Africa, still a long way from Reality

By Evans Selorm Branttie

Thursday, May 05, 2011

I go to a science and technology event where I have pre-submitted personal data, and they don’t even have a computer or any other device linked to a database to quickly check and search for names? Do I have to go through a list of 15 pages to find my name in this day and age?  it costs more to fly from Addis to Kampala (a two hour flight journey) than from Accra to London (a six hour flight time).

I hadn’t planned my morning this way. I thought this was a matter that was dead, but after more sober reflection, I need to put it up again. In an age where the global system has shrunk the world to a keyboard away, I see strange things in Africa that justify the tag that we get and the condescending attitude we have from others. They will forever see us as an exotic people with a violent outlook to change without any good prospects if we continue down this line. We are, as a people, very myopic about our strategies for growth – at least, our leaders are.

I am not going to bore you, dear reader, with a philosophical cogitation. This is the truth as I see it: I am in Addis Ababa on a UNECA conference on science and technology. The arrangements for travel were great, everything done via email, confirmations perfect with the use of modern technology and very little paper; then I feel I have hope for Africa.

My dreams are shattered upon arrival. Standing in line for 2 hours while waiting to take my entry visa into another African country after a 6 hour flight was my first warning. Then, to my apparent relief, I see a desk right after the immigration counter where we the conference attendees have to sign in. There is a long list of stapled paper with our names written on them with a font size of 12. I am 30 years old, and luckily never lacked vitamins as a kid, so I can scan these forms clearly. At least, for that I am lucky.

I quickly learn after 5 minutes of scanning through the lists that my name isn’t there, so I have to go to a different hotel. A lot of arguing later, I am there at the hotel with no prior notification to the concierge that the conference people had made reservations. Fine, I check in, thinking to myself it is a minor logistical hurdle. Other things went smoothly however, till I have to check through another list for my name as a participant.

You might ask why I am boring you with this preamble. This is why: I go to a science and technology event where I have pre-submitted personal data, and they don’t even have a computer or any other device linked to a database to quickly check and search for names? Do I have to go through a list of 15 pages to find my name in this day and age?

Second thing, I decide to visit my lovely sisters in Kampala, only 2 hours away by air. Another silly revelation: it costs more to fly from Addis to Kampala than from Accra to London. You can go to Google maps and look at the distance calculations. Fine, business minded people around you will say that maybe the route is not a popular one. You couldn’t be more wrong, Kenya Airways was actually overbooked and only Business Class was available, and even that I was going to be put on the waiting list, Ethiopia and the rest told me it was a high frequency route.

Tell me, my brothers and sisters; is it a crime for me to travel to another African country? How can we integrate and gain synergies and economies of trade and growth if we make transport between two countries almost adjoining each other such a hurdle? And tell me, why can’t people become more market aware and demand for better service delivery and drive down exorbitant costs? Look at the Easy jet model in Europe, and how easy it is to move from country to another with the cheapest prices? At this epic level of poverty, we charge rates that are even ridiculous to people who make about 10 times more per capita. Outrageous!

That over, I decide to get a SIM card and call Ghana. Call charges are over $1 a minute, while if you made a call from Ghana to UK or US call charges are all but 10 cents. And yet, our leaders wear Armanis every day, fly to Ethiopia for conferences, drive around and enjoy the bosom of our beautiful African sisters, cocktail and jaw jaw, but never sit down to table crucial agreements on reducing transport and communication barriers across such a vast continent with boundless opportunities.

Is it any wonder that the Chinese and the Koreans think we are stupid and crazy? Is it any wonder that Europeans come here and think there is no hope? Is it any wonder therefore, that our leaders sit down and don’t let a free market operate here in Africa and go out begging for crumbs from “benevolent” aid groups, who end up taking the money back through consultants in the name of “skills transfer”? Even a lazy Rasta dude at the beach in Labadie hooking up white girls knows the leaders are not smart.

Why should an African give a contract to an outsider who will contact local experts for recommendations on Terms of References and later get the contract only for the foreign expert to sub-contract to local business entities? And we sit here saying there is brain drain. There isn’t brain drain, we should rediagnose the symptoms properly, it is brain repellation. Our visionless leaders are only experts at one thing, enjoying the spoils and perks of power, expert money laundering to fund bailouts in other markets, and sitting down and doing nothing to make the world a better place for us. For the upcoming AU day, I will bow my head in shame and listen to some rap music from Nas and Tupac, they are more sensible than the crap the well dressed leaders are going to say in the name of the African Union anyway.

Evans Selorm  Branttie is a research fellow and associate of IMANI and