The continent-watchers among you may have heard of Christoph Blocher, a historian who specialises in making the Swiss look hard at their World War II past and see roses. He doubles as the Swiss justice minister.
Recently he said, “How one should deal with Africa, I do not know. Leaving it to itself is one possibility. Nobody knows how Africa can be industrialised. Perhaps they will manage on their own one day.” And: “We pay $300-million in development aid to Africa. I don’t even want to talk about the use of it. As a businessman I can’t see any.”
And then the light went off! It occurred to me that there are many who cannot see the investment opportunities in Africa. At university they taught us that every threat is an opportunity. So I decided to write a proposal to potential investors, and to Christoph Blocher, who has $300-million he does not know what to do with. The key points are as follows.
Branded babies: Africa has a surplus of babies. With birth rates as high as 5% in some places, this is a definite growth market. As Madonna and Angelina Jolie’s babies grow, there will be a demand for colour-contrasted adopted babies from Africa. Babies could be sold for hard and useful cash in Europe and America, where fertility rates are low.
Misery: India has its gurus and Africa its misery. We suggest an approach that is not defensive. Although most Africans are not wallowing in misery, most of Europe needs to believe that we are. We propose to turn this into an economic opportunity, developing packages for volunteers needing to “find themselves” and to pay lots of money to feed starving children or “sensitise” people. Merchandising could be produced — there are many possible permutations of misery — film rights, novels, documentaries. Many photographers know that Pulitzer-winning pictures can only be found where people are too desperate to care if they are being dehumanised. This is an excellent opportunity. We propose a continent-wide licensing of all major wars, traumas and miserable events.
Branded nations: Branding is the way to go. This may be the new form of nation-building. Madonna is a huge international brand. Malawi is not. Madonna loves Malawi. Angelina Jolie loves Namibia. If Namibia became “Angelina Jolie’s Republic of Namibia”, millions of tourists would come, providing vast merchandising opportunities. Bottles of desert sand, Jolie images carved into mountain ranges. The Brad Pitt National Park. We could make a fortune.
Speaking clocks for Africa: I am truly excited by the possibilities of this venture. I recently learnt, from an Africa expert, something I have failed to discover after 36 years of living in Africa! A few years ago, Andrew Natsios, then head of the US Agency for International Development, told the Boston Globe that Africans “don’t know what Western time is”, and that “many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch in their entire lives. And if you say, one o’clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about.”
We propose manufacturing, marketing, branding and selling Talking Clocks for Africa. The clocks can be subsidised by USAid, and they can come in 1 000 spoken African languages, and be distributed around the continent by donkey cart and United Nations food drops (bouncy, hardy clocks made out of Congo rubber? Designed in Switzerland maybe?).
White elephants: Africa is the home of the elephant. Africa is also the home of the white elephant! Did you know there is an abandoned fish-processing plant is the middle of the Kenyan desert? Built by the Norwegians? Imagine the opportunity represented by all the failed grand plans to save Africa over four decades. Tourists will buy little collector boxes of the rubble by the boatload! These are very valuable mementos: they show how much so many have cared over the decades.
Timeless rhythm: We are a rhythmic people and, in fact, it is this genetic rhythm that makes us dance so well, and have a care-free attitude that is much in demand among the youth of Europe, Japan and China. We can patent the genes of rhythm and sell them to Europe.
Extreme sports: This is the world’s fastest-growing sports brand. Africa has a competitive advantage: many of our long-distance athletes start early by running 10km to school, where they will be beaten if they are late. Advanced training begins when they flee from police, who will not let them trade in public areas, because they are “chasing away foreign investors”. Our police use guns, rubber bullets, batons, teargas and M3s.
This would make a thrilling sport for tourists if they came down to Nairobi, for example, and bought a hawker’s permit. Instead of trying to industrialise by allowing entrepreneurial Africans to trade freely and cheaply, and “informal manufacturers” to manufacture freely, we can turn the whole thing into a kind of reality television. Our ministers will say “clear the hawkers and the artisans!” and the police and askaris will give chase! Those caught will be kicked off the show.
This draft proposal is addressed to Mr Christoph Blocher and any other interested investors. My colleagues and I can start a company immediately to manufacture, market, brand and patent the above to help industrialise Africa. Please believe in us. An investment in our scheme of $300-million per annum will support sustainability, poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals.
We would be happy to forward you our CVs. We can all run very fast, we cannot tell the time and we have rhythm — all the skills necessary for a successful project. Furthermore, we are happy to work with expensive European Union consultants who can take home most of the money you give us in consultancy fees and hardship allowances.
We would be quite happy and rich if you left us with just $2 a day! Not a bad investment, eh? This way your economy continues to benefit from helping us, and we remain grateful and pathetic. It’s a Win-Win, Can-Do approach!
Yours in humility, ignorance and misery.
African Future Inc. (B Wainaina, potential MD)
Binyavanga Wainaina, based in Nairobi, is the founding editor of Kwani, a leading Kenyan literary magazine (www.kwani.org). Beginning in January he will write a fortnightly column for the M&G