Could Green Be the Color of the Future for Africa?

Special Report – Business of Green – Leading Africans to Responsible Recycling – NYTimes.com

This interesting article should be seen as the way forward to many African economies. I think its quite odd that African industry should be expected to develop in the same way as European and American industry came of age during the Industrial Revolution. African economics need to find areas of the market that North America and Europe have either no desire or no substantial lead in those sectors and to exploit it to their advantage.

I’m sure the image of using Africa as the dumping ground for computer and electronics parts is not one that African tourism industries want to promote. But what if Africa became the worldwide leader in recycling electronics? The continent would be able to carve out a niche in the global market that is in high demand. Obviously, countries like South Africa and Nigeria have a leg up on the competition due to their substantial infrastructure, and they should put the pedal down and encourage more high potential growth industries to establish hubs in their country. Again the image of black Africans managing and working in a recycling plant that takes the West’s junk and turns it back around and ships it back might not be an image that is welcome. But it would provide jobs, would provide a endless stream of products, and has a solid long-term future. Can anyone imagine a world without electronics, or their rubbish? Someone will have to be willing to collect and destroy or recycle the parts, why not Africa?

The way out of poverty for the continent is each country to exploit markets that are currently considered small, but necessary. Matthew McConaughey’s movie Sahara, where the villans are running a disposal plant in Mali that can vaporize toxic/nuclear waste by harnessing solar power immediately springs to mind. The problem in the movie is that while storing the toxins as they wait for disposal there has been leakage into the underground water system. But the concept of a waste disposal system is ingenious. And while no one might necessarily set out to tell all the toxic waste producers in the world to ship them their barrels of sludge, think about how profitable a recycling/disposal plant like that would be. Factor in the shipping costs, the taxes payed on the profits, the high-tech/green jobs that would be created and you would have an industry that could be highly profitable for the private corporation and the country. Granted the investment in such technology would not be local, and the highly trained scientists might not be originally local, but that shouldn’t be a reason for dismissing the concept. Importing overseas talent would be a temporary measure as the nation’s government can then make an investment (through the tax proceeds of the new industry) in their country’s technical institutions to produce the scientists and technical hands to replace the expatriates that start out working at the plant. 

Thomas Friedman is one of the loudest voices pushing for a green revolution, and if he is to be believed ‘green’ industry is the next big thing. Hydroelectric power from the Congo, solar power from the Sahara, recycling plants in South Africa could be all part of an industry that could be led by those on the African continent. Creating that monopoly on green industry could inspire a new century of growth that would see the continent become an equal of the industrial north. The symbiotic relationship that could be created would be sustainable for both north and south economies, and just as important, for the planet.

Another Call for Assistance for Zimbabwe

If one was to look back through the Archives of this blog, one would find a post where one of the authors of this blog promised a step by step plan for how to help Zimbabwe, instead of the typically useless ‘calls for solidarity’. As the formation of this plan went along, holes began to develop and the whole idea became vastly more complicated and detailed than was originally set out to be. The African File’s now defunct sister site, The Fertile Cresent File, tore into the drafts of this project, and as time went along the situation on the ground continued to change right up to the unity government that was forced upon the MDC and Mugabe by SADC. Since then the world has watched (though less so than in 2008) as the two rivals parties try to form something resembling a functioning government. I had given up on any prescription because the situation seemed to deal more with personalities and certainly a little bit of luck, rather than any post-conflict organizational chart.

Since then, we have had a MDC Minister arrested, Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife has been killed in a traffic accident, and Mugabe has celebrated his 85th birthday.

All of which leads to this article from the Huffington Post by two ICG writers:

International Crisis Group – Sydney Masamvu and Donald Steinberg in The Huffington Post.

I have a few issues with this piece, other than the repeated calls for aid.

First deals with this paragraph:

…failure would likely lead to a new seizure of power by Mugabe and his hardline allies, even greater repression and isolation, and new hardship and abuse for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

I think this does quite an unjustice to Mugabe. I mean, it would be awfully hard to top the repression and isolation that has gone on in the country. I would be curious to learn where there were any areas in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans that wasn’t ‘hard’ already. To suggest that it could be worse, is to suggest that Mugabe hasn’t been at the top of his game. I wonder how he’ll respond to that criticism. 

Second, is the impression that the regional body SADC actually gives a damn about Zimbabwe through the channeling of funds:

The regional grouping of the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC), has recognized the stakes, and is putting its money where its interests are, including through new financial support from South Africa and Botswana. It is time for the broader international community to do the same.

Masamvu and Steinberg realize that these are the only countries that would even have money to contribute, yes? Angola is spending their saved up petro dollars on football stadiums for the next ACN. Mozambique is just getting its budget together after years of actually useful help from the IMF/WB. Zambia is getting poached by vulture funds. Namibia is dealing with water shortages and aid reductions. The DRC is the DRC. Madagascar is suspended, Tanzania has never made a meaningful contribution to regional development lately, and everyone else is too small to have any kind of political or economic impact. Thus to back up a claim that SADC is actually interested in solving Zimbabwe’s crisis by funding through Botswana and South Africa (who are coincidently asking us to help pay), does not really make much sense. On top of that, they include a quote by Tsvangirai saying “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe.” They fail to read between the lines of this quote, because what Tsvangirai really means to say is “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe….because you made us do it“. SADC thought they had performed their role by holding the firearm in this shot-gun marriage. With their hands now washed of Zimbabwe, they can now blame the MDC and maybe ZANU-PF if and when they screw up.

Finally, to suggest that it is the US/UK refusals to contribute humanitarian assistance as the reason for service failure in Zimbabwe is overstating the effect of Western aid. Nothing short of an invasion by medical personnel, engineers, and teachers would help begin to tackle the challenges faced by the country. To suggest that simply freeing money to support these ventures would cause anything more than a bump in PR rating for the West buys into the antiquated belief that aid can have profound effects on a country simply by giving more and more. Many books have recently been published that should diminish this belief that aid can achieve anything when funneled through sovereign service delivery agencies or that half-ass projects by the UN or the West will cause significant societal changes. People would certainly argue that something is better than nothing, but I would argue quite the opposite. Either invade Zimbabwe with services and personnel, say to the unity government “take seat, you can come back in 10 years” and then commit to a decade long project of education and service improvements, while letting the politicians map out a long-term plan of reconciliation and civic society building, OR let the Zimbabweans figure it out on their own. Anything in the middle will just prolong the final product of a safe and prosperous Zimbabwe.