It is not by mistake, “juju”, or a curse that most African nations are failing and in most cases poor (as far as providing a good life for citizens is concerned). Despite being blessed with having all sorts of natural resources, land, etc. to this day, Africa is “poor.”

Correction, not poor, but terribly managed.

Botswana is arguably one of few countries in Africa that has been able to hold onto being stable and relatively prosperous over the decades and centuries. This is both before the British came to the country and after Botswana assumed independence. The Southern African country is doing relatively well for its citizens not because it has a small population (many countries have similar populations as Botswana but are failing) but simply because, even after assuming presidency, Seretse Khama and his political party chose to enforce inclusive political and economic institutions. Of course the country has had its fair share of problems but it has fared better for its citizens than many African countries. 📷 1950: Ruth Williams Khama with Seretse Khama on a hill somewhere in Botswana. Credit - History Today

It’s worse when you consider that today, almost all the world’s knowledge is not only available in books, but also in most cases for free on the web. So, if that’s the case, with all the technology solutions available in the world and all the knowledge available, why are most African countries failing?

I would argue the primary reason, at the core of it all, the wrong people are in the wrong positions. As such, the wrong people are making the wrong decisions based purely on their egos and patronage. Think about it. It is actually like a pyramid (scheme) of patronage, with decisions at every level made in favour of whoever the next upper level patron is. So, for example, instead of hiring the best people and deploying the best available technology to address any particular problem, a solution and people that do things that benefit the patron are entrusted with developing solutions.

This is also why criticism which aims to improve is also frowned upon in general, because…that’s not how patronage works.

Which brings me to one of the most insightful books I have read - Why Nations Fail.

I think the book "Why Nations Fail" should be required curriculum before anyone assumes any public service office at any level in any African country. In the book Daron Acemoğlu and James A. Robinson explain what causes countries to fail economically, giving specific examples throughout history. In the same vein, they give case studies on how to "break the mold." The above diagram is a good illustration of the key concept of the book, i.e. the more extractive a country's political and economic systems, the more likely it will fail and not benefit its citizens.

So, the next step that follows from a system of patronage is that extractive political and economic systems are developed (the authors don’t mention patronage, but I think it is a precursor to the beginning of a failing state). For example, despite it being known that digitized and transparent government procurement systems are the most efficient (for the benefit of citizens), a country that runs heavily on a patronage network will hang onto inefficient methods simply because new technology threatens this patronage pyramid (scheme).

This is also something many technology startup founders miss when they pitch their efficient and innovative solutions to African governments, i.e.if it threatens the patronage network, my friend, forget it.

How do we get our various African countries out of this cycle of poverty and failure?

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