In Africa, we have a choice and it is one we seem to have never previously been courageous enough to consider since we were reduced by slavery and subjugated by colonialism. We are at a time when the effect of the pandemic should call our better angels towards a more original design. A design that moves us beyond the obsession with material acquisition and towards the significance of being interdependent or communal…
The world will probably never again have the chance to restart with a blank slate, as it does now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate truth is that the persons and institutions which were dominant prior to the pandemic have hardly ceded any space for the development of a new, potentially more effective world.
It seems for now that the basic lesson of the pandemic is still unlearnt, which is that we are yet to admit when we do not know. While we are still seeking understanding of how this virus is working through the world, yet we are already awarding winners and losers in its handling. The tests for identifying who is infected or not are not as cast in iron as we pretend they are, when we play the numbers game. The dynamics of the predicament is neither clear cut as defined, as the notion of salvation by vaccination. There are linear algorithms or solutions to be applied here. Yes, there are promising lines but even the treatment course is not well defined. Even if the pandemic exposes material deficiencies, especially in healthcare, it is not clear what the broader disruption reveals: that the world is an unpredictable and un-directable place with so much more unknown than is known. The pandemic occurred in ways that should fill the world order and system with humility of its predictive capacity, scientific or otherwise, and especially the fact that knowledge is not wisdom. Part of developing wisdom is the courage to be vulnerable, the hunger to be curious and the humility to discover.
In Africa, we have a choice and it is one we seem to have never previously been courageous enough to consider since we were reduced by slavery and subjugated by colonialism. We are at a time when the effect of the pandemic should call our better angels towards a more original design. A design that moves us beyond the obsession with material acquisition and towards the significance of being interdependent or communal, especially critically shifting the focus of our zeitgeist towards building a more sustainable and holistic existence for future generations. This ideal should inspire generations of post-COVID-19 Africans, out of the relentless pursuit of Western validation and the embarrassing sense of failure and failing that drowns when compared to material accumulation, which is the hallmark of Western capitalism. There are alternatives to the conspicuous consumption and this is the time to seek this without any regret.
In realising the Africa in the post-COVID world we in, Nigerians often reflect that our country remains standing after nearly 60 years of attrition, totally stomped by the fact that her people are increasingly driven by the promissory gloss of petrol richness but have never completely accepted the grunt work of moving from country to nation. A large section of the country is driven by entitlement and caught in the lights of stolen commonwealth, expecting a saving government order that will ensure prosperity. A small minority recognise that the journey to nationhood is always in spite of the problems that come with over 400 ethnic nations and even more languages. Then comes COVID-19, leaving in its wake the destruction of illusions.
Oil has bottomed out, agriculture is still becoming, and revenues sources are so insignificant that they are only able to address a small fraction of the development needs of over 200 million people. The other side is quite clear; there is no greater opportunity for the design of a nation from the country called Nigeria. Genuinely, COVID-19 has given us a blank sheet of paper and possibly a economic depression in addition. It will be a great regret if this opportunity to emerge with a nation worthy of future generations is lost to the pain of being in extreme want and need. There is no alternative to genuinely designing our desired nation from the ashes of this unreliable and dysfunctional petro state. It must start with our conversation on a post-COVID-19 awakening and design.
There are a few priorities for designing a post-COVID-19 Nigerian nation that is both original and a great platform for the future of the world. First, we cannot afford the Westernised or ‘Anglo-American’ winner-takes-all political process. We in Nigeria cannot afford the oppositional polarisation, in which the losers spend all their time seeking the failure of the administration in power…
This conversation has begun all over the world. However, too many are prematurely jumping up to declare a new normal. Thankfully, the new normal will not be decreed or defined by the few. We must all be part of this process and, thankfully, in the 21st century, the digital spaces we have give us multiple opportunities for engagement.
There are a few priorities for designing a post-COVID-19 Nigerian nation that is both original and a great platform for the future of the world. First, we cannot afford the Westernised or ‘Anglo-American’ winner-takes-all political process. We in Nigeria cannot afford the oppositional polarisation, in which the losers spend all their time seeking the failure of the administration in power and the winners of elections. This is a waste that a developing country cannot afford, especially where ethnicity and religion come into play. It often means that in every administration, a large part of the population disengages from the common good and seeks the failure of the opposition. We need to learn from the Scandinavian partnership model to guide a redesign of our presidential system to drive inclusion better.
The next design focus is the need to make agriculture and food the centre of our commonwealth, while establishing Nigeria’s primary entitlement to nutritional wealth. Diverting all our economic, health and social focus towards agricultural production, processing and provision, will drive significant nutrition, pharmacological and medical results. There are many reasons why our food must become our medicine and our medicine our food. We produce and waste so much but our food is still less full of chemicals and adaptation, in comparison to many. It will get us into a preventive existence and focus us on the real priorities of life.
We need to make Africa the primary marketplace for our exports. The cost of exporting and shipping makes us uncompetitive in the rest of the world. Creating the capacity to provide value across our continent reduces our cost of operation and makes our economy more resilient and sustainable. A part of that will be translating our culture from its position as the dominant African software to the next level where it amplifies not just personal wealth but also national wealth.
This is now a time to face the future and stop taking ineffective short cuts of copying the West and awaiting their validation. As COVID-19 is showing that context matters and we most certainly can learn from other content but adapt to our context. I am sure this rare opportunity to define ourselves outside material obsession is one that we must never waste.
We need an aggressive mission to uplift the capacity of our girls and women. The face of poverty in Nigeria is largely female and she carries the burden of six children. We have no future with about 50 per cent of the population, which has the most critical effect in the growth of the future, largely marginal and often undervalued. All data show that when women do well, families do well. Their education, progress and prosperity must become a national clarion call, irrespective and age.
We need an Assembly of Young people under the age of 40, which is also representative of diversity and the spectrum of Nigerian communities, with a mission to evolve a 100-year focus for the country. It must be ambitious and challenging, with the possibility that they might come up with 10 alternatives that can be put to a referendum. Each plan must be a result of trans-cultural, geographic and religious collaboration, with the support of bodies of wise people.
Finally, we need to develop a new social contract. Currently, those who think they won at life’s lottery amass material wealth to cushion uncertainty about the future. The venal culture that then emerges often masks the total impossibility of inter-generation wealth. Wealth is not just material, and the extreme polarisation between the materially well-off and those who lack is not sustainable. We need to have a much broader spectrum of what is valuable and rewarded by our society, including wisdom and kindness. That means we are not driven by the artificial scarcity of the haves and have nots but abundant possibilities of the different kinds of wealth human beings are endowed with. In a society that validates all that is genuinely valuable.
All these is the right focus, as 90 per cent of planned oil revenue will not materialise this year, 2020. Even though with debt at about 28 per cent of GDP, we are far from highly indebted and it is better that over 60 per cent of our economy is still informal, as it signals a great potential for growth. This is now a time to face the future and stop taking ineffective short cuts of copying the West and awaiting their validation. As COVID-19 is showing that context matters and we most certainly can learn from other content but adapt to our context. I am sure this rare opportunity to define ourselves outside material obsession is one that we must never waste.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.