Africa is not a country, it’s a continent consisted of 54 diverse countries, each rich in its diversity and mores
This sentence is similar to what many stakeholders employ when they want to defend the continent against people who label it singularly as a civil war and poverty abyss. They would caution against the grave mistake of identifying more than 1.2 billion people as hopeless. A great mass of diverse people that has a long history of very rich values and traditions.
Ah, yes tradition. That word that has been overly attributed to Africa. Anywhere you look, through all the vehicles of media Africa is explicitly, sometimes subtly, branded as a continent where there is an amalgam of traditions. Indeed, the continent has a diversity of people and their interaction with their environment is unique.
We should however make the conscious effort to recognize that every country has a set of values that date back thousands of years and therefore, the notion of tradition is not distinct to Africa alone.
Japan, one of the most advanced countries in the world, has a globally-recognized tradition of sumo wrestling which dates back 2,000 years. France, another advanced economy, has a long list of social values and customs in the culinary and arts fields, which make it a popular tourist attraction. The USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc., all have a set of values and traditions that have been present in their societies for centuries.
According to Merriam-Webster, tradition is defined as:
an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom).
Therefore, tradition isn’t simply a way of dressing, dancing, or behaving in instances. Another important aspect of a country’s tradition is the mindset of its people, its way of thinking. The people of the USA for example, are known to worship a strong work ethic and the concept of continuously seeking to win. Germans are generally known to be competitive and structured in their daily lives. These are all examples of values which reinforce tradition in other parts of the world besides Africa.
Given this though, it’s surprising that Africans themselves are often putting such a strong emphasis on culture and traditions, even in investment promotion schemes.
It may be time for Africans to begin mainly promoting the continent as a place to live. To live an ordinary life like anywhere else in the world. Stakeholders’ promotional efforts shouldn’t simply attract foreigners to come to Africa to be entertained by children wearing raffia skirts and dancing near the bonfire at night. It shouldn’t merely be about attracting people to see wild animals in the savannas.
Africans should market the continent as a place where there are 54 markets where you can invest your money and trust that you will earn a higher return than anywhere else in the world; a place where you can actually raise a family and live a normal and sane life.
Some argue that Africa should exploit its cultural wealth toward the end goal of attracting investment and boosting economic development — it’s a strategic advantage. I don’t disagree with this because after all, tourism is an economic sector as well. Perhaps though, it’s the other way around.
In other words, the economic power or the investment potential of a country is the channel via which many individuals and businesses will tour a country. This will then enable many other people to also hear about the culture of the country, drawing in even more people to the said country.
There is ample empirical evidence to substantiate this. When you analyze the most visited countries in the world for tourism, the correlation with economic activity is startling. You’d note within the top 10, countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and China. Clearly, economic power can dramatically enhance the attractiveness of a country, even if it’s not known to be rich in ancient “traditions”.
Young Africans don’t risk their lives crossing the sea to leave the continent because abroad, the ancient traditions are much more intense in the daily lives of people. No, they abandon their families and traditions because they believe there’s more opportunity for them to earn a descent living there (even if these same opportunities are on the continent).
Africans, especially the governments, should instead focus on intensively promoting the continent as the number one business destination in the world. And by doing this, the authorities will be forced to create the favorable business environment that would validate this claim.
An African country wants to be the technology hub in its region by 2030? Well, the government will have to take the initiatives to help decrease the cost of internet and phone services. If a country has an ambition to be a net exporter of petroleum, it will have to massively invest in infrastructure and reduce graft and red tape to attract serious investors.
By the way, investors in Africa aren’t simply defined as foreigners from outside the continent. A Ghanaian financing a business activity in Kenya, is an investor and Kenyan authorities will account for the funding as a foreign investment. Aliko Dangote, a well-known Nigerian industrialist, has invested in many other countries in Africa besides his home country Nigeria.
His firm, Dangote Cement, didn’t build a 3.0Mta cement plan in Tanzania simply because nearly 130 languages are spoken in the country. He hasn’t invested in Congo-Brazzaville merely because the country has a rich biodiversity. He has invested in those countries because he saw a viable economic opportunity.
While promoting Africa’s culture is not fundamentally bad, making it a significance part of a general strategy to attract investors is perhaps ill-advised. Currently, the continent needs more investments than cultural admirers. The two can go hand-in-hand however. Stakeholders, particularly the governments, should promote the continent as the future of global business and the ideal ecosystem for investments, then allow the culture to play its role to attract even more people to the countries.
Essentially, when an investor wants to invest in a project within a country, the first guiding consideration isn’t culture. Instead, it’s the potential financial gain or the impact (for impact investors) that the project has within the country. Hence, Africans should massively deploy the means to promote the opportunities which are obviously present across the continent. The values and the traditions will always be present in the daily lives of people.