When Your Neighbour’s Beard is On Fire…
You know what they say, if you see your neighbour’s beard on fire… you go into the business of water production.
If you see your neighbour’s beard on fire, you water your own—that is what ordinary people do. But it seems to be the case that extraordinary people go a step further by seeing both an opportunity for altruism and business in whatever misfortune life brings—be it to them or to others. Indeed, when extraordinary people see their neighbour’s beard on fire, they go into the business of producing water.
At least that is what this country called the United States of America did. While on the one hand, earnestly preaching and calling for peace, this nation was on a totally different hand, fuelling this gory war by industriously providing the morbid wherewithal of war…
The Business of Water Production
For three whole years, the world’s economic powers powered on in a destructive war. As we have already discussed in previous articles, World War I was a highly industrialised war—the very first of its kind. Like no other war preceding it, WWI required on-the-toes, round-the-clock production of armament. It required constant innovation—novel munitions to meet the enemy’s novel munitions. It was a war fought between soldiers—but more than anything, it was a war between industries. Countries, in order to get an upper hand in this endless war, had to find new, innovative ways of beating out one another in their inventions of munitions. Guns, vehicles, aircrafts, ships, etc., had to receive earnest upgrades to help give these nations upper hands in their war efforts.
Now, imagine this: the world’s superpowers busy with warring… Then imagine yet another nation, then also an industrial giant of the era, having the pleasure of being uninvolved in the war… Wouldn’t such a country take the opportunity of the vast market enabled by this war, and commit their industries into the production of much-needed munitions for the warring parties? You see, when your neighbour’s beard is on fire, you do go into water production! Even when in this case, by going into water production, it meant a further fuelling of the fire. More fire means more need for water, and more demand for water means more money for you. President Wilson and your fellow Americans, you sly dawgs! We see what you did there! Admirable, eh?
That is the story of how USA became an industrial hub during the war—producing both military and civilian goods for exporting. By late 1917 when the country finally joined the war, it had an industrial base already engaged in and experienced in the production of military goods. The nation went into this tiresome, industrialised war, having had ample preparation time—more than can be said for the rest of the Allies and the Central Powers. USA, a nation which before the war was supposedly engaged in the business of ‘minding their own business’—a nation supposedly steeped in the ideas of isolationism, hence having a pretty much non-existent army, was to, in WWI, play such a decisive role—one that culminated in the ending of the war, and the nabbing of a victory for the Allies.
Let’s Talk Numbers
Having a flourishing industrial base, economic prosperity ensued for the Americans. Real wages in the manufacturing sector rose by some 7percent. Jobs were in abundance—one could find decent work easily (err, the White populace, to be precise). Slavery, although having ended decades prior, this country was to still find very, very cheap labour in its desperate, disenfranchised Black populace. Productivity of industries was at an all-time high. Between the periods of 1914 to 1917, the country’s industrial production increased by 32percent; its GNP by almost 20percent. Unemployment drastically reduced from 9.7percent at the start of the war to 1.4percent during 1918, not only due to the increase in military recruitment that ensued 1917 onwards, but principally due to the ever-increasing demands for human power in the blossoming American industries.
American banks were soon serving as financiers for other nations’ war efforts. Britain for instance had, during the first three years of the war, borne the burden of financing the Allies’ war efforts against the Central Powers. But as the war dragged on, these warring parties, you could say, became enormously successful in their bid at causing attritions upon one another—an attrition of capital and of humans. And the enormously wealthy Britain was no exception. The country, had, by the third year of the war, run out of money. It shamelessly resorted to its former colony, America—American banks—for loans. Britain needed American banks to loan them money to buy munitions from American industries. I said, the Brits borrowed from America so they could buy from America—its former colony. Interesting, is it not? Once again, ‘peace-loving’ Wilson and your fellow Americans, you sly dogs! We see what you did there! Enviable, no?
All this was to culminate in this country, USA, by the end of the war, rising from the ranks of net debtor to the position as the world’s foremost net creditor. Its investments abroad rose from $5 billion in 1914 to $9.7 billion in 1919; while foreign investments in the country reduced from $7.2 billion in 1914 to $3.3 billion in 1919. The country was investing in others more than others were investing in her. It was lending to others more than it was borrowing from them. The country rose in prominence to become the world’s capital market, with its relatively newly instituted Federal Reserve becoming the world’s leading financial institution.
Where Do We Begin…?
Hmm, 3y3 ns3m pii. At this point, where do we even begin? How do we conclude this matter we have laid bare right before our eyes these past weeks? As you are well aware, we have missed out on certain important national issues this whole time that we have been in the West and East pondering over this gory war that occurred a century ago. What was it all for? Is there some form of lesson to be learnt from this barbarism—one that speaks to our present state as a nation? As we have established, this world of ours is nothing but a global jungle. So, does that mean that in order to succeed, we must approach it animalistically? Is that the lesson we seek to take from this whole morbid affair?
These nations (the developed worlds of our time) have had their histories, their success stories, tainted with gore and blood—smeared with the blood of fellow humans through slavery, colonialism, endless wars, wars seeking to deprive others of their territories and resources—a fact which help lend free and cheap human resource and natural resource capital for their development journeys…. So, what are we saying here? Are these the ultimate recipes for making it in this world? Are nations to employ these acts of greed and aggressions before they can get ‘their place in the sun?’ Surely not, no? I…I don’t think this is the right way to go—especially at this point in human civilisation. I… I don’t think other countries of the world would be particularly happy to submit their human and natural resource capital to Ghana’s development journey. At least, not in such an upfront manner.
I don’t think slavery and colonialism is an option for us at this point in human history. And in fact, we would be missing the point if these are the only two ingredients we choose to take from the matter as related in the past weeks. The lesson here is not that these nations made it because of wars. The lesson rather is that they made it in spite of wars. Strong emphasis on the ‘in spite of.’
The ultimate takeaway here—from these prosperous nations of our time—is not necessarily of greed and evil, and how well these two cankers pay. But rather, it highlights this fact: the developed nations of our time are countries who have mastered the art of ‘taking advantage’. These nations have mastered the art of taking advantage of their own human resources, mental prowess, and natural endowments. And when those are not enough, they venture out in search of other people, other nations, of whom to take advantage… They go about in search of weaker nations who haven’t mastered the art of managing their own affairs; weaker nations who go about their nationalistic lives as though playing nkuro…
These nations have had the pleasure—the enormous pleasure—of being surrounded, in this world, by ‘little people’ such as you and me… ‘Little nations’ who haven’t gone about the science of nationhood systematically… Little, little people who have been easily prone to taking the role of servitude… A people who haven’t, in the tiniest bit, even after all these years of their independence, truly taken charge of their destinies…
Granted, in the years of WWI, African countries hadn’t attained independence yet. But you tell me this: if we are to mentally juxtapose our situation now with that era, if we are to in our mind’s eye picture WWI happening now, do you think we, as a nation, would be capable of proving ourselves ready—ready in the mastery of both our human resource and natural resource capital, to do as USA did—take charge of the animal kingdom as the lions fight, and, in so doing, come out as a prosperous and powerful nation?
Please let’s not bother our poor brains with such mental acrobatics; let’s look no further; let’s look at our world now. When a global pandemic hit, and the whole world—even the most powerful of nations—were momentarily thrown into a state of confusion, how well did the emerging market that is Ghana, Africa, fare economically? The keyword here is ‘economically.’ Finding ourselves unprepared in these two crucial, modern, economic tools: industrialisation and Information Technology, didn’t we, once again, find ourselves in the position of follower, child, the poor nation waiting on and looking on, as other nations took charge and found cure for the benefit of us all? Didn’t we watch on as countries like America profiteered from our reality? There was a lockdown, but economic activity had to go on still. So, who comes to the rescue? Information technology.
For example, business meetings had to go on. So, there came electronic meeting technologies to the rescue. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and co. came in, cashing in, all the while making our lives easier. Social media sites recorded record high profits during the period for their efforts at simulating human interconnectivity. We cover this topic extensively in articles like ‘Higher Learning; Low Expectations’, ‘When You Are Dying You Say We Are Dying’, etc. So let’s not proceed any further into this matter.
Nkuro as Distinguished from a Real Meal
It is as simple as A,B,C: for nations to be prosperous, nations must, at all times, BE READY. Russia, a global giant of the 20th century found this out the hard way during the period of WWI. USA, on the other hand, an emerging market at the time, found itself enjoying the fruits of its readiness. Industrialisation was the leading economic tool of the time, nations which excelled at it, prospered; those that did not, lagged behind. It was that which determined the fate of, and distinguished a large nation and empire like Russia from an emerging economy like USA. It was that which powered on a relatively small nation like Germany, to, as noted, display such influence and steadfastness—even as flanked by two powerful foes (Russia and France) as it was.
I think in certain ways, we can liken Ghana as it is now (and as it has been all these years since its independence) to Russia as it was during WWI. One was overly dependent on its human resource capital, the other is still over-reliant on its natural resource capital. The former was Russia, and the latter is Ghana. The only difference between us is that Russia did actually learn its lesson—and that’s one hell of a differentiating factor. The country was to, after its many defeats during the war, and its internal political upheavals—the overthrow of regime after regime—take charge of its economic destiny, by doing as the rest of Europe was doing—join the highly propitious, fast-moving train that was industrialisation. Russia was to learn that the existence of these enabling facts alone—the abundance of human and natural resources—was not enough to guarantee a prosperous nation. To be actually successful, a nation must master the art of the ‘how’—the act of efficient and effective production and management. To be successful in this fast-paced world, a nation must master the science of inventiveness and innovation. To be in the lead of this race called human existence, a nation must at all times be on its toes, ready to sprint when the gun goes off.
Ghana on the other hand is … You know what, there really is such a thing as nkuro. There really is such a thing as pretending to cook—as distinguished from actually cooking. Yes, both require some level of exertions—both require some level of doing, the undertaking of some physical motions. But the difference between these exertions is that one is real, the other is pretend. The end product of one is real, delicious, edible meal; while the other ends up with something that simulates a meal. Governance is the same way. In governance, we see this same dynamic of nkuro versus real life meals at play. Leaders in the real, adult world get actual results—they undertake real, consequential steps that lead to real, propitious results. While leaders in the world of nkuro only play pretend. Consequently, what they always end up getting is pseudo-results. They seem to be undertaking the steps of cooking—of leadership, of nationhood—but in fact is all just play pretend. The results they yield are mediocre at best.
The Loser and Karma
It really stings watching on as those who have wrong you do nothing but prosper on…
And failed nations, mediocre nations, they walk about this earth, causing no exponential improvements upon themselves, refusing to take charge of their own destinies, causing no use to the enormous gifts—human and natural resources—endowed them by the Creator. Such nations are never really ready to take charge of opportunities nature blesses (or plagues) them with. Such nations, they sit in fatalism, and watch on as others prosper on, with hopes perhaps—perhaps!—that the reward for their ‘meekness’ patiently awaits them in heaven; and the punishment for the ‘wickedness’ of others are in hell…
So, tell me this: is this an unfair world or a totally just one? I really don’t think our argument for the former are justifiable enough. Because although round, this world of ours has really, on many fronts, proven itself quite the level playing field—on the national level, at least. On the economic level, at least, this round world has proven itself a cyclical one. It is either a vicious or virtuous cycle in the sense that nations tend to reap exactly what they sow—again, economic-wise at least. But what of ‘moral-wise’, you ask. A really good argument can be made for the fact that it is as sinful lending oneself to be taken advantage of, as it is going about taking advantage of others. What I am trying to say is that both parties here are immoral—the ‘advantagor’ and the ‘advantagee’. The Bible even makes express note of this…You know, the verse about the candle and the table.
Change Was Here
The war changed things, you know. I know this ‘phoenix out of ashes’, ‘skilled sailor in stormy seas’ analogy we have employed throughout this series sometimes makes it feel like these nations came out of this destructive war, born out of their own impudence, unscathed. Au contraire. If karma be an inevitable ingredient in human existence, it can be said that karma did get its due. For one, these nations came out losing a good chunk of their territories to the war. Nations like Austria-Hungary, one of the principal pioneers of the war, finally saw a disintegration of its long-fragmented, joint-nation status.
For some, the war was to lay the foundation for future disintegrations. The British Empire, for one, was to see increasing and unchanging upheavals in colonies across Africa and the rest of the globe—upheavals that were to culminate, during the mid-to-late 20th century, in the independence of these past English colonies. Ghana, as we know, was one of such countries. Nicholas II, the Russian tzar of the period, was to bleed his nation dry in this fatal war, and was, by the end of the war in 1918, forcefully stripped off his empire by his own people, and exiled. The nation of Russia, itself, did not escape this watering down of empires—by the end of the war in 1918, it was bleeding territories and colonies. France consequently suffered same; Germany, same.
These nations lost human resource capital on an unprecedented scale—we have already discussed this. Diseases such as influenza run rampant among the military and civilians alike during this period. War was not only the direct cause of deaths, but the indirect cause also.
This was Supposed to be a Morbid Affair
This is what all good tragedies are made of. The events that unfolded for these nations ticked all the right boxes of a brilliant literary work of tragedy. But tragedy, that was not to ultimately be for these nations. Some may go ahead and blame karma for failing to do its job thoroughly considering the prosperity that has actually ensued for these past warring nations after all these years. But perhaps a better explanation for these nations’ prosperity—in spite of the display of recklessness such as this war was—lies in the very strong foundation laid by them during the entire span of their national journeys… Foundations so strong that even in these nations’ moments of recklessness, important remnants of very fertile roots still remained, so much so that the devastating war to them, became nothing but a brush against the elephant’s thigh—and interestingly, a stepping stone to even more greatness.
And these important remnants are these: the attitude of readiness, the spirit of inventiveness, the never-ending thirst for change, and the hunger to, at all times, be the best—to make their existence matter, always, on such unprecedented scale. These are the ingredients that kept these nations from descending from their positions at the top of the global food chain to the very bottom—even during the periods when they were in the belly of this hellish war. It is that which has kept these nations at such a comfortable place at the very top of the human food chain all these years.
Even in their worst, these countries manage to strike gold.
Destructions to these nations, in the end, aren’t destructions after all. They come out of destructions, finding opportunities still… Why? Because they are always, ALWAYS, truly, genuinely READY.
Still Throwing Sand in Eyes
I will let you on this little secret. On that fateful day when my childhood nkuro business partners and I went into the business of powder production… On that eventful day when this lotto man approached us and purchased from our stock of sand-turned-body-powder… I tell you, I couldn’t help but stare in total disbelief at this man—a member of the Pentecostal church under construction, this church whose sand we had misappropriated as our business capital… There he stood before us asking to buy powder… this man, an indirect owner of this heap of sand, owing to the fact that he, as a congregant of this church under construction, had surely made his fair share of contributions to the building of the church (either through tithing, offerings, ‘sowing of seeds’ etc.)… I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw him head back to his Ghana-flag-themed lotto kiosk, his shirt removed, sand in hand, one armpit opened after the other, each receiving a good dose of ‘powder’—sand. I couldn’t help but pity his self-inflicted debasement—allowing sand to be figuratively thrown into his eyes in such a broad daylight. We had stolen from him, purportedly ‘refined’ his own property (as indirect as his ownership was), and sold the finished product right back to him. Sand. Oh, what a quicksand!
Even as I relate this childhood experience, I cannot help but see similarities with our Ghanaian experience—our African experience…