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Corporate heritage Africa – mobile phone networks


President Obama was re-elected last week as the 44th President of the USA in what appeared to be a closely contested election until the votes were counted against a backdrop of an impending fiscal cliff that exposes the vulnerability and systemic problem of the biggest economic power in the contemporary world.

Report by  Mutumwa Mawere

The role of the first citizen of the USA was a matter that the founding fathers of the country were seized with because ultimately they must have been concerned about the danger of any nation state placing its fate in the mind of a single individual of flesh.

The triumph of President Obama against his rival, Governor Mitt Romney, an accomplished businessman represented a rejection of the rational principle on which the republic was founded and a fundamental shift in the balance of power and values in the country.

America started as an idea and the people who put it together were acutely conscious of the need to create a viable nation state and, if anything, the recent global economic meltdown seriously put into question the durability of an individualistic driven model.

The apparent rejection of capitalism in many developed states without an alternative that inspires human creativity and imagination speaks volumes about the complexity of building cohesive, inclusive, prosperous and equal societies.

Behind the American economic powerhouse is an ideological construction that is not only invisible but has offered hope to many to believe that the enterprise of life can be of more value if prosecuted in the platform of America than in any other nation state.

The 300 million inhabitants of America did not acquire the status of being the pace setters and economic role models by accident.

Success is not inevitable and Africa with a billion inhabitants has no more role models to follow for socialism was discredited under our generation’s watch and now capitalism can no longer be relied upon to provide the kind of answers that human beings need to believe in for them to play their part as voluntary actors in the quest of a better life.

What we know is that the confusion in America has significant developmental and public policy implications for many countries including African states.

Democracy produces its own absurd outcomes not only in terms of the fact that the people from whom income is to be collected as taxes are not the people who have an ultimate say on who should govern but also in terms of the fact that without an enabling, just, opportunity-driven and fair environment, the very people from whom more taxes are to be collected are necessary targets of politicians who would otherwise not be able to secure state jobs through the intermediation of elections.

No nation state can prosper by undermining the rich or blindly seeking to raise state revenues through progressive taxation.

Africa has produced its own celebrity capitalists but the voice of the corporate world is largely missing in action.

What was refreshing in the American election is that the voice of business was part of the conversation about what kind of America should be re-designed and the questions that are begging for answers will not go away simply because the people have spoken politically.

Rarely do African citizens have the benefit of hearing all voices before making a decision at the ballot box.

The choices that have to be made to correct the path that the nation is walking on will still need to be made lest America will rapidly transform itself into a losing nation.

Action requires no right season or time for if right choices are made, the ability of individual voluntary actors to make a difference can never be doubted for even in the so-called dark continent of Africa we have witnessed sparks of hope.

The mobile phone network industry is a government on its own with its own actors in the value chain.

The individual mobile phone networks are the actors whose mission is to provide a service to willing market participants.
The continent has about 154 GSM and an additional 19 CDMA operators.

The sole purpose of setting up a business is to serve and even in the case of governments, no one can dispute a proposition that the only purpose of a government is to serve.

One of the differences between state and non-state actors is that the source of revenues of the state arises from a contract that relies on involuntary contributions to the fiscus by corporate and individual citizens whereas the private sector cannot wish away competitors or expect customers to pay for no value exchanged.

The only reason investment has been made in Africa’s telecommunications industry is because the users are willing and able to pay for the service.

The corporate journey that Africa has travelled is no different from the journeys that corporate citizens typically experience but what makes Africa unique is that the ideological questions that ought to be resolved are left unanswered.

America’s corporate actors are naturally nervous, as are the so-called rich Americans who will have to chip in through involuntary contributions so that the quality of life that the country is associated with can be maintained.

However, the more the rich are targeted the less the incentive to be rich.

A welfare state can only be sustained if the rich can be hypnotized to believe that their interests are secure by the involuntary transfers of wealth through taxation.

The state and its actors have limits to what they can or cannot do to lift a nation in as much as private actors without the facilitation and enablement of the state and its actors can or cannot do.

The poor need the rich in as much as the rich need the poor but the balance that is needed to be put in place suggests that a fusion between individual and collective ambitions has to be designed in the interests of converting riders into pullers of individual wagons.

The lessons from the mobile phone network industry is that it is possible to create a working Africa and such confidence is premised not so much on the ability of state actors to think for private citizens but that customers and citizens when presented with a worthy value proposition will not require slogans or empty nationalistic campaigns to pursue their interests and in so doing produce outcomes that lift even the poor.

The mobile phone industry operates like a quilt connected by a common thread.  It is the common thread that strengthens the quilt and gives it character.

The character of the industry is defined by the weakest link and history has taught us that the strongest link is not found in the shareholding but in the seamless integration of numerous actors in the value chain.

The weakest link may very well be the person selling airtime and if all the people who want airtime were to get such value without paying for it, there can be no doubt that the pyramid will collapse in as much as any farmer who makes it a habit to harvest where he or she has not sworn will ultimately undermine the craft that we know as farming.

The evolution and development of the mobile phone network industry was intermediated strongly by private actors whose primary objective could not have been solely premised on profit maximization but on service.

No rational businessman embarks on the journey solely driven by a desire to minimize costs but to serve for it is service that produces income and wealth.

The last 26 years have shown that a new citizen of Africa in the name of mobile phone industry has been seamlessly created and its drivers and builders are not in the faces of citizens but are to be found at the numerous transaction points where exchanges are made on a voluntary basis.

Free people are capable of producing extraordinary outcomes and the linkages that have been forged between the mobile phone network industry and its various role players are not only necessary but define the character of the industry.

If state actors cannot legitimately claim sole credit for the creation and viability of the mobile phone industry which is a sub-set of the entire African economy, why then would citizens expect more from persons that have failed to provide leadership to civil society on how best to create seamless, progressive and inclusive societies.

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