Why Economic Growth is the Wrong Focus for Africa (Part 2)

kenyan flower growers320 - Why Economic Growth is the Wrong Focus for Africa (Part 2)

In my previous post, I noted Martha Nussbaum’s argument that “our dominant theories of development have given us policies that ignore our basic human needs for dignity and self-respect.” There was also a high-level insight into her proposition for an “alternative model to assess human development: the capabilities approach,” which begins by asking simple questions, such as: What is each person actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them?

I also noted that economic growth alone is not an effective indicator of progress in human development. An increase in a country’s gross domestic product (or GDP) does not necessarily translate into an increase in the quality of life of its people. It is concerning that despite an increase in economic growth, it is estimated that more than one in every four African is under-nourished, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s 2012 Africa Human Development Report, which was published last month. Lack of access to meaningful and self-sustaining, income-generating, socio-economic opportunities, particularly among youths, continues to be a major problem for a good number of African states.

The questions that emerge are:

  • How can leaders in both the public and private spheres contribute to realizing the reforms that are needed to positively transform systems across all sectors so as to address the challenges Africa faces in human development?
  • What alternative development domains, theories, social and economic indicators can be leveraged to support the required systems reform and transformation processes in Africa to adequately support human development?
  • What value systems, principles and practices would enable such an effort?

If value systems are indeed the foundation for our guiding principles, policies, and practices, I would like to share some insights from a recent proposal I co-authored with Kristine Marin Kawamura, professor and director of graduate business programs at St. Georges University in the West Indies; Andrew J. Germak, executive director and lecturer at Institute for Families at the Rutgers’ School of Social Work in New Jersey; and Thomas Anyanje Senaji, lecturer and consultant at Kenya Methodist University’s School of Business and Economics.

In our proposal for next year’s Academy of Management (or AOM) conference, which will be held in January 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa, we argue that in order for Africa to fully realize its human development ambitions, African institutions, organizations, and leaders need to be infused with and transformed by care. Care is a building block of life, a value-in-action, and a socioeconomic resource for change that is worthy of investment, study, and development because it empowers financial, social, and human wealth. By nature, people want to care and to be cared for in order become more fully alive.

In “The Human Side of Enterprise,” Douglas McGregor noted that “care brings the human back into both social and business equations of success, empowerment, and progress. Caring helps people to be more creative, flexible, team-oriented, and reflective, all attributes which will positively impact the systems that connect humans with humans across the globe, the institutions in which we serve and the lives we live—and will enable us to co-create a different and better world.  Furthermore, people want to matter, to be significant, to contribute, and to participate in decisions that matter in all parts of society, institutions and families of which we are part.”

Among other things, we argue that creating, enhancing, and embracing “cultures of care” can enable African leaders and institutions to re-examine our human development agenda and perhaps align our strategy with what Nussbaum refers to as “a path to justice for both humans and non-humans.” This is a message that is powerfully echoed by Riane Eisler in her 2007 book The Real Wealth of Nations. Care and Eisler’s principles of “caring economics” hold great promise in helping address some of the challenges the 2012 UNDP Africa Human Development Report identified. The report states that “Sub-Saharan Africa’s population, 856 million in 2010, is projected to exceed 2 billion shortly after 2050” and, with this, is the reality that:

  • “More than one in four Africans—close to 218 million people—is undernourished.
  • “Two major biases—towards towns rather than rural areas and towards men, not women—have been principal factors in explaining Africa’s food insecurity.
  • “African governments spend between 5 percent and 10 percent of their budgets on agriculture, which is well below the 20 percent that Asian governments devoted, on average, to the sector during the green revolution there.
  • “Women are significant food producers, but their control of land in sub-Saharan Africa is less than in any other region,” the report noted.

Kawamura, Senaji, Germak and I are in agreement that “cultures of care” will allow leaders and managers in Africa and around the world to lift out of the thought processes that have both failed and separated us and create new strategies for the realization of financial, human, and social wealth as well as nurture organizational and societal spaces that seek to uphold human dignity for a more humane, equitable, sustainable, meaningful and fulfilling human experience for all rather than a select few.

During his Madaraka Day national address to the people of Kenya on the 49th anniversary celebrations of Kenya’s internal self rule from the colonial British government, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said, “Kenya should strive to be a working and caring nation.” The question that emerges for me is: What does a working and caring nation really mean for Kenyans? If we cannot collectively define and acquire shared meaning on what “a working and caring nation” is all about, how could we possibly translate it into everyday policy and practice?

Read other posts by Kerubo Abuya

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