Incapable of seeing our value

There is much to lament about with the latest violence in South Africa. We Africans have been hijacked by our worst selves and this has made us paranoid and unable to use our best people to rebuild nations.

The insanities of a few criminal Nigerians have come to dominate our perceptions of that country, however unfairly.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Nigerian immigrants in the United States have the highest levels of education of any group, including whites and Asian Americans.

Eight percent of the white population of the United States has master’s degrees, as do 12% of the Asian-American population.
Seventeen percent of Nigerians in America—a full 5% more than any other group—have master’s degrees.

This information comes from the American Census Bureau (2006).

In a similar vein, a report compiled by John R Logan at the Mumford Centre, State University of New York at Albany reports that in 2000, immigrants from Africa averaged the highest educational level of any population group in the US, including whites and Asians.

“Forty-three-point-eight percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared to 42,5% of Asian Americans, 28,9% for immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada and 23,1 % of the United States population as a whole.”

Across the Atlantic, more research showing immigrant achievements—this time from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a British think tank—emerges.

Of all the population groups resident in the United Kingdom, those born in India count for the highest percentage of property owners, at 89%.

People born in Kenya come second, at 82% home ownership. Canadians are third, American-born and British-born people are fifth. South African-born residents are 11th, at 71%.

The highest contributors to income tax in the UK are individuals born in the US. South Africans are fourth, Ugandans fifth and Kenyans eighth. Nineteen percent of Kenyan-born people in the UK are self-employed, more than Americans, South Africans and those born in Indian.

South Africans are the fourth-highest earners of paid employment in the UK, while Ugandans are fifth and Kenyans eighth.

These numbers are not from small samples. There are 190 000 South African-born people living in the UK, 146 000 Nigerians and 123 000 Kenyans.

According to land registry statistics in the UK, the average price of a house is R2,7-million. Bearing this in mind, an astonishing 100 000 Kenyans own homes there. That is a total property value of R270-billion. This is nearly twice the GDP of the Western Cape.

Yet it seems that we, as Africans, have become incapable of seeing value in ourselves.

Thousands of Ugandan and Ghanaian doctors and college professors came to Southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

Many world-class Ghanaian professionals left Nigeria, because they were treated badly. Many world-class Ugandans left Kenya because they were treated badly.

Numerous African immigrants in South Africa are now thinking about their next home.

Xenophobia in Africa targets first the most dynamic and entrepreneurial people.

Almost everywhere this kind of violence is found—in Kenya too with the recent experience in ethnic economics—you will find local political and economic elites who dominate their fellow locals, like feudal lords. In villages, townships and towns, these elites plot, quite openly, to remove “foreigners”. They do this because they cannot compete.

There are Mr Hydes to our dynamic Dr Jekylls.

They have come to think of themselves as an aristocracy, be it in Mthatha, Soweto, Lagos or Nairobi.

You will find them in companies, among small-town politicians, in the civil service and in key places all over the institutional fabric of the continent. These are the people who are prosperous only because of their political and ethnic profile or connections. Anyone who brings new ideas is obliterated rather than learned from.

They are the local wholesalers, the councillors, the committee chairpersons, the university deans, the party chairpersons, the tribal elders, the sales representatives.

They often got to where they are by being sycophants or political appointees in direct or roundabout ways. They get franchises, tenders and political agency because they make it clear you cannot enter their territory, or get anything from their market without their say so.

When all else fails, your most potent marketing tool becomes the people poorer than you, those who speak your language, especially if they remain ignorant.

Kenyans living abroad cannot vote. They are not allowed to hold two passports.

There are good reasons for this: they are demanding and productive. It is so much easier for governments to go to the donor with a begging bowl.

Donors expect so little.

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