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The New Times – Rwanda
By: Gitura Mwaura
The proposal to introduce a new discipline of “Progress Studies” is worth consideration.
It seeks to study known factors that determine progress, as manifests in transformed lives and raised standards of living, and investigate whether we can deliberately engineer conditions that enable it to advance human development.
Its authors describe progress as the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past centuries.
They lament lack of broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. (See “We need a Science of Progress” in The Atlantic)
Thus, the idea of Progress Studies to study the successful people, organisations, institutions, policies, and cultures that have arisen to date and attempt to concoct policies and prescriptions that would help improve our ability to generate useful progress in the future.
The proposal’s intention is similar to the just-concluded Kusi Ideas Festival. One of its aims is “to create a 'pan-African ideas transaction market’ to capitalise on the opportunities and innovations available for Africa to win in the 21st Century in a global context.”
The only difference is the festival was a two-day forum. However, the proposed discipline seeks to dig deep and investigate how we can effectively tweak the systems that surround us today to ensure progress.
The authors, however, note that while science generates much of our prosperity, research that drives it has been, and continues, to be under-invested the world over.
It is even more underfunded in Africa, ensuring the continent’s low share of 3.2 per cent of the world's scientific output.
One of the reasons for this is that many African countries heavily depend on international support, mainly agencies based in Europe, the United States and China. They have created own funding system, of which only about 2 per cent of scientists in the continent receive million-dollar grants.
This is in a situation where half of scientists in Africa receive no funding for their research, according to the report The Next Generation of Scientists in Africa.
The big grants, however, tend to be in fields favoured by the foreign funders, such as agriculture and health sciences. Other preferred fields of funding include natural and social sciences.
Great scientific strides have been gained in these fields. But, clearly, Africa needs more funding, including in more areas of scientific research.
It has been suggested that possible funding mechanisms, including the foreign funders and the corporate world, are usually low or not optimal, in part because they do not focus enough on research autonomy and risk-taking even by business entities.
Around 95 per cent of papers funded by the major grant-makers from outside Africa are a product of partnerships, which may compromise autonomy.
On the other hand, corporate funding is largely missing. This is an area the Kusi ideas Festival might have discussed but should be focused on in such future fora given the corporate sponsorships they are able to muster.
The Festival observed progress Africa has made thus far, noting that the world’s future is very African. Though Africa is at a crossroads, what it does in the years ahead could leave it a big winner - or with the scars of a few half-won victories.
We believe it will win, the organisers wrote in the festival brochure. The continent will change more in the next 100 years than it did in the previous 1,000, they added.
I believe this will be so. But the road will be long. As the movers of Progress Studies noted, we still need a lot of progress.
We haven’t yet cured all diseases; we don’t yet know how to solve climate change; we’re still a very long way from enabling most of the world’s population to live as comfortably as the wealthiest people do today; we could be far better than we are at educating young people. The list of opportunities for improvement is still extremely long.
The success of Progress Studies, they say, will come from its ability to identify effective progress-increasing interventions and the extent to which they are adopted by universities, funding agencies, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and other institutions.
Somebody should introduce the discipline in our research institutions.
Premium Times (Abuja)
By Rafiq Raji
I present a cultural framework for investing in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you are looking to invest in Africa, it is important to be aware of the cultural characteristics of the various countries and how they affect the likelihood of success. In general, most African countries have collectivist cultures. Still, there are differences. South Africa ranks relatively high for individualism, for instance.
I rely on the 2019 soft power rankings by the Nanyang Centre for Emerging Markets (CEM), Singapore for a quantifiable proxy for culture. Thereafter, I juxtapose this culture proxy with the 2019 World Bank Doing Business rankings to identify countries with cultural characteristics and business environments likely to make investing in them worthwhile endeavours. And for the selected countries, I identify the sectors that are best suited to these characteristics.
The framework differentiates between investments aimed at production, consumption or both. Because even when the production of a good or service may not be ideally suited for some countries, consumption via importation may be viable. So, for instance, high-end goods, which may not be ideally suited for production in many African countries, ex-South Africa, in light of the individualism-innovation nexus, may still do very well if imported, since collectivist face-saving cultures make even those not well-to-do aspire to the consumption of high-end goods.
Based on CEM's 2019 Emerging Market Rankings, I identify the following top two-three countries for each region as ideal investment destinations. Botswana is the only African country in the rankings' second-level "accelerating" emerging market (EM) countries. South Africa and Namibia are the only sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries in the third-level "intermediate" EM countries category, while the remainder Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya form part of the penultimate fourth level "early" EM countries category of the rankings.
The CEM 2019 Soft Power Ranking similarly identifies South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Rwanda as the top five SSA countries with soft power. I recommend the top two countries in each region based on these indices. They are thus Botswana and South Africa (Southern Africa), Ghana and Senegal (West Africa), and Rwanda and Kenya (East Africa).
These choices correlate with the cultural thesis of my prior "culture and development" article, which put Southern African countries on top. The CEM 2019 Soft Power Ranking similarly identifies South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Rwanda as the top five SSA countries with soft power. I recommend the top two countries in each region based on these indices. They are thus Botswana and South Africa (Southern Africa), Ghana and Senegal (West Africa), and Rwanda and Kenya (East Africa).
Thus, my framework relies on these factors - culture, doing business ranking, EM status, and soft power ranking - to recommend sectors in Africa that are likely to be successfully tapped by foreign investors. I rely on the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) in this regard. The sectors considered are as follows: energy, materials, industrials, consumer discretionary, consumer staples, healthcare, financials, information technology, communication services, utilities and real estate.
Energy - Oil and Gas Exploration Decisions Are Not Primarily Culture-based
If there is no prospect of finding oil and gas resources in a jurisdiction, it does not matter what cultural variables there are. But in areas where exploration does take place, culture does matter. The pervasive and entrenched corruption in the Nigerian oil and gas industry has cultural underpinnings, for instance. There is also a cultural element to why a robust indigenous value chain around oil and gas exploration has been elusive in Nigeria, the continent's top oil producer. Government-owned refineries, the only ones in any case, are moribund or underperforming. Instead, fuel is largely imported.
Would it be profitable for a foreign investor to invest in a refinery in Nigeria, say? It is highly unlikely without local support. But a local investor like Aliko Dangote, Africa's richest man, who is currently building a refinery in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, is incidentally likely to be successful, however. This is because in addition to his having access to foreign capital, he is also fully enmeshed in the political, social and cultural fabric of Nigerian society. A foreign investor looking to invest in the sector would thus be well-advised to invest through such an influential local investor; if at all.