Where is our black elite to balance our politics?

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HISTORY so far has shown us that it is not easy to simultaneously achieve democracy and economic growth. It is not impossible, but it is a tall order balancing the different interests at the same time. The strongest democracies in the world established their economic growth foundations during dark years of slavery and colonisation, before they achieved democracy. In the Western world, economic growth enabled democracy. Recent studies are projecting China to be next biggest democracy because economic growth will eventually breed democracy.

By Tapiwa Gomo

In Western countries, as systems of governance became empowered and people’s incomes grew, so did the balance of power between business, government and the people. Everyone is now accountable to someone with the SDtate playing the mediation role on behalf of the people. The government is accountable to the people and the business accountable to the government. These pillars established the platforms for the growth of democracy. Now, an African country such as Zimbabwe is made to pursue democracy with the hope that democracy will breed a vibrant economy.

We love democracy for all its nice packages. It has given human kind hope for retaining human dignity in the face of the marauding and profit-driven capitalism. People have a say in the management of their affairs. And it is the modern-day centrepiece of human liberation and there is nothing not to love about democracy. Democracy without economic growth is as bad as a dictatorship. However, the key question is how possible a poor African country such as Zimbabwe can achieve democracy in the absence of a vibrant economy without resulting in a dictatorship?

With the campaign trails on the peak, the loudest messages by political hopefuls to the electorate are promises of democracy and economic growth. Democracy guarantees freedoms and economic growth promises food on the table. Their convergences are the Biblical Canaan that human kind has always sought for decades.

There is little or no evidence to suggest that the two can grow simultaneously and yet this is what African politicians have been promising for more than seven decades. Are they, therefore, selling us a fib? Maybe because most politicians have mastered the art of lying, including the young ones.

Instead of responding to this question, I will attempt to discuss what I think is one of the missed opportunities for most African countries to make it possible to achieve democracy and economic growth — the black economic elite.

Notwithstanding that the wars for independence were triggered by the desire to secure control of the means of production, most African countries did not prioritise how they would ensure economic growth.

There were different policies, some radical, while others maintained the economic status quo. Angola and Mozambique opted to kick the settlers out of their countries. South Africa and Zimbabwe chose to maintain the economic status quo supposedly drawing lessons from Angola and Mozambique, though the Zimbabwe story later became a train smash after the chaotic land reform. The rest of the continent largely maintained the exploitative relations with their former colonial masters.

What lacked in most of these countries were policies on how to ensure locals became an integral part of their economies, which were in the hands of the settler. Attempts to pursue and establish affirmative action groups or the black economic empowerment models have been futile because they were nothing, but looting conduits for politicians. This explains why today — despite having produced millionaires — Africa has failed to establish a black elite with the power to ensure checks and balances on the politicians.

Take, for example, if we had a well-organised and powerful black business community in Zimbabwe, the land reform would not have happened the way it did. The first line of protest would be the same black business community, whose interests were risked by chaos that befell the agriculture sector. They could use their power to tilt the political pendulum to save the economy.

Instead, the emerging black entrepreneurs which largely filled the banking sector stood akimbo as they watched the baseline of their business interests burning under their watch. To demonstrate how they lacked power and spine, they left the protests to students and labour unions to fight the battles on their behalf. Neither of these are stockholders. Were they oblivious that their business was dead without the agriculture industry and that there would be no labour without them? Or maybe they were simply captured by the same politician.

This is where our story has differed from that of the settlers. They were organised, with their businesspeople well-protected and at the core of their agenda. Every aspect of politics — be it education, security, defence, religion among others — was about economic growth. Their business community enjoyed respect and protection. This is why when the settlers moved to Africa to invest in the continent and establish countries that we see today, they were well-organised.

They were groups of investors that were financially backed by their home governments and banks to ensure a well-supported economic growth. The objective of their success in investments was not limited to profits but to the bigger picture — economic growth. That group of investors remains intact, well-managed and coordinated as the centrepiece of all political agendas.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa