Made In Africa

I have heard many say that ‘adulting’ is no fun. It means being more aware of the happenings of the world, a job, taxes, thinking about ends meeting, and basically, responsibility, for some that is. Many others either have the pleasure of remaining children, even after physically becoming adults, or the process is smoother and easier for them. My kind of ‘adulting’ has meant reading between the lines and scratching the surface more as years go by.

Recently, a dear friend decided to expose me to a world she loved so much. A place where she could forget her woes because food, numerous shops to walk into and let our eyes feast on things we cannot (as of now) imagine to own, laughter and basically, the three letter magic word – fun. As we walked around, me and my ‘constantly adulting’ self could not help but count the number of local brands/stalls vis-a-vis international brands/stalls. My guide would point at this and the other to say “that’s Burger King,” “that’s Subway,” “that’s Ocean Basket,” and my response would simply be either “Kenyan or not Kenyan” or “not sure, but most probably not Kenyan.” Quite the party pooper, you might say.

What is the fuss about anyway? What does it matter whether or not that mall is filled with stalls that scream “Kenyan and proud” or “African and proud” or “neither Kenyan nor African and proud?” This beloved continent that has had numerous changes in titles needs to get on with its rise. Kenya, I believe once upon a time was labelled Dark Continent or compared by others to a Phoenix that would soon rise from its ashes, needs to rise for the sake of everything that is good. The path taken by most of the continent’s countries, however, is not, in my very humble opinion, the way to the top. With that said, the path that many countries have opted to tread is one filled with debt with interest rates that triple by the decade to amounts so large that to be cleared, they need to be paid by three or more generations.

In Kenya, for example, the business that most Kenyans are involved is related to the buying and selling of goods, whether wholesale or retail. Most of these products, if not agricultural, are imports from other countries, such as (increasingly or largely) China, which is thanks to the move by Western donors against the East to impose restrictions in exchange for their dime. Meanwhile, agricultural finished products can have their origin in one way or the other traced back to the country or the continent for that matter. Coffee, for instance, is one of the country’s largest exports that leaves the country as raw coffee beans and makes its way back into the country as refined coffee that is beautifully packaged and branded in tins or sachets. It is no longer just coffee, it is related to an international brand name.

On another note, someone I know has joked that with Tanzania’s President that Mr. John Magufuli’s call to his people to learn to do things on their own. This would mean making their own products from start to finish and only export finished products and not raw materials will result in Kenyans buying readymade ugali (maize meal), brewed tea, coffee, and so on.

Furthermore, for a continent whose leaders have, many a time, when vying for any position during an election will try to woo the electorate with the promise of new jobs for its youth, this is a thorny path. This is because the continent, unlike some of its counterparts has a larger percentage of youth within its population. Young adults that go into university and leave with the hope of driving the latest (imported) car(s) and living in the grandest of houses (built by locals) leave school with their degrees in hand and a tough reality to deal with: job scarcity. This scarcity is partly because the company that will be awarded the tender to build the road that was promised during election campaigns eons ago will most likely be a foreign one that will bring its own people to do the construction and leave out that engineering graduate that has been cramming formulae so as to pass their exams and has yet to apply the same.

Moreover, the idea that if one “Take[s] care of the small things… the bigger things will take care of themselves” comes to mind when thinking about this topic. As such, leaders need to make wiser decisions and ensure that their people are not getting the short end of the stick or selling their countries for the sake of aid. What gain is made from having infrastructures, such as stadiums, when the population has no food or water? What good is having internet connectivity with no job? A population that is busy building its country into greatness has little or no time to pick up weapons and fight in wars that, for whatever reason, cannot be justified. That is a lesson that can be learnt from Singapore, where the crime rate is very low because most people do not find it extremely difficult or near impossible to put food on the table for their families.

With that said, this is why I ‘fuss.’ As well, it is important for Africans to consider that the consumption of everything foreign does not equal to prestige, and even if it does, at what cost? Do the math.

As well, it is important for Africans to consider that the consumption of everything foreign does not equal to prestige, and even if it does, at what cost? Do the math.

Hawa Gaya