The news that England’s soccer captain John Terry had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, ex-girlfriend to his teammate Wayne Bridge is fascinating in demonstrating how the West influences what we consume as news.
This particular “news” item – like others from the West- is irrelevant to Africa and to my grandma in the village.
Preoccupied with a struggle for her survival, the old lady cannot even begin to understand how John Terry can earn a monthly pay that is enough to pay more than 2000 teachers at 240 000 francs each, through playing football.
The ability of Western countries to set the global agenda is based on their capability to negotiate and effectively promote their economic interests.
After the end of the Second World War, the war between nations moved from the battlefield to the boardroom. Terms formerly used in military found their way into business; strategy, blitz, bombarding, captains of industry, territory and so on.
Books such as Business is War by Darren Perkins lend credence to this view. While Asian countries have been effective negotiators and bargainers, African countries have lagged behind in making an imprint on the global stage.
Governments in Asia – China, Japan and South Korea especially – have been heavily involved in promoting the interests of their businesses.
During the 70s, Korea’s President Park Jung-Hee heavily supported the development of chaebols – big businesses such as Daewoo and Hyundai through credit guarantees and lucrative government contracts.
This trend has not died. As recently as last December, Korean President Lee Myung Bak traveled to the UAE and successfully lobbied for a Korean company – KEPCO – to be awarded a $40 billion contract to set up nuclear energy plants in the UAE. KEPCO was able to beat Western industrial giants – such as General Electric of USA and Areva of France among others who were also angling for the same business.
China too is actively engaging in economic diplomacy – especially in Africa - as part of its growing global influence. In fact Chinese politicians have successfully been at the forefront of lobbying for business contracts for Chinese companies- from road contracts to mining.
In my view, African business entities are too weak and too small to ever make any impact on the global scene. These entities must be supported by governments for them to metamorphose from kiosk units to global players.
African governments may need to review their policies to aggressively support local businesses. In Africa we need more – not less – government, of course as long as accountable and earning its keep.
We also need to heavily invest in economic diplomacy so that African representatives abroad are required to meet certain business-related targets, for example, linking African companies with AGOA and other market opportunities abroad.
As long as our companies remain stunted, we will continue lacking the financial muscle to negotiate at the global level. We should not then complain that the West determines our agenda and interferes in our affairs.
To overcome this dehumanizing condition, is strengthening the link between African governments and business too high a price to pay?
Edwin Maina is a social commentator