While in the midst of the boredom waiting for a connecting flight, an old Kenyan politician sat next to me.
Develop me with Tapiwa Gomo
Without knowing who he was, I responded to his humble greeting with that morning grumpy attitude. I was tired, sleepy and I did not want to be bothered. My mind was focused on the intricacies of my destination. My Kenyan “friend” decided to break the silence.
“So where are you off to?” he inquired.
I responded with a discouraging attitude. “That country is endowed with resources, but its people are always fighting and may remain poor for a while.” That alone was a teaser and my mind sprang to life.
I introduced myself. He told me how he aspired for the top office in Kenya, but his political ambitions didn’t knock on the door of his dreams. He was satisfied with ministerial portfolios.
“So do you think African resources are a curse as they say?” I asked.
After what seemed to be half a minute of deep thinking, he raised his head and said to me: “There is no curse; there is no poverty in Africa.
“There are just vultures who condition people’s minds to think that dead meat is something to fight over, while they eat fresh meat.
“To begin with, you don’t need natural resources to develop. All you need is a clean and free mind. It is worth more than gold and diamonds combined.”
He further recited the platitude that has become a development mantra that natural resource wealth and successful development do not always go hand in hand and that the two must not be read in concurrence.
The Asian countries managed to develop their economies without natural resources except for the oceans. If we were to ship all Asians to Africa, the continent would be turned into an earthly paradise.
And if we are ship Africans to Asia, half of them would die of hunger and poverty, he argued, adding that many African countries with abundant mineral, land or forest resources are actually low- or lower middle-income countries with high poverty rates, low human development and sluggish growth.
Even with booming commodity prices, doubts linger about the potential for mineral-rich countries to achieve more sustainable development outcomes. His argument sounded very interesting especially when we consider that it appears to be a disadvantage to base a national economy on extractive industries or commodity production.
But then what separates the two? An African continent endowed with abundant natural resources and a hard working population and an Asian continent that has nothing but its people.
His answer is simple. “There is no mineral or natural resource that beats the value of free and clean brain. History has shown that many of today’s developed countries initiated, developed and sustained their economic and social development on just such a basis.”
In simple terms, Africa is poor because there are no thinking people and Asians have done well without resources because they think better than Africans. Offensive as it may sound, but it is the truth. We can write acres and acres of literature blaming the West or the East for this and that or theorising.
A victim mind is a weak one. And a weak mind is one that tenders poverty and finds comfort in it. This comfort manifests into different dimensions, including dependency, a sense of entitlement on other people’s wealth creation projects.
Take for example, most of African development policies are hand-to-mouth projects.
The scramble for mines in Zimbabwe is not because people want to make use of the minerals, but they want to sell them to other countries that have the brains to use them. In the absence of buyers or those with brain to use them, all minerals today will be rendered valueless. And yet in Asia, they procure what they need because they have the brains to make use of what they do not have in order to increase their wealth.
That crippled way of thinking also manifests itself in the foreign investment policies where African countries open up to economic abuse simply because a government cannot encourage and create an enabling environment for its people to be innovative.
As I am writing this piece, a place called Goma in Democratic of Congo is occupied by a rebel group.
Goma is a very rich area endowed with everything a human being needs to develop and yet it is underdeveloped. They are always fighting for minerals. Young men find it easy to hold the gun, fighting wars for other’s causes than use their brains to utilise the abundant minerals for their development.
Neither the rebel leaders nor the soldiers have any use for the minerals. They are all playing other people’s games. If you don’t use your brain, other people will use both your body and your resources for their ends. Who can challenge the old Kenyan politician for stating that the mind has more value than any other mineral in the world?
One man called Joseph Chinotimba left his gate office where he saluted other men to become a man saluted by other men. Whatever we may say about him today, surely his life will never be the same again. He used his brains from zero to what he is today.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa