Many times we ask ourselves why we are not like other nations of the world. We expect that with all the many fiscal receipts to the country, that the quality of our lives would have been excellent. But this is not the case. And therefore, when compared with the quality of development and the standard of living in countries that are not as endowed as we are, it appears as if we are under a particular curse. Why is it that ideas and projects that succeed in other countries of the world fail in our environment? Africa, like many different continents, does not even require completely new initiatives and ideas to attain greatness. Many of the ideas and projects that have been tested and known to succeed elsewhere usually fail when adapted to the African soil. Of course, there are many reasons for this seeming truth. Some of these reasons are also obtainable in other countries with outstanding successes from some of these ideas and projects.
No one is expected to know it all. However, it seems that due to an inferiority complex, some of the leaders in Africa believe that people expect otherwise. That judgement often makes them arrogate to themselves the elusive power of the all-knowing. The implication is that once an idea or an initiative is too difficult for them to understand, they are considered impracticable. This approach and view of life are in tandem with that of ancient authorities and medieval leaders. For instance, the story of the Pope and Galileo, the scientist who found out that the world was spherical is instructive. Because the Pope, who was considered the all-knowing authority and a representative of God’s wisdom could not understand Galileo’s point of view and consequently held a different but unscientific opinion, Galileo’s idea was jettisoned. He – the latter – was sent to the guillotine for conjuring an idea that contradicts that of the divine.
Many of our leaders today are no different. And the unfortunate side is that while they do not see the big picture, or even appreciate new ideas, they make little or no efforts to understand the ones suggested by other people. There is no doubt that the idea-originator has a natural burden to get others to follow his ideas/concepts by explaining how it fits into the larger picture of good for society. The challenge, however, is that even when the idea-originator works hard to explain this, many of those in the position needed to approve the project idea is scarcely patient to understand how it works thoroughly.
The sit-tight mentality of African leaders pretty much explains this. If for instance, a political leader truly believes that other people may possess better ideas on how to move the country forward, then the striving to continue in office even in the face of apparent performance failure most of the time, will no longer be necessary. This line of thinking also applies to the concept of Godfatherism. In the latter, the political Godfather wants to continue in office through the puppet officeholder remotely. Appropriate spaces for innovations, initiatives and projects emerge through the acceptance of the truth that other people do possess even better and brighter ideas.
Similarly, many of our leaders as doorkeepers tend to exhibit extraordinarily selfish and greedy behaviours, which consequently frustrates the accomplishment of projects and good ideas. High levels of rent-seeking and corruption that are found within the corridors of power and in positions of authority within the continent explain this. It is an unfortunate trend across the continent. It is not unusual for instance, in Nigeria for all the doorkeepers in a projects execution value chain to demand a share of the value of the project before they can authorise its go-ahead. As a matter of fact, in some extreme cases the entire project amounts and embezzled. Two possible consequences are usually attendant to these. The first is the over-bloated value of the project which often leads to the second implication. A fore-knowledge of over padding and invoicing can lead to the total abandonment of a project. From experience and case studies across the world there seems to be no country that is immune from some level of corruption. However in many of these countries, the law takes its full course. That in itself sounds as enough deterrent and keeps many away from even contemplating greed to be in the way of realising a meaningful project. The difference between what happens in those countries and ours is that our laws are fuzzy and confusing and consequently provides enough exit for those who want to cheat. In Nigeria alone, there is over NGN1 trillion worth of abandoned projects. Almost 90% of these projects are discontinued because of excessive greed and corruption.
There is also the racial or ethnic bias factor that sometimes stands on the way of implementation of great ideas on the continent. Unarguably, ethnic biases and perceptions abound everywhere in the world. Some group of people sometimes perceive people of other descent as either superior or inferior, depending on their yardsticks of measurement. It is not out of place, therefore, that some leaders or project doorkeepers to completely dismiss the need and the feasibility of an idea because they are emanating from a particular race or ethnic group. In other words, some people believe that if specific categories of ideas and initiatives do not originate from a certain tribe, then it might as well not be worth giving a chance to survive. Good ideas and good initiatives can originate from anywhere, or group of people.
These unacceptable racial biases other good ideas and projects sometimes go together with locational preference. For instance, leaders with prejudice against particular races and ethnic groups will find it challenging to approve the citing of good plans on the soil of those races and ethnic groups. This kind of discrimination is very commonplace in some countries in Africa and may have been partially instrumental to the last Rwandan war.
Nothing can be more damaging to good ideas than the sacrifice of the needed level of planning, design and execution that should make those ideas to mature and yield the right kind of fruits. Knowledge and ideas when taken alone mean nothing. Knowledge and ideas generally make sense when the goals that they are supposed to produce our properly planned for designed and executed using the right sequencing framework for such contexts. Many African policymakers in the bid to bring a project to life and consequently earn the glory of the executioner sacrifice they needed implementation sequencing. It is not unusual to find many newly elected politicians and leaders striving to execute some projects perhaps within the first 100 or 180 days. Sometimes a lot of these projects are such that to get them at the right quality, at least a minimum of 100 days should go into its planning and design alone. So if, the project is commissioned when in actuality it should still be at the phase of planning and design, what kind of value should be expected of it? Proper sequencing of ideas, given the target outcome, demands that each stage in the life of the plans should receive its due place.
There is also the problem of the wrong imitation and the wrong or poor contextualisation of copied ideas. Perhaps, only second to the ‘China of the last two decades’, Africa appears to be a leader in the terrible imitation of elegant ideas and designs. And these range from the ideas in politics, business to technology. Copying in a wrong way will always lead to less than optimal or even disastrous results. Complementing the wrong imitation of ideas is also the challenge of poor contextualisation of copied ideas. A concept in Europe and the Americas might be practical because of the prevailing culture, the efficiency of the rule of law, and so on. If such a plan is entirely lifted without paying attention to those parameters that have made it succeed well in those environments, the results to be obtained will be different. Contextual validity is critical in perfecting the decision to imitate. It is something that we grossly lack in this continent and for which we have consistently paid dearly.
Finally, is the sad consequence of cronyism in the death of brilliant ideas and projects in Africa. Because of the weakness of the justice system across the continent, it is usually straightforward to set aside the rules and guidelines that should govern both the award of contracts and its execution. Such loopholes are therefore capitalised upon for assuaging and helping cronies. It is not unusual to see an uneducated man land the deal for the implementation of a super sophisticated and highly technical project. For instance, about a decade ago, practically any person can repurchase contracts awarded to wrong, and incompetent people who would have been awarded those contracts based on cronyism.