the lenses of Britain. The same is true for Francophone as well as Lusophone states.
In essence, Africa a long time ago quit from attempting to free her people from colonial mentality. It is a major mistake and the source of failure to start handling the imminent crisis of uncertainty.
Dealing with uncertainty means finding new ways to build a new portfolio of markets to cushion the continent from sustained volatility of the British Pound.
This may include developing the Middle East market for similar goods that are exported to Britain. While some analysts are assuring exporters that nothing will happen in the short run, the balance sheet of exporters to Britain will certainly be impacted by a falling currency. Kenyan goods will become expensive, thus lowering the demand, but at the same time enabling opportunistic importers of used cars to take advantage of cheaper imports.
Africa’s reaction to a changing Europe should never be a wait and see matter as it has always done. Europe and perhaps the entire Western world are facing the worst political crisis since the days of cold war. The steady rise of ultra-nationalist political movements in Europe should be a pointer for Africa to begin to think differently.
Some of these political movements used to be confined to small, fringe political parties but the ultra-conservatism ideology has found its way into mainstream political parties.
No one can tell how far these movements will go. In Austria, far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost narrowly in last month’s presidential elections that have just been nullified. He may win in the re-run.
As long as Africa fails to take responsibility for her citizens, she is constantly helping to build a more radical conservative West. African refugee crisis across the Mediterranean Sea is a result of Africa’s failure to effectively manage her resources to meet the demands of citizens.
Of course some may argue that the West perpetuated the crisis by getting involved in Africa’s numerous wars, but this is more of an excuse in Africa than the real concern.
Africa has refused to exploit her proximity to the rich enclaves of the Middle East in order to create alternative markets that can cushion any crisis in Europe. Brazil and India dominate horticultural product exports into Middle East. Even as Dubai opened its flower auction, Africa still preferred European markets.
Intra African trade that would perhaps help create millions of jobs in the continent stands at 11 per cent and compares unfavourably to any other region on the globe.
Some of the goods Africa imports are so basic that even exporting countries sympathise with the continent. I do not see why the African Union set the 2063 Vision if by now we cannot make a bicycle.
We have missed the past three industrial periods and there is no tangible plan to exploit the Fourth Industrial Revolution to at least give Africa leverage on the global stage.
Nothing will come on a silver platter. It is complete hubris to always think that someone else will take care of our interests. Problems like what Europe is facing right now are, in most cases, sources of opportunity.
It is such adversity that should make Africa think differently and at least discard the culture of exporting primary goods to Europe and build robust value added programmes throughout Africa.
Much of the tea, coffee, and cocoa and many more raw materials exported to Europe are re-exported into Africa as finished products.
The main thing for Africa is to never quit building capacities for her people to think independently, to never quit building new bridges of progress regionally and internationally and to never quit for the interest of her people.
To do that, the continent must begin to think outside the box of colonial past.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business