Why Africa will never be an economic giant

Over the past three months, I’ve been saving money for the iPhone X. It’s valued at slightly over 100K (Kenya Shillings) now. I’d done my math and decided to put aside 20K monthly so that by end of May I could have the phone.

Unless you’re the son of a millionaire, you’ve got to save for some of these things. Then today as I was working, it hit me that I of all the people could be this ludicrous. Saving 100K not towards an investment, not towards an asset, not towards property, but towards a consumable.

Mr Innocent Ngare argues that Africans will neither produce nor generate wealth because they’ll always be on the receiving end of the dynamics that shape global economics.

Granted, the iPhone is one of the most innovative technological products of this generation. But why did I need an iPhone X? I’m not a techie. There’s nothing in my line of work or studies that requires me to own the iPhone X. I’m not obsessed with taking pictures. I don’t give much thought about storage capacity, processing speeds. Then it hit me. In our society, the iPhone is revered. And the iPhone X is the holy grail of status symbols. Having the iPhone X elevates your standing among peers. By buying the iPhone X you’re telling people that you’re here –you’ve arrived.

Nothing drives consumption in Black America and Africa like status symbols. And this is the primary reason why we are always on the receiving end of the forces that drive global growth. You’ve all heard this narrative that Africa is growing. I have nothing against afro-optimists but the statistics indicate otherwise. In 2000, Africa owned only 1 percent of global wealth. In 2018, Africa still owns 1 percent of global wealth. When we have countries like China that have grown from owning 4.4 percent to 9 percent of global wealth over the past 18 years, Africa owns a paltry 1 percent. $2.5 trillion out of $250 trillion.

But how do you expect Africa to own a significant share of global wealth when Kenya’s Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) amounted to 80 percent of its GDP in 2017. When China only consumes 37 percent of its GDP, Kenya consumes 80 percent. Unbelievable! And you think this happens by itself? This happens by design. The White Man made the Black Man a consumer –not a producer. The White Man came to Africa with automobiles and our children would run naked towards the road when they heard the sound of the Mzungu’s VW Beetle.

They grew up thinking that the epitome of life is owning a car. Today, the Kenyan Man knows that the first thing you do when you get a job is to buy a car. I mean, why not? You have arrived, haven’t you? So, you’re ready to immerse yourself in debt to buy a car even if your workplace is across the street. You buy a car before a house. Life is good. The White man creates a status symbol, produces that status symbol, then gives you credit to purchase the status symbol. See your life. And you wonder why you own only 1 percent of global wealth?

Why do you think the Cadillac is such a big deal in Black America? You think the African American woke up one day and thought that the Cadillac was such a great car? Let me burst your bubble. Before 1927, General Motors did not sell Cadillacs to Black folks. It didn’t matter whether you had money or not. If you were Black, there was no goddamn Cadillac for you. Only the White Man drove Cadis. But the wealthy Negro wanted the Cadillac so bad. The Negro had no access to good housing. The Negro had no civil rights. But in the Cadillac, he found a success symbol. So he could go to the White Man and pay him money to buy the Cadillac on his behalf.

In 1932, when General Motors stopped its prejudice against Black consumers, all of them rushed to buy the Cadillac. Today, that car is still a powerful status symbol in Black America. I’ve read interesting opinion pieces advancing the narrative that the Black American is willing to own a Cadillac even if he has no health insurance. So the White Man makes him the Cadillac and since the Black Man is too poor to buy the car, the White Man gives him credit so that he can acquire it.

Is there anyone who was ever taught the basic principles of financial literacy in school? Good for you if you were. But for the majority of us, society told us to arrive. Not to generate wealth but to consume. Soma kwa bidii, pata kazi mzuri, endesha gari kubwa. Nunua iPhone X. That is life. And we are ready to get knee-deep in debt to “arrive.” You haven’t gone to school if you’re still using Matatus in your thirties. The Kenyan middle-class even organizes events to show off their status symbols.

Do you guys remember that event where Mercedes-Benz owners got together for a road-trip to… Was it Nakuru? Guys were flaunting cars bought using debt and I know the White Man sat down somewhere and thought of making more Mercedes Benz units for the Kenyan consumer. Because that is what you are meant to do –to consume.

You will never produce. You will never generate wealth. You’ll always be on the receiving end of the dynamics that shape global economics. Africa will never be an economic giant –we are a consumer market. And they gloss it up to make it look nice –Africa the emerging consumer market. Because the White Man took away the physical chain but conveniently left the mental chains.

No iPhone X. A plot of land for me.

By Innocent Ngare