Actionable insights from BCA Made-In-Africa Leadership Conference 2023

BCA Made-In-Africa Leadership Conference

I took away three actionable insights from the two-day BCA Made-In-Africa Leadership Conference 2023 that took place in Accra on 14 and 15 June 2023. These insights came from my personal conference highlights: (1) a visit to Ashesi University and subsequent interactive session with Founder & President Patrick Awuah; (2) the session with KY Amoako, Founder and President, African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET); and (3) a plenary session on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Patrick Awuah, Ashesi University

Established in 2002 – so now in its 22nd year – the private liberal arts university with a focus on engineering, computer science and life sciences embodies the importance of intentionality and design-thinking. It reminded me of the advice from Stephen R Covey in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book: “Begin with the end in mind”. A beautiful campus tucked away in the Aburi Hills that overlook Greater Accra, everything about this university is impressive – The percentage of alumni now in productive endeavour as employees or business owners; the honour code of ethical behaviour that stays with graduates for life; the infusion of critical-thinking, leadership and entrepreneurship into all the courses; the dynamism of the curriculum that responds to prevailing needs.

A breakout session with Ashesi University Founder & President, Patrick Awuah, was a leadership masterclass. Awuah asserts that in Africa we’ve been let down by our leaders, the era of corruption is still with us. Emergence from this era won’t come with passage of time or by accident. We’ll have to be intentional. He drew on Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekye, who authored The Unexamined Life: Philosophy and the African Experience (a 1987 lecture subsequently published as a pamphlet), to pose a philosophical question: what does development mean for Africa?

According to Awuah, Gyekye rejects a narrow definition of development in terms of economic growth and seeks a more holistic understanding. I was intrigued enough to download Gyekye’s book, in which he states: “Development is to be seen in terms of adequate responses to the environment in all its complexities, to the existential conditions in which human beings live, move and have their being… as regards human society, development is a behavioural concept which can express itself politically, socially, economically, culturally, morally, psychologically, etc.”

Awuah believes we all need to be philosophical about our work. He posed what he believes is the central question of our time around development: how do we build a high-trust society, characterised by high performance?

With Ashesi now in its third decade, the team pondered what next for the university. What will the world look like in the next 30 years? What should they be doing now to be useful and relevant in this yet-to-emerge world? Six trends emerged to guide the thinking about Ashesi’s future: (1) In 30 years’ time, Africa will be home to 2.5 billion people – 1 billion more people than now; (2) Climate change will shape our world; (3) Africa was poorly prepared and equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic; (4) AfCFTA will be well-entrenched; (5) 4IR (the Fourth Industrial Revolution), including artificial intelligence (AI), will be mature; and (6) Africa will be a major manufacturing hub.

We can of course take Awuah to task on his analysis, but that’s neither here nor there. What is more interesting is his methodology, rooted in African philosophy and a willingness to ask deep, searching questions (what does development mean for Africa?); sowing seeds now to orient toward plausible future scenarios; placing ethical values and leadership at the heart of the endeavour. There is enough here to keep me busy for years to come!

A compact for Ghana’s political and economic transformation

When you land in Accra, you can easily be forgiven for believing that Ghana is in a different stratosphere to Sierra Leone. High-rise luxury apartments, flyovers, a US$300million relatively new international airport three or four times the size of our new US$270million one, an economy nearly five times the size (in GDP/capita terms) of Sierra Leone’s. Yet talk to Ghanaians, scratch beneath the surface, and you see remarkable similarities between the two countries.

A political class oriented around two parties with a common agenda that doesn’t prioritise citizens’ welfare over rent-seeking. Little wonder that the veteran development economist and all-round influential African, 79-year-old KY Amoako – Founder & President of the Accra-based African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) – has turned his innovative mind to the question of Ghana’s political and economic transformation. This is an attempt to foster top-down and bottom-up change for the better in Ghana.

The Compact for Ghana’s Political and Economic Transformation is a society-wide consultation and dialogue initiative. Leading Ghanaian think-tank studies underpin the effort. The aim is to forge a new social contract that I suspect will attempt to answer Patrick Awuah’s question inspired by Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Gyekye: what does development mean for Ghana and Ghanaians?

Often, where Ghana leads, other African countries will eventually follow. So it’s been since Ghana was the first “Black African country” to gain independence in 1957 (Sudan gained its independence in 1956, but we don’t count this for some reason).

There’s no doubt in my mind that Sierra Leone desperately needs a similar compact. Each compact would be country-specific, though the basic outlines of the methodology ACET has pioneered make a lot of sense. When I listen to the bickering by members of the political class in Sierra Leone, I struggle to discern fundamental differences between them. Perhaps this means that the prospects for a long-term vision and concerted efforts to transform Sierra Leone are within reach – if we can find the common ground and right mechanisms to hold our leaders accountable for meaningful results.

In the next few weeks, we will hopefully have a democratically elected government with a mandate and legitimacy to rule for the next five years. This could be a good place to start assessing the appetite for a Compact for the Political and Economic Transformation of Sierra Leone.

Prospects for trade integration in Africa: The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)

The first thing those who initiated the AfCFTA should have done is to come up with a catchy acronym that works – at least in French and English, but ideally in Swahili and Portuguese as well. AfCFTA doesn’t roll off the tongue. Nonetheless, trade integration in Africa is a no-brainer.

The geopolitical convulsions we’ve seen in recent years with their repercussions for globalised trade disruptions, reductions in aid flows and a general retreat from global solidarity and collective action (when we most need it) in favour of narrow national self-interest should be enough to tell us that this huge continent needs to pull together more, and unleash its own wealth and potential.

But with AfCFTA, once again, the ghost of Kwame Gyekye haunts us: What does development mean for Africa in the context of trade integration? Who’s trading with whom? What trade are we enabling? Who’s benefitting from this trade? How is intra-African trade serving the higher purpose of improving the lives of Africans? Most of the AfCFTA treaties, statutes and regulations focus on formal sector trade.

Most of those African traders responsible for an undocumented (but by all estimates large) volume of trade among Africans operate in the ‘informal’ sector (a lot of it dominated by African women). What might an AfCFTA starting from the premise of actually existing trade among Africans have looked like? Why is it that so much of our ‘development’ activity starts from a fantasised version – or at best a partial view – of what happens in Africa? When we discover the exclusionary nature of the results of these development efforts, we hastily bolt on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) measures to rectify the fundamental alienation at the heart of our efforts. This leaves us running after horses that have already bolted from the stable.

Come to think about it, some 30 years ago a Ghanaian, Dr. Nicholas Atampugre, and I cofounded a London-based organisation – the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) – with a mission to expand and enhance African diasporas’ contributions to Africa’s development. We did so after we saw so-called mainstream development efforts proceeding as if Africans lacked agency for their own development. What’s different today?

In 2023, we are still pursuing alienated concepts of development disconnected from the lives of large numbers of African peoples, yet we are curiously perplexed when we discover very little of this is relevant, meaningful or useful to them. There’s a big disconnect at the heart of our work. We need to hurry back to the drawing board to think and act differently.

Conclusion: My call to action

Little wonder that Patrick Awuah has been named one of the top 20 geniuses on earth (as our session moderator informed us). Awuah’s focus on education is foundational. If subsequent generations of young Africans continue to be miseducated (for that’s the implications of Awuah’s critique), their orientation is unlikely to be on the right course for the continent’s development.

I mean, I only learned of a Ghanaian philosopher called Kwame Gyekye a few days ago. It’s never too late to learn – but my goodness, what a gap in my knowledge! My first actionable takeaway is to ponder this all-important question, what does development mean to and for Africa and Africans, both in Africa and the diaspora? How do we root our concept of development to be more resonant for Africans in their rich diversity, complex cultures, systems of thought and varied trajectories?

My second takeaway is to explore the feasibility for a ‘Compact for Sierra Leone’s Political and Economic Transformation’. At present, our politics and our purported development aspirations are pulling in opposite directions. We have almost perfected our politics to be anti-developmental. What is politically sound militates against development. What is developmentally promising is politically unfeasible. We can’t wish away politics and dream of a denuded form of technocratic development.

But we can’t fantasise about development without anchoring it in our politics. Resolving these issues would have been better done as we gained independence, but our post-independence ‘founding fathers’ were pre-occupied with consolidating state power, fighting off insurgencies, outwitting (or being overthrown by) big power spooks, and launching grandiose development projects – many of which failed to ignite indigenous, transformative development.

And third, I shall explore ways to make our trade regional integration efforts much more about the marginal majority (think women, young people especially) rather than ignoring them totally or treating them as an afterthought. The welfare gains from a more inclusive intra-African trade regime would be enormous.

My thanks and congrats to the conference organisers. It must have taken quite an effort to get us all there with such an impressive line-up of speakers. I remain grateful.

>>>Chikezie is based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and works as a private sector development consultant

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