I heard one of the best public speakers that DC’s think tanks have hosted in a long time at the Wilson Center’s (AllAfrica co-sponsored) ‘Africa as the Last Frontier: Why it Matters in the Global Economy‘ yesterday. Kingsley Moghalu, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria is almost certainly destined for increasing prominence. Moghalu was on hand to ‘talk about Africa’ and promote his new book, Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter. Despite the rather tame name of this book, Moghalu gave us two reasons to read it:
1. ‘virtually all of the books that have defined Africa’s rise…[are] almost completely by non – Africans.’
2. Very few economists have articulated the importance of a worldview in developing a nation. This is not something that Moghalu has overlooked, as he never ‘leave(s) home without a worldview in [his] pocket.’
There was a large crowd which included luminaries such as the Ambassador of Burkina Faso (ironic, as I’ve ranted before about the Wilson Center’s close relationship with that country) and Nigeria’s former Minister of State for Health, Muhammad Pate.
Mogahlu’s remarks roughly coalesced around two points:
1. Africa as a ‘last frontier’ in the global economy
2. Why Africa matters
Moghalu asked the very fundamental, but neglected question of ‘whose last frontier Africa is.’ Moghalu offered two possibilities. From one perspective, the Africa frontier could be seen within the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative as a region increasingly taking its place on the world stage (despite as Moghalu noted, the continent only accounting for 3% of world trade). The other perspective, and one which leaves Moghalu weary as ‘a capitalist with a strong dose of national sel-interest’ is that Africa is now the last place for capitalists to turn to make a quick and easy profit.
Having thus provoked us, Moghalu turned his attention to the ‘mattering’ bit. Continuing with his weary evaluation, Moghalu spoke of ‘negative mattering’, namely Africa’s importance based on resource extraction. He quite boldly noted that ‘Africa continues a trajectory that has remained fundamentally the same since the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial rule.’
Moghalu hammered away on his firm belief that Africa would not prosper without industrialization. Much to my delight, he specifically attacked Afro-optimism resulting from the high rate of cell phone penetration on the continent (take that Shanta Devarajan!). Noting that ‘we haven’t moved fundamentally from where we were 50 years ago’ Moghalu quite sensibly observes that the main beneficiaries of cell phone penetration in Africa are the companies that manufacture the phones (and I would add the carriers, of which I believe the largest in Nigeria, although I’ve never visited, are all foreign). Noting the importance of Nigeria for the Canadian firm, Research in Motion, that manufactures BlackBerry’s, Moghalu mentioned a highly successful Nollywood firm, BlackBerry Babes (which can apparently be seen in its entirety on YouTube).
Moghalu also spoke about the need for Africa to matter most to Africans, expressing his concern about the number of non – Africans guiding the conversation on the continent. Thus, it was ironic that the discussant, Carl LeVan, a white professor at American University followed Moghalu’s remarks. Although LeVan made some very astute observations, I found myself wishing that Moghalu could have used the time to engage in a Q&A with the audience. Putting his actions where his mouth is, Moghalu noted that this book (unlike his previous two) was printed by an African publishing house.
If Moghalu’s outspoken behavior does not catch up with him (I found it remarkable to hear a Nigerian official say ‘prosperity without inclusion…breeds social problems’), I think he’ll continue to ascend in the political sphere. Hopefully he’ll continue to work on promoting and articulating that worldview in his pocket to allow Africa to become a continent where ‘people can legitimately aspire to be prosperous.’
Per my usual disclaimer, I left a few minutes before the end of the event.