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Monday, 22 December 2014

The World in 2015: Shocks and Anxiety

Forecasting is a dangerous game. At the back end of 2013, your blogger wrote on what to expect in 2014. The politician did so, not with the confidence and ability of a witch doctor but with careful considerations on current affairs. Many of the forecasts were right; off course, there were many occurrences that no one could foresee. Reflections on 2014 should be personal, so this year, this blog is at it again. Here is what to expect in 2015. 

Africa will continue to be the dark and unpromising continent, with South Sudan being the biggest disappointment. The fight to contain the Ebola pandemic will continue. Fighting in troubled spots will persist. Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group in Northern Nigeria, will continue to make the north east of the country ungovernable. As the country goes to polls in February, elections will almost likely not be held in that part of the country. This will have implications on the legitimacy of the elected president – with the opposition disorganised, the incumbent is likely to retain his seat. Widespread corruption in Nigeria and South Africa will see both countries nose dive into further decadence. Is this the year Mugabe retires?

2015, unlike 2014, won’t be a year of political shocks and economic shifts. The antecedents of the occurrences in the year have mainly started to show: reminiscent of the late 1990s. As early as February, American-Cuban relations should be normalised and by late summer, Havana might become a Cancun. President Obama, with less than two years in office, will take bolder foreign policy moves, perhaps in Africa and in the battle against ISIL.

The general elections in the United Kingdom are almost likely to produce a hung parliament and possibly a second general election: a re-enactment of 1974. But it also means that political parties will have to prepare post-election manifestos in order to accommodate the political realities of coalition governments. From September, the London underground will start running 24hrs at the weekends and the government will definitely miss its immigration targets.

In the rest of Europe, there will be jump-starting economies - hostages to fortune - in the Euro-zone. It has to be the year something gives, when this grinding stagnation is curtailed! With elections in Greece in January, Spain in December, that would be the politics of EU in 2015, against the backdrop of growing anti-EU sentiment. Despite dwindling oil revenues, but with $400 billion in foreign reserves, Russia will continue to flex its muscles in respect of eastern Ukraine.

National happiness will be elusive in Syria, as the country continues to boil and Iraq overtakes Libya to be one of the most dangerous places on earth – both countries are in despair. Israel will go to the polls; Binyamin Netanyahu will be hoping to win a majority, he might. Recognition of the state of Palestine will gather momentum, but will be short of actual statehood.

The pace of events will cause some anxiety and excitement. With Turkey’s Erdogan increasingly looking like a Sultan, hopes of the country joining the EU would no longer be on the table. Argentina would bid farewell to Mrs Kirchner when they hold their general elections in October. Investors will be hoping for market-friendly reforms from whoever wins the presidency. Oil prices will likely fall to less than $50 unless OPEC cuts production. It is not likely to rise till mid-2015. However, it would be amazing to see at what price oil-dependent countries would base their national budgets on; especially those with a dab of foreign reserves. 

One thing is certain, there will be a new iPhone, iPad and Andriod operating system; many other forecasts are not so direct.

Friday, 31 October 2014


Michael Sata, the outspoken president of Zambia, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, passed away in a London hospital due to unknown causes. His deputy, Guy Scott, will take over as interim-president for the next 90 days. Mr Scott, a Cambridge trained economist, will be the first ever white democratically elected leader in sub-Saharan Africa (although he’s been portrayed as currently the only white president in Africa).

Why is it a big deal? Because the world is still fascinated by race relations. But in Zambia, Guy Scott, son of a Scottish immigrant, is regarded as one of theirs. Exactly 50 years after the end of British
colonialism, Zambia has shrugged off the nasty racist rhetoric pervasive in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Unfortunately, Mr Scott might not be eligible to run for office. The Zambian constitution requires all presidential candidates to be at least third generation Zambian. A provision put in place by former President Frederick Chiluba (the country’s second), to prevent Kenneth Kaunda (the country’s first president), whose father was born in present day Malawi, from becoming president again. Mr Chiluba actually attempted to deport Mr Kaunda.

However, if Mr Scott, 70, decides to run for the presidency, a previous judgement by the Zambian Supreme Court in 1998 might validate him as a potential candidate. This also validates what it means to be African.

Your blogger was once invited to a talk titled “A history of Afro-textured hair”. He declined, because Africans may be descended from Asians, Europeans or Black Africans. If you specifically mean the last, just say black Africans or black, not simply African (Afro), or for Afro-Caribbean, use African-Caribbean, or again, use black. Besides, blacks in many countries don’t have any qualms being called black.

It is actually more straightforward. 

Friday, 17 October 2014


Pericles ca. 495 BC – 429 BC implied that all good things flow into the city.  Since the days of Athens, that has been the case. Cities have been at the vanguard of much of human progress and have been characterised by deep rich flows of –goods, water, money, ideas and most importantly people. So how did cities develop and what is a City?
History is awash with various versions on how cities developed. Some historians are of the opinion that the earliest cities were born out of developments in agriculture and warfare.  This theory is hinged of the opinion that because agriculture became of sustainable way of life, people began settling in groups, some unsurprisingly became richer and this led to new ways to organise society – protect themselves from possibly aggressive neighbours. This organisation led to the emergence of new leaders in the form of Kings and Pharaohs.
However, disputing this version, your blogger has learned that even though warfare and agriculture were characteristics of the growth of early cities, radiocarbon dating of earlier discovered urban centres in Çatalhöyük, in present day Turkey, have shown that there is no evidence to suggest an engagement in warfare, but pottery and craftsmanship were the first things that kept people in one place for a long time. It can be concluded that not everyone born at the earliest found centres lived or died there. The search for better lives led most of the inhabitants to leave Çatalhöyük. Your blogger , however, concedes that there is no direct link between an exodus from Çatalhöyük and the world’s first true city in Sumer, in present day Iraq.
These historical perspectives still don’t say what a city is; neither do current descriptions, because the meaning of cities around the world differs. In the United Kingdom, city status was awarded to places with cathedrals. However, in more recent times, towns (large settlements) could formally apply and receive city status, especially in times of celebration.
In more general terms, your blogger reckons that a city could be referred to an agglomeration, which includes suburban areas and satellite towns. What these differentiations imply is that a city does not depend on size or the amount of people in geographic location. This is also in line with view taken by archaeologists and historians in distinguishing between cities and towns (even villages), because it is a measure of economic and social differentiation.
In Science, a journal, Balter (1998) with reference to Çatalhöyük, concluded that a city was a place where people left to take up full-time professionalised trades (craftsmen, priests, civil servants etc.). The basis for this conclusion was that “a key defining feature of a town or city is that farmers don’t live in them” (p.1443).  Balter adds that at Çatalhöyük, there was no evidence of craftsmen, priests or civil servants. The inhabitants lived subsistent lives, there is no evidence of temples or public buildings that could be interpreted as some sought of centre for communal activity. Çatalhöyük was not hierarchical; it consisted of extended families that lived autonomously. Thus they were homogeneous and egalitarian. Even though Çatalhöyük possessed the feature of a city (in terms of size and possibly population), it possessed the ingredients of a village.
Given the scheme of things, your blogger operationalizes a city to be an agglomeration that has a significant measure of economic and social density. The economic and social measures are based on if people go there to live or work (or both).

Sunday, 7 September 2014


The political history, culture and climate in Scotland are different from that of the rest of the UK. Scotland, most notably Glasgow, is a socialist heaven and haven. Grassroots politics is very strong; a far cry from the elitist, posh, London-centric Westminster culture present in most of the other parts of the UK. The system seems to be broken.

How the ‘No’ campaign can blow a 20-percentage point lead, in 5 weeks, in the Scottish independence referendum is mind-blowing (see the recent Yougov poll). What’s even more fascinating is how out of touch the rest of UK seems to be on the issue of independence; almost a week to go and no mention of what powers will be devolved to the Scottish parliament, despite votes (postal) already being cast. 

Historically, the Scots are risk-takers (read up the poyiasian scheme 1822). It was risk-taking that got them into the union they want out from (read up the Darien scheme 1698). That’s why it is futile for the ‘No’ campaign or ‘Better Together’ – another name for the unionists – to stop the huffing and puffing. It’s either they stick with the message with benefits or a message with risks. Some commentators have joked that the more unionist leaders – especially David Cameron – talk about the referendum, the more the ‘yes’ vote increases.

Alex Salmond is a very good salesman. The oil economist turned First Minister and leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign believes in what he says and says it how it is. Just like Greg MacGregor in the poyaisian scheme, many skeptics believe he is selling the people of Scotland smoke. Even though the issue of currency has died down, the reality is that there are more pressing issues than currency. 

The problem with the ‘No’ campaign is how they have crafted their messages. Alistair Darling (AD), the uncharismatic former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer and the leader of the ‘Better Together’ campaign sells the union short. His leadership of the campaign characterises the dullness and lacklustre attitude of the‘No’ campaign. Alistair Darling won the first referendum debate, but was humbled by Alex Salmond in the second. AD still read from his pre-scripted closing statements in the second debate – to the amazement of your blogger. That made no sense, Alex Salmond had answered his questions, albeit insufficiently.  Also, he (AD) could not say what job-raising powers or any sort of powers would be devolved – till date none has been mentioned. That fumble was beyond any kind of spin.

Alistair Darling’s dreadful second performance demonstrated how out of touch Westminster is with Holyrood. With 80% of the electorate expected to turn up to vote, the Scots are the most politically aware voters, it seems, in the world. Politics is about persuasion; the ‘Better Together’ campaign has decided not to say what’s so good about staying together. Instead, they’ve chosen to whisper the benefits of staying together and scream out the risks of voting to come out. This is not only patronising but also self-defeating.

Salesman or con man, Alex Salmond has given the people of Scotland a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take control over their destiny. He should be given credit for it. Skeptics fear he’s selling false confidence – that may be the case – but he sure sells it well. But this is also insulting to the Scottish people, because who won’t buy into the concept of hope, fairness and equality?

Your blogger believes Scots should milk this opportunity and get the best out of it. An independence vote should help rejuvenate the fortunes of the Scottish Labour party, Lib Dems and the Tories. The referendum is more than the man – Alex Salmond.

Sunday, 3 August 2014


From the 4th  – 6th August 2014, President Obama hosts 48 African Heads of State, diplomats, lobbyists and investors in Washington for the first US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. What does this mean and why now? The aim is said to discuss ways to improve civil society forum, investing in women, peace, and prosperity, investing in health: investing in Africa’s future, resilience and food security in a changing climate, combating wildlife trafficking. Do you need a summit for these issues? The significance of this summit is that it’s the first ever held hosted by the first ever black American president. Your blogger does not see the need for this summit.

On face value, the summit is presented as an economic summit but it’s not. America has dealt with Africa from a humanitarian and security lens, and it will continue to do so. The problem with this summit is that it has nothing to do with economics but with aid and more aid. Although, the economic foundations are not there for there to be a US – Africa link, the continent is too divided for there to be a collective Africa economic approach, caused by the lack of infrastructure for interconnectivity between and within countries. Besides aid has its limitations and the US don’t have the appetite to pump money into the continent.

President G.W Bush has been the most proactively involved United States president on the continent. He can be credited with the debt relief to many African countries and US aid during his presidency was instrumental in the eradication of polio, the spread of HIV and malaria. No American president can match this record on the continent. President Clinton waited for up to a million people to die in Rwanda before there was any form of intervention in the civil war. President Nixon and Reagan were too occupied in the cold war politics; propping up dictators was more important.

The story of Africa has been pathetic. In the early 1960s, newly independent African nations were the toast and hope of the black world. Civil rights activists in the Americas courted countries like Nigeria and Ghana. JFK accorded state visits to African leaders in an effort to boost the hope of the actualisation of black people all over the world. Many black intellectuals in the Americas and the Caribbean flocked to Africa to be part of the so called African renaissance. African Americans began adopting popular African names as a form of endearment. In the thick of the civil rights struggle, there was talk of African Americans getting their homeland; many hoped of moving back to Africa and many moved.

Sadly, following independence, there were coups and counter coups; civil wars and genocides. Africa lost its fervour. The continent was used as a pawn in the cold war between the West and the East. Although many African countries claimed to be non-aligned, they played the East and the West against themselves. Successful western powers, most notable America propped up dictators all over the continent: many of them regarded as friendly dictators. These dictators looted their countries silly. Corruption and lawlessness was the order of the day. The continent became the hopeless continent, rife with war and disease.

So why has it taken Obama so long to focus on Africa? Why does President Obama feel it’s the right time to engage with Africa after almost six years in office? When China, Japan, India and Malaysia have found inroads into the continent. In fact, China hosted its first Africa summit 14 years ago – four more have followed after that. Trade between the United States and the entire African continent is smaller between trade between the US and any European country. In fact, the US doesn’t want trade with Africa. President Obama has suggested African trade should be focused within the continent.

Yet, you also have to feel sorry for Obama, his personality and identity cannot be separated from his presidency. He got a lot of hassle from his opponents for having a Kenyan father, who was a Muslim. He then sought to politically distance himself from that identity to be that all American who was black. He was also preoccupied winding down foreign wars and rebuilding America’s broken economy. He then paid lip service to issues in Africa. However doing more with regards to Africa wouldn’t have gotten him too much hassle.

Many who had lauded his entry into the White House feel disappointed. President Obama has barely travelled to Africa. He has visited just 5 countries in 2 trips in his last 6 years in office compared to 16 in Europe, 13 in Asia, 8 in the Americas and 7 in the Middle East. In his first term in office, his only visit lasted less than 24hours in a one-stop trip to Ghana. Now, what this summit shows is that the continent, long ignored in Washington is finally in the spotlight.

President Obama’s African policy has been a very dull and summits do not make it any more interesting. On the whole, his foreign policy makes him come across as aloof at best. His critics say he won’t defend his friends nor will he fight his enemies. Being the first black President, having a Kenyan father and family does not make him responsible for the development of Africa. However, if he feels that he has to take responsibility for issues on the continent, he should do so not because he is the first African American or black president but because he is the American president. Even if he harbours those tribal sentiments, he simply needs to surpass the achievements of his predecessor.

As things stand, he’s about to go down in history as the first American president to have no impact whatsoever in Africa. That will be a first.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Nigeria and Its Diaspora: What To Do?

Your blogger is constantly travelling and racking up air miles. On these trips the blogger meets a lot of people. Off recent many Nigerians. There are many Nigerians in the diaspora,  many doing well and keeping a clean nose, while others just keep it real. When the politician comes across your typical Nigerian living in Rome, London or Chicago, they have an aloof attitude towards their motherland. Many rightfully feel betrayed by a country with so much potential.

Western governments want to curb immigration to its barest minimum but many immigrants have already come to stay. A flat lining and failing economy is usually the main reason. Others reckon that there is a strain on public infrastructure and for others, it is a simple case of identity. The blogger reckons that these are just euphemisms for xenophobia and perhaps bigotry. Its like justifying the dreadful ghana must go policy.

Emigration out of Nigeria has constantly grown since the late 1970s after the nation squandered its oil windfall. Chukwuma Soludo,  an economist and a former Central Bank Governor, in a newspaper interview claimed that there were about 17 million Nigerians in Diaspora (we are not here to debate that figure). The population of the country is 170 million strong.

Nigerians get excited, even proud  when one of their own is doing well in entertainment, sports, business and politics. A survey carried out by this blog, showed that only 28% of children of first generation immigrants talked about their Nigerian heritage. While only 45% of those who left Nigeria at a very young age speak about their Nigerian heritage (The survey did not include the older generations which would have brought into the fray Shirley Bassey, John Fashanu, Efan Ekoku, Sade Adu and Seal).

Sports, perhaps football is seemingly the main way Nigeria has been able to attract its diaspora. Probably because their adopted countries don't select them. Businessmen are still a little bit hesitant but relish the opportunity to make a fast buck. Fashion designers are creating a buzz but successful musicians, actors and actresses don't bother.


According to the French Consulate in London, there are nearly about 500,000 french citizens in London alone. If that was to be in France, London would be the 5th biggest city in that country. Little wonder that there are no french elections that don't have a campaign stop in London.

Nigeria's diaspora will never outdo the Lebanese diaspora. There are only about 4 million people in Lebanon and about 22 million worldwide. Amongst the diaspora are the world's richest man Carlos Slim, the actress Salma Hayek, Singer Shakira, CEO of Nissan Carlos Ghosn. An estimated 500,000 are believed to be in West Africa. A majority of the rest are in South America.

There are gains to be made. Nigerians can boast of about 4 generations in the diaspora. Many still have strong ties to their native country. The Nigerian government and Non-Government Organisations should begin opening cultural centers, just like the Chinese, the British and the French do all over the world. An emphasis on history, social studies, culture and current affairs should be advanced. University associations should be strengthened; not just talking about financial support for students.

Most importantly, folks abroad should be allowed to vote in their country of residence; at least for the presidential elections. These might arguably be the cleanest votes to be cast.

Just like the ancient Greeks, what other way could you engage the citizenry?

Thursday, 27 February 2014


The motivations are that they want to wait for the cheque at the end of the month and they want to be their own bosses. Entrepreneurship in Nigeria, just like in any part of the world has been romanticized. Politicians claim to be them, unemployed youths or laid-off workers dream to be them and countless business books extol them. When your blogger was in the University of Benin, students in all fields did not see the use of this newly introduced prerequisite course. Shortly after graduation, given the high rate of 
unemployment everyone aspired to be one.

But do Nigerians understand who an entrepreneur is? 

At this point, the zeal melts into cerebral confusion. There are a couple of perspectives on this. The first, often the most popular is that entrepreneurs are people who run their own business. This is where the self-employed and small business owner’s fall into. The second, a Schumpeterian view, is that entrepreneurs are those who innovate (disrupt the normal ways of doing things), i.e. people who generate ideas and personify these ideas in high-growth businesses.

This dichotomy of views – between the small business owners and innovators – plays an important role within a country’s economy.  Measuring how entrepreneurial an economy is usually adopts the small business view. This however gives obstinate perspectives. With such measures, countries like Egypt would come out as more entrepreneurial than the United States. The truth is that most self-employed people do physically exhausting work. Like construction, plumbing, cleaning, car-repairing, taxi and truck driving. Small business people also tend to keep their businesses small enough to manage or want to grow them so fast that they go burst due to bad management.

Magnus Henrekson and Tino Sanandaji, researchers at Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Sweden, reckon a better measure for capturing entrepreneurial dynamism could be by measuring the amount of self-made billionaires or even multi-millionaires in a country. They demonstrate in their research paper that entrepreneurial density was related to economic dynamism (patents or venture capitalism).
The point is that countries with a lot of small start-ups and self-employed people are often stagnant ones, like Egypt and yes, Nigeria. This is because such businesses spring up because of the lack of opportunities. They can’t grow because everyone does what they do. In Nigeria it gets worse, business people lack a speciality, making it impossible to be serial entrepreneurs (the ability to come with new business ideas and start up new companies). They are not audited and don’t pay tax. This makes them want to remain small.

Many people are hybrid (those in wage work) or parallel (jacks-of-all-crafts) entrepreneurs or both. A possible reason for this could be because there are lot opportunities in various untapped areas of the economy. But the other side of the story is that with the lack of speciality, most business people spawn out new ones out of necessity, not innovation.

Finance is hard to get, there are layers upon layers of red tape and businesses are badly run. The consequences of these are that Nigerian business people become masters of nothing. Then the misconception of risk deters prospective entrepreneurs from putting all their resources in one basket. People everywhere, including Nigeria, are given the impression that entrepreneurship is all about risk taking. Sadly, that’s for gamblers. It’s wrong to think that something is at risk when starting a business. It’s more of an experiment, which is well thought off and carefully executed.

Teaching entrepreneurship in schools might not be the solution but it could help if modules focus on innovation, not risk. An entrepreneur should be someone that manages and organizes business with considerable initiative. The concept of risk should be directed towards potential investors. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there are no self-made billionaires, maybe few multi-millionaires; many have extracted their wealth from the state or have inherited it. Your blogger was once told by a politician, that there were so many politicians that were seating on vast piles of cash and had no clue on what to do with it.

Can Nigeria produce Schumpeterian entrepreneurs who can modernise its economy? Many wealthy entrepreneurs got rich from starting their own businesses. Entrepreneurs tend to be well educated and are not school drop-outs who tinker with different businesses. The gold mines to focus on are in high-tech firms and in the financial services. That probably explains billionaire and multi-millionaire hubs like London, Silicon Valley, New York and Boston.