Monday 14 October 2019

A New African Pragmatism

Natalia Goncharova, Exhilarating Cyclist, 1913.
By Sifiso Mkhonto *

Allister Marran, addressing himself to older people in these pages, wrote: 'Your time is over.'  Far from representing ageism, his attitude represents a new pragmatism in Africa. 

For the past few years, a question has lingered in my mind: are African political and business leaders concerned about the future of this continent, or are they concerned about their turn to eat, and how those in their lineage may benefit from the feast that is dished out in the back kitchen? Judging by the obvious evidence before us, we can only conclude that they are far too often unconcerned. 

We shall not delve into each problem, because history teaches us that we have a tendency to spend our resources and energy on discussing and unpacking problems, rather than executing the solution. In business, leaders do not appreciate you knocking at their door with a problem. They prefer a mere brief of the problem, and a detailed plan of the solution. This philosophy can and should be adapted to our approach to social issues that we face as a continent.

In my understanding, we should pragmatically ask at least four ‘whys’. These should be good enough to assist us in thinking of an amicable solution to major issues, among them the following:
• unemployment
• crime (including femicide, xenophobia, and gang violence)
• poverty, and
• lack of quality education
Here is a basic example of applying the first of these four points:
Why do we have such a high level of unemployment amongst the youth?
• Because there are no jobs.
Why are there no jobs?
• Because policy is not business-friendly, start-up businesses fail to create jobs, there’s too much red-tape, and young people studying in fields that are scarce of jobs.
Why, and why. All answers derived should lead us to basic solutions. We do not need ideology and political identity as a continent. These preoccupations set us ten steps back each time a pragmatic, sustainable solution is brought forth. It is the youth, today, which is determined, against all odds, to change the narrative of corrupt States, high crime levels, the stigma of stereotypical prejudices, and many other issues.

Against all the red tape, they still start businesses with no funding, they still pursue education with great sacrifice, to escape the reality of poverty. However, because of those who enjoy the buffet that is prepared and dished out in the back kitchen, many young lions and lionesses are doomed.

The solution is simple. Give young people the space they deserve – they think differently, and they are determined – to advance this continent into one of the most prosperous in the world. 'Grant an idea or belief to be true,' wrote William James, 'what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life?' Ideology and political identity have failed us. We need a new African pragmatism.

* Sifiso Mkhonto is a logistician and former student leader in South Africa.


Keith said...

Thank you, Sifiso, for an interesting perspective on critical social concerns evoking, as you say, ‘a new African pragmatism’.

I’m curious, though, about the discussion seemingly lumping together the African continent as a single block. Yet, as you’re more aware than I, there are 54 countries in Africa, ranked across all sorts of critical dimensions that bear directly on the social concerns the essay cites. (Just one dimension being GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity, which, according to the International Monetary Fund, differs greatly from one African nation to another.)

So, to be clear about the essay’s Africa-wide perspective, do you wish to convey sameness across the continent in terms of the various social problem areas you list: ‘unemployment’, ‘crime’, ‘poverty’, ‘education’? Are you perhaps suggesting that these ailments — sociological, economic, demographic, policy, philosophical — afflict the whole continent equally, masking possible differences among the 54 nations?

Personally, I suggest that when it comes to such social matters, not all of Asia, or all of Europe, or all of the Americas, for example, can so readily be treated as homogeneous blocks, right? Arguably, individual countries tell different circumstantial stories. Might the African continent similarly house differences — nontrivial differences — among its individual member countries, as is the case across the other key regions of the world?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

As a prelude to anything that Mr. Mkhonto may say, it is an editor -- I -- who broadened the geographical scope of his post. It is true that there is great diversity in Africa. At the same time, certain problems are routinely dealt with as common problems. Take, for example, the South African Institute of International Affairs: 'Among the common problems [among several nations] are unemployment, access to land, weak educational systems, gender discrimination, and poor health care systems. Add to that, external dependency.' You are correct about 'nontrivial differences', and your comment serves as an appropriate balance to the post. As far as the method for addressing the problems is concerned, that is entirely Mr. Mkhonto's.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It is a simple post, but it is perhaps important for reflecting a widespread attitude in Africa today (quote): 'We do not need ideology and political identity.' Just do what works.

Together with that, speaking very generally, it is the previous generation who still cling to ideology and political identity, therefore 'Your time is over.' This resonates with a recent post by Mr. Marran, who with Mr. Mkhonto is a South African.

But is pragmatism itself an ideology and political identity? It feels that way, in debate. ‘We all have our first philosophies,’ wrote the philosophers Godfrey Vesey and Paul Foulkes.

Sifiso Mkhonto said...

It is a pleasure Keith.

As Thomas has mentioned the geographical scope of the post was broadened however this does not take away from the facts that you have mentioned.
I do not wish to convey sameness across the continent in terms of all social problems. However some socioeconomic challenges paint a picture of sameness across the continent and that is internationally noticed. That is why some unsophisticated minds today still refer to the continent as a single country.
You are correct, I am suggesting that these ailments — sociological, economic, demographic, policy, philosophical — afflict the whole continent equally to an extent.

Thanks Thomas.

To be clear, a new African Pragmatism as an approach is an overture to the greater development of some African countries in general.

Pragmatism is an ideology. I will reserve my comment on this for a more in depth philosophical and pragmatic essay.

Keith said...

The opening of your essay, Sifiso, refers to a quote from Allister Marran, posted earlier in Pi: ‘Your time is over’. The fuller quote might be helpful, which was along the lines of ‘The fate of the world rests with the youth. . . . The advice I give to older people is simple . . . for you it is too late. Your time is over’. At that time, I mentioned in a comment my disquiet at what appeared, certainly unintended, as ageism. I said I favoured intergenerational collaboration rather than intergenerational warfare. The latter issue aside, since you support the sentiment ‘Your time is over’ in referring to older people, do you believe, therefore, that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu might have better served South Africa by withdrawing from their anti-apartheid activism at much younger ages than they did? Was it ‘too late’ for them, as they got older, to have persevered with their engagement to end apartheid?

docmartincohen said...

I think Sifiso may mean 'old' and 'young' in a more metaphocial sense, where the old need not be elderly leaders so much as leaders who cling to old ways of doing things - and likewise the young can surely include people like Bernie Sanders. The real issue raised for me is whether policy should be focussed on the interests of the new generation - or on protecting the position of those who currently hold power, at all levels, and control the nation's wealth.

IN the UK, we have a national policy of 'Brexit' - leaving the European Union - that is strongly linked to such debates. The poicy reduces the opportunities of the new generation and was unpopular with younger voters. It threatens the jobs and futures of many - but seems less likely to affect the 'haves'. Those who have bought their homes who have permanent jobs with guaranteed (state) incomes, or pensions. It pits those whose futures might include travelling and working abroad against those whose horizons have narrowed. So the issue you raise is, as Keith perhaps is suggesting, transcends geography.

Sifiso Mkhonto said...

Thank you Keith for the clarity and suggestions. I do believe in intergenerational collaboration. It was not too late for Mandela but he resigned from the Presidency at the time when he felt that his mission was complete and had to pass the baton to the next leader. However, leaders these days do not know when their time is over, the youth and the middle class have to constantly protest in order for those leaders to lend an ear. They fail to implement what will benefit future generations because their ‘time is over’. They do not understand how rapidly the world is changing because they are preoccupied with keeping power and taking care of their own needs.

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