The dilemma of the prevailing African development narrative has been the imprudence of trying to replicate discordant utopia of industrialized nations, which often leaves us ‘terra incognita’. As we pretend to be oblivious to the fact that advanced countries rely on development models and systems that fit their purpose.
Unlocking development potential
Consider technology-based development schemes that have been popularized in Africa over the years, and the huge budgets squandered on these schemes that we barely understand or have the support systems to make them work. Such a reflection, in these times of global fiscal austerity, will urge us to be impatient at resisting the pangs of failed sociopolitical experimentations that landed us where we are today. Because we do not need a sage to tell us that innovating and cutting down infrastructure cost holds the key to relieving the continent of its crippling debt recovery budgets to unlock our development potentials.
For instance, we will not be fair to ourselves to continue relying on gray infrastructure development to run our economies as opposed to readapting our economic framework, and integrating nature-based solutions to avoid sinking deep into further debts to discounts any prospect of us achieving sustainable development on the continent.
The informal sector defined by Keith Hart (1973), as a label for economic activities that escape state regulation (Hart, 2010), provides us with useful lessons, as a sector with a prime prospect for job creation, advancement of creativity and innovations to support the resilience of our national economies if properly integrated. It represents a hub for innovation and creativity in Africa (Kraemer-Mbula & Wunsch-Vincent, 2016).
Statistically, a 2010 informal sector data for Ghana showed the sector employs about 86% of its labor force, contributing 42% to national GDP (Anuwa-Amarh 2015), out of those in formal employment, 7% work in the public sector and another 7% in the private sector (GSS 2010). If we appreciate this sector enough to explore its innovations and creative potentials, we should be able to size down inequality to sharpen the effectiveness of our economic growth for poverty reduction and fair distribution of our national resources in no time.
Making informed choices
To explore nature for sustainability, Africa is nature bound. Nature has even been generous enough to pardon our misplaced faith in borrowed development systems, and models as we continue to abandon it, as well as local ingenuities to subject ourselves to episodes of frustrating and dysfunctional development outcomes and dissonance. We must not lose sight of the fact that we owe immeasurable gratitude to nature for its patience, and continued blessing to us with resources to support our resilience, after several failed experiments based on misplaced faith in vague and overrated political promises. God is African indeed.
How do we even understand the modern infrastructure that sustains our economies and livelihoods? It is prudent to digest this complex system for the layperson to understand what it is, appreciate and practice sustainable ways of utilizing it to support its maintenance for future use and economic utility. This is the way to ensure that our populations make informed choices to support efforts at developing and advocating the needed infrastructure to sustain our livelihood in society.
As explained by Ashley Carse (2016) modern infrastructure is material networks that facilitate contemporary social and economic organization, and associated social relations, practices, expectations, and forms of knowledge production. Instructively, Carse (2016) postulate that such an approach leads to an understanding of the role infrastructures play in producing environmental problems and reinforcing unsustainable behaviors.
Referencing the history of infrastructure in the 1950s, he clarifies that the contextual specificities of the expanding use of the word infrastructure as a concept in subsequent decades, tracked as “the rise of a form of calculative reason that emphasized the establishment of global transportation, communication, and logistics networks organized around managerial and technical standards” (Barry 2006; Easterling 2014; Carse 2016). He states the position of Anthropologist Julian Steward that connective infrastructures highlighted the limits of community-based research.
Steward (1955) postulates that “although the concept of environmental adaptation underlies all cultural ecology, the procedures must consider the complexity and level of the culture”. Suggestive of the importance of the contextual specificities of the infrastructural needs of society relative to its diverse needs and support systems. Emphasizing that, “it makes a great deal of difference whether a community comprises hunters and gatherers who subsist independently by their own efforts or whether it is an outpost of a wealthy nation exploiting local mineral wealth sustained by railroads, ships, or airplanes. In advanced societies the nature of the culture core is determined by a complex technology and by productive arrangements which themselves have a long cultural history (Steward, 1955, 39).
Overcoming weak political leadership
It is sad to note that some political administrators we elect to steer the affairs of our national economies and assume societal responsibilities, sometimes barely understand the systems they operate, and yet relegate important sources of support for their functional efficiency such as the academia and civil society to the background, throwing caution to the winds to propound development theories and practices that lead to nebulous consequences.
When the realities of their absurdity and intransigence catch up with us, they blame nature and everything but themselves for their apparent failures. Listening to Audu Ogbeh, Former Nigerian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development recount the debilitating effects of the structural adjustment program (SAP) on Nigerian currency and the economy, and magnifying the conspiring role of some political figures, tells a horrendous story of African political elites.
A group making up the bureaucracy Keith Hart described as an essentially positive construct, invented as part of a democratic political project to give citizens access to what is theirs by right, yet in practice perceived to operate as the negation of democracy. Hart (1973) made this submission in rendering commentary on German Philosopher Hegel’s contention that Society should be managed by an educated bureaucratic elite in the national interest and that Max Weber recognized such a synthesis in Germany’s historical experience of the alliance between Rhineland capitalists and Prussian bureaucracy (Hann and Hart 2011, 30), Africa is different.
As Africans, enduring self-inflicting pains, has become the order of the day, as we rely on nature in times of crisis. How can we then deny the sovereignty of nature? Because nature and faith will forever remain our dependable source of inspiration and hope for a generational path to charting a survival course in our religious and natural pursuits. So when we envisage nature-based solutions, it should be Africa-centered to suit our context.
Had we focused on building trust and confidence in our relationship with nature, perhaps we would have saved ourselves lots of troubles and tribulations of modernity. What could be the transformative value of education and civilization if we cannot appreciate the importance of sovereign nature and its contributions to the survival of human species? Is not it a failed adventure to assume we could play the role of machines and digress from our natural selves? It is only prudent to realize that technology is an adapted form of nature, to understand who is learning from whom? Our fascination with modern technology is outstandingly risible that we delegate even our thought processes to machines, and second guess the outcomes when they fail us. But nature does not fail, a reason we should wake up to the realization that our relationship with nature requires a balanced stewardship. We should give as much as we take to secure the future we desire.