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Burning down the house

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Trump supporters climbing the wall. Image credit: Jagran English

Hold tight, wait ’til the party’s over
Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather
There has, got to be a way
Burning down the house

Talking Heads

By L.M. Louw

10 January 2021 – The year 2021 made a grandstand entrance into the history books and as things stand, may even be more eventful than 2020.

Images from Washington, USA, in the first week of the new year, brought back vivid memories of binge-watching epic fantasy television series Game of Thrones not too long ago. While Donald Trump’s supporters – ominously resembling a band of Wildlings from beyond the Wall in the Kingdom of the North – proclaimed their status as free folk, not bound by the oaths and loyalties of the 52-state Kingdom the one day, leader Trump condemned them the next after they stormed the holy grail of democracy. Trump lost his nerve and did not walk with his riffraff Brownshirts to climb the Wall of the Once-Unbreachable. Rather, he decided to watch from a distance, sharing popcorn and coke with wife Melania and daughter Ivanka as they followed events live on Fox TV.

Notwithstanding the absence of their brave leader, and before they realised what was happening, the wild ones suddenly found themselves deep within the belly of the beast, and as any ill-disciplined soldier would do, drank from the poisoned chalice. The main-stream media quickly dubbed it an “attempted coup”. I believe it was the last desperate attempt by a power-hungry dictator-in-the-making, and his far-right supporters, to cling to power. But alas, it was too late. Democracy in America won the day, once again – something that does not always happen in Africa.

We all know that Africa has produced its fair share of “Trumps” and bandits from beyond the Wall in the past. And be sure that there will be more in the future. The difference is that America’s democracy is backed up by incredibly strong institutions. There are enough checks and balances to ensure that a rogue like Trump toes the line, although he might twist and turn some of them during his four-year tenure. The concept of democracy has gained strength and popularity across Africa over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, the new African leaders prioritised universal suffrage ahead of building a capable state and efficient economy with strong institutions. Instead of meritocracy, the new elite chose nepotism and corruption, and in doing so, further weakened their states and dragged down their economies.

Nevertheless, there are good signs in many parts of Africa. The populace has become more vocal and demand good governance. Slowly but surely ideologies and perceptions about business are changing. More African leaders give credence to the notion of building a capable state and economy in partnership with the private sector and foreign investors, rather than regarding them as the enemy.

The notion that private sector and governments in Africa cannot cooperate is a fallacy. There are many examples where partnerships between central governments and the private sector have been extremely successful. In South Africa, for instance, business and government, who hardly spoke to each other in the last ten years, pulled together and cooperated on many fronts to fight the recent Coronavirus scourge. As Covid-19 vaccinations are rolled out across the globe, it is now, more than ever, time for private interests and investors to make a real difference in Africa. The impact of Covid-19 has been devastating for most African countries, and many will have to rebuild their economies from scratch. There is no reason why the private sector and investors, in tandem with aid agencies, NGOs and governments, cannot start laying the foundations for a better, more sustainable economy, and more equitable Africa society.

But always keep in mind that Africa is complex. The political and economic environment, and the ease of doing business, is different in all 54 countries. Risks are omnipresent, and the political landscape and regulations can change on a whim. Nobody can predict the future, but there are tools to pre-empt events to mitigate adverse impacts. The rise of risks and phenomena like Covid-19 and Donald Trump cannot always be predicted, but there are signs and signals that should raise red flags. The bottom line is to do your homework, invest in experts and ask the African specialists before you plunge headfirst into territory beyond your “Wall”. However, do not hesitate to invest in risk, the rewards are worth it. Remember, the Wildlings are everywhere, even in America.

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