Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program makes assumptions about the role of tribalism in the future of Africa. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Tribalism manifests as people make decisions out of loyalty to their group or tribe. Think of modern Africa. Consider the vastness of the continent – the Arab culture of northern Africa, the poverty throughout the sub-Saharan region, and even racial tensions in South Africa. This does not even begin to examine the magnitude of diversity and wealth of identity that is present among the 3,000 plus tribes that call Africa home. The Angolan Civil War. The Ethiopian Famine. Apartheid. Rwandan Genocide. War in Darfur. Civil conflicts spurred by groups with varying ideologies have plagued Africa historically. The divisiveness of these conflicts and the havoc the African people experience due to power moves by African leaders drastically impact the ability of the continent to unlock its potential.
What future is in store for a continent that continues the cycle of civil unrest, the and violence evoked by tribalism? What future may exist if tribal imbalances continue in the decades to come? What harm may come from tribal grievances continuing to perpetrate?
The legacy and continued impact of colonialism is far reaching – even in postcolonial times. Colonial powers manipulated and destroyed classic power systems of African tribes for centuries. The beliefs and systems European colonialism imposed throughout Africa have a lasting influence on indigenous groups and impact politics. Following the reign of colonialism, the latter half of the twentieth century was shaped by Western imperialism and followed by the influence of international investment. However, all throughout this history, Africa was, and is, filled with countless tribes, ideologies, and customs.
Merely focusing on tribalism is similar to focusing on the concept of diversity. There is value in diversity. There is importance on honoring cultures and customs. There is significance in hearing differing perspectives. But there is more work to be done than simply recognizing diversity. Groups and tribes must shift toward fostering inclusion and cultivating a shared vision for the grips of destructive tribalism loosen. Without this shift toward inclusion and a shared vision, tribalism in Africa will continue the cycle of violence and destruction too common in the past decades.
Tribalism represents groups with varying cultural identities, societal identities, historical narratives, political views, and power dynamics. Along with the distinctive features of each people group, there are the histories and relationships among the various groups. These relationships are shaped by varying levels of trust, tension, and power, which influence decisions. How might cultivating greater trust between groups allow for a conflict-free Africa?
When ideating ways to achieve a conflict-free future in African by 2050, tribalism is undoubtedly a factor that will influence attempts toward that future. Tribalism represents the vast diversity that exists throughout the continent. Consider the value that tribalism may bring the people as they honor the unique culture and beliefs of other groups. Image a conflict-free future when tribalism evolves beyond a focus of violence and power toward one of inclusion, shared vision, and unity.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program publishes a blog post full of entrepreneurial questions on Africa. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The past fifteen years have been marked by notable advancements in infrastructure systems throughout the continent. Yet critical infrastructure problems with energy, transportation, and water still exist for millions of Africans. Looking at the contemporary history of infrastructure investment, African governmental leaders have dedicated finances to buildout. They have also growingly accepted foreign investment (particularly from Chinese investors) to fund projects. Though foreign investment is not new and certainly not a 2020 discovery, the repercussions the African people might experience due to foreign indebtedness over the next three decades must not be overlooked.
As foreign investors continue to support infrastructure projects in Africa, at what point might the magnitude of foreign indebtedness reach a tipping point for the African people? With infrastructure projects totaling over two trillion in dollars slated for the coming years, how might funding decisions by African leaders today impact the lives of the African people in the next three decades? Do current funding decisions allow for long-term sustainability or rather burden the African people with a catastrophic debt?
Debt financed infrastructure investment is often the default standard practice. Over recent decades international investors and private equity funds have canvased infrastructure projects throughout the continent. From an international investor perspective, Africa is a haven for risky yet lucrative financial returns. Public Private Partnerships (PPP), like Africa50, is another means of infrastructure investment in which the African government works alongside the private sector. What do the African people gain from these multi-billion dollar financed endeavors? Or rather, what are the African people potentially losing in decades to come as they are saddled with enormous debt? How does billions of dollars in debt allow for unlocking the potential of Africa by 2050?
At what point might the African people opt for a different approach to infrastructure development? At what point may a bottom-up movement from the African people overcome the top-down approach currently used by African leaders? How might a more localized, micro-development approach to infrastructure development better fuel African entrepreneurialism opposed to large-scale macro-development infrastructure projects?
Consider what a bottom-up approach to development may look like. Energy is an essential starting point. Imagine the power that accompanies capturing and creating energy locally – everything from running sanitation systems, to supporting humanitarian efforts, and even to promoting educational initiatives. As oil and gas discoveries in East Africa attract international industry, micro-grid electricity offers localized opportunities for the African people. Micro-grids for instance offer a sustainable and clean approach to fueling rural infrastructure needs throughout the continent. How might localized micro-grids impact a farm owner, a restaurant owner, or even an entrepreneur?
There is no denying that Africa is in need of infrastructure development. After decades of unsuccessful top-down to development, what benefits may arise from shifting toward a bottom-up approach? What benefits may local communities, their economies, and their entrepreneurial initiatives experience with a bottom-up approach? How might the next three decades be different than the past five decades if a bottom-up approach to infrastructure development replaces the top-down approach so prevalent throughout the continent?
As the African people are projected to hold 25% of the global talent in 2050, activating local and sustainable solutions when establishing critical infrastructure sets Africa on a new trajectory. A trajectory that empowers local entrepreneurship and leverages local talent all the while establishing critical infrastructure. How might altering the current approach to infrastructure development shift from a future of unsustainable debt toward a future of sustainability? A future where the African people are thriving and unlocking potential?
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the economic aspect of local entrepreneurship in Africa through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In the early 2000s, the Africa Rising movement spurred the development of entrepreneurial opportunities in a contemporary way. But reflecting on the past two decades, what real momentum has come from entrepreneurship throughout the continent? What has hindered a lasting momentum and an enduring growth? Consider the impact that factionalism, tribalism, nepotism, and corruption have had on the successful long-term growth of entrepreneurship to date. Reflect on what real prosperity and development have accompanied the traditional political leadership model throughout the continent. Contemporary efforts of top-down development from African leaders over the past twenty years have not catapulted a robust existence of entrepreneurship across the general population. What can be done, starting now, so that a theme of thriving local entrepreneurship exists throughout the continent by 2050?
There is a real prospect for exponential growth related to entrepreneurial opportunities. As Africa seeks to unlock its potential by 2050, entrepreneurial ventures are essential to growth. However, an important nuance to a renewed effort involves an alternative approach. Consider the manifested impact that may arise for the African people as they adopt a bottom-up approach. How might ventures led by the African people opposed to a top-down approach from formal African leadership offer greater evolution? As systems of governmental instability, military rule, suppression, and genocide are overturned by grassroots efforts such as human rights, a growing feminist presence, educational advances, and increased networking, the continent is reshaped. Along with this evolution, entrepreneurship further opens the doors for new hope and prospects not before available to the people at large.
Transforming the continent calls for shifting values. A shift away from racism toward valuing human development. A shift away from communism and command economies toward appreciating open markets. A shift toward valuing educational and vocational programs. A shift away from poverty toward valuing a skilled workforce. A shift from destruction toward comparative progress and peace. Further, these values fuel long-term expansion and sustainability of a bottom-up form of entrepreneurship.
Local entrepreneurship lends itself to a variety of beneficial aspects for the African economy. Empowered local business owners, in turn, provide communities with sustainability, employment opportunities, internship and apprenticeship positions, and greater voice. At the same time, prosperous and meaningful local entrepreneurship disrupts historical power dynamics, contends against generational cycles of poverty, and encourages an end to the African brain drain. With the people driving the growth of local entrepreneurship, there is an exponential opportunity for higher discretionary spending throughout the economy from the bottom-up.
Another critical benefit of local entrepreneurship on the economy is its inclusive nature. Entrepreneurship is non-discriminating and can be inclusive across all geographies, industries, and cultures. Consider the economic benefits available to all sectors through local business innovations - businesses to address the infrastructure issues, climate change, oil and gas discoveries, preventative health care, urbanization, technological advances, living conditions, and agriculture, for example. Local entrepreneurship is the best hope for Africa and its people as they unlock their potential by 2050.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the intra-continental cooperation in Africa through the lens of security in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Foundational to intra-continental cooperation lies the abilities of leaders. Now is the time for African leaders to create a structure that perpetuates cooperation with paradigm shifting impact. The African Union (AU) is an African institution with the ability to increase security guarantees. In 2002 the AU, consisting of 55 member states, formed in an evolutionary nature from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Where the OAU focused on ridding Africa of decolonization and apartheid, the AU’s focus is on cooperation and African driven growth.
In 2013, the organization launched a 50-year plan called Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, noting a critical aspiration to be ‘a peaceful and secure Africa.’ Flagship projects in the plan include a high-speed train network, a commodities strategy, African continental free trade, free movement of people, silencing of guns, e-network, virtual university, cybersecurity, and an African museum authority to preserve cultural heritage. The AU’s work is critical in achieving intra-continental cooperation and associated security guarantees. But, how much of this work is achievable within the next three decades? What is a realistic expectation of progress to be made by 2050?
Security benefits accompany intra-continental cooperation. Security benefits may appear at several different levels within African society by 2050, including both people and businesses. With greater cooperation the day-in-the-life of an African may include burden-less travel in-between major African cities (think of vacation opportunities or family growth), readily available goods manufactured from other African regions in local stores, and the regular ability to consume and cook with foods and spices grown in other African regions. African businesses experience possible benefits of higher buying power in a cooperative market environment, an increased customer base due to a broader market, and opportunities to scale business operations throughout areas in Africa.
Intra-continental cooperation emphasizes peacebuilding efforts and conflict prevention strategies.
Consider the potential conflicts that cooperation may reframe by 2050 to include religious confrontation, tribal disputes, ethnic conflicts, and refugee displacement. Though Africa is a central contributor within the non-integrated gap, the Sahel is a primary source of African conflict. The Sahel, a belt spanning across the northern region of Africa, is known for its instability and violence. How might intra-continental cooperation defuse the Sahel’s reputation for violence come 2050? Will peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies overturn the present corruption and kleptocracy that exists by 2050? Will the AU hold to their Agenda 2063 plan and create an unwavering African structure?
The desire for peace, security and stability is certainly not new. Yet, over the decades, leaders have not been able to achieve cooperation among the Africa nations. Why is this? Why has peace and security not existed? As a matter of comparison, why does the AU not hold the same level of cooperation as the European Union (EU)? Why are African nations not already cooperating with each other? When thinking towards 2050, modern leaders must ask themselves what will be different? What is be different today, tomorrow, and over the next three decades so that a peaceful and secure Africa, as the AU suggests, exists in 2050?
Cooperation reshapes the types of conflicts and security concerns that arise in 2050. With peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies a default way of thinking within society, resources are relieved and available to combat other potential threats. Ultimately, intra-continental cooperation opens doors. Might these doors lead to non-European neo-colonialism? What about local entrepreneurship? The security guarantees that accompany intra-cooperation created through African structures drastically impact the continent’s ability to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the preparedness of Africa for disruptive climate change in her third blog post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Disruptive climate change is not a mere interruption coming in the distant future. Disruptive climate change is already alive in Africa. It brings devastation to the geography and deadly impacts on African people and wildlife. The coming decades will undoubtedly usher in unprecedented shifts and unthinkable outcomes dramatically affecting the African land, people, and wildlife. Climate destruction encircled (and continues to encircle) Africa in recent history. The cyclones of 2018 impacted individuals living in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe; and, the threat of cyclones continues. The Indian Ocean is warming, and the warming is associated with more significant rainfall in East Africa. Because of the rain, Central Africa experiences unparalleled moisture leading to issues of flooding. Tens of thousands of people living in the regions where the massive flooding occurs resettle to other areas; and resettlement brings its own set of challenges. All-encompassing dust storms overtake regions of the continent. And, think of the global impacts of losing the Congo Rainforest.
Africa is estimated to have only contributed 3-5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but Africa is feeling the brunt of the climate consequences. The disruptive climate change consequences that Africa experiences are primarily spurred on by variables outside the scope of African decisions – including both state and non-state actors. Variables include global policy adherence, state policy development, multinational corporation (MNC) decisions, behaviors of consumers, just to name a few. Within this context, can Africa prepare for further disruptive climate change by 2050? A primary distinction between Africa and other global players is the sheer level of poverty that exists. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, finds itself in extreme poverty without the resources of foreign actors to take precautions and make preparations for climate disruption. In 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will need $50 billion each year to handle the estimated climate disruption. Yet, present poverty serves as a limiting force that impacts the options available to African leaders.
Impacts of disruptive climate change in Africa include millions of individuals starving from drought in some regions and other areas people are displaced due to flooding. People who are displaced experience life-altering situations. Displacement welcomes the spread infections due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure, causes a reliance on camp-style temporary shelters, and obstructs access to healthcare. Displacement reduces the grazing and water offered to animals and forces farmers in disaster areas to make tough decisions such as slaughtering their source of income and nutrition. Displacement is merely one rabbit hole to travel down. Think of the carbon considerations that accompany losing the Congo Rainforest. As the second largest global rainforest system, the Congo Rainforest represents 18% of the earth’s rainforests. Or, think of economic impacts that accompany the flooding due to rising sea levels of urban centers situated along the African coast.
Africa in 2050 does not have to be earmarked as a climate change dystopia. The decisions that leaders, both in Africa and globally, make now will dramatically shape the African experience in 2050. Within the continent, African leaders and governments may opt to co-create effective local solutions and teach adaptability to communities. African leaders may innovate around renewable energy production, agricultural developments, agroforestry work, and smart city urbanization. Consider the benefits that may arise from intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. As leaders seek to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050, safeguarding the continent relies heavily on the decisions and actions of current leaders.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the merits of leveraging talent in Africa through her second blog post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In leadership and management circles, the term talent is associated with the aptitude, skills, and competencies of a workforce. And, collectively speaking, the year 2050 will see no shortage of talent in Africa. The culturally rich continent is projected to claim 25% of the global population in that year. The sheer volume of the talent serves as a critical and dramatic driver of change for a continent seeking to flourish in the next three decades.
When thinking of talent, African leaders may choose to embrace a strengths-based perspective. Leaders who embrace this perspective recognize that their collective workforce resembles the composition of strengths from the group. By relying on the principles of humanism, strengths-based leaders recognize that all individuals have unique value; and when used appropriately, their value betters themselves and the group.
A strategic way for a group to evolve over time is by investing in talent. One approach available to African leaders is to 1) craft a vision for a desired future, 2) recognize the strengths of their collective workforce, and 3) identify ways to develop the talent to align with the desired future. Alignment, in this sense, allows for greater potential. Leveraging talent is essential for any group working towards a long-term vision - such as unlocking African potential by 2050. Benefits of talent development include unraveling new thought patterns, an influx of collaboration, an increase in alternative solutions, additional skills afforded to the group, and unlocking unknown potential. Consider the unforeseen flourishing that may arise as African thinking infiltrates the liberal democracies and autocratic systems present within much of the developed world.
Empowerment is strongly linked to development. Currently, sub-Saharan Africa holds the title for highest out-of-school rates of children through to secondary school in the world. 2050 welcomes an era where the majority of students will have access to, be enrolled in, and actively participating in education – whether in person, online, or a mix method approach to schooling. Shifts toward greater gender equality offer a powerful force. Gender equality will impact education access as well as shift African family life. Consider the importance of empowerment to help combat rising inequality while encouraging social stability across a geography marked with notable tribalism and inter-group contention. As the Africa Rising movement continues to gain momentum and propel the continent forward, African empowerment may be shaped by influences such as persistence, endurance, diversity, cultural richness, a shared history, and more. The unique shared experience through the Africa Rising movement offers the world a new take on empowerment that is unprecedented to human civilization.
To unlock this potential by 2050, the future must evolve past the countervailing pressures that have stunted growth over the centuries. In the past fifty years alone, consider events plaguing Africa including the Ethiopian famine of 1980s, the Rwandan massacre of the 1990s, the Sudanese civil war of the 2000s as well as the Ebola outbreak and the HIV epidemic. A mixture of intra-continental forces along with monumental foreign forces, racism, and corruption have restricted Africa from truly flourishing.
Shifting is happening and will continue to happen as African talent advances. The shifting moves Africa beyond wars, conflicts, and disasters. The shifting embraces hygiene and healthcare; educational and vocational training; and entrepreneurial ventures. The shifting is a sign that a future of flourishing is possible. And, the shifting connotes a very different future to come, one far richer in human talent than the past century could imagine. By leveraging talent, Africa is better positioned to handle disruption, including the disruptive climate change looming within the planet.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at checking the possibility of unlocking Africa’s potential by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Consider the modern history of Africa. Over the past 50 years alone, the continent has faced geopolitical clashes, wars, famines, genocides, disease pandemics in the midst of systematic tensions. Think of the missed opportunities, the squandered potential, the harm and devastation. In the midst of this trying and troubled timeline, hope is in not lost completely. Think of the entrepreneurial ventures, the growing human rights efforts, and the humanitarian and healthcare advances of recent years. Now, think to the future. A future with a thriving Africa affords continental opportunities but also open doors for unprecedented global collaborations.
With the abundant African population growing to nearly 2.5 billion individuals by 2050 and diverse mineral wealth throughout the continent, the possibility to unlock untapped potential in the next 30 years exists. Two themes that are significant for leaders working to unlock the continent’s potential include leveraging the abundant human talent and also preparing for disruptive climate change. In the midst of dystopian narratives and doomsday stories of the future, leaders must remind themselves that futures of thriving and potential are possible, even if they are not yet achieved.
Africa finds itself currently as, geographically speaking, the shining star of what is known as the non-integrated gap. In simplistic terms, this means that, excluding the country of South Africa, Africa’s presence in the 21st century world clamors for a miraculous peace, overall security, and an end to combat. Contemporary influences actively harnessing the minds and reshaping the decisions of leaders throughout Africa are the African Union and African Rising movement. Important themes that arise from these influences in Africa include intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. Consider the unleashed security and economic benefits that these themes offer the African people. Imagine a thriving Africa that provides the world with leaders who are peacebuilders, leaders who embody cooperation and collaboration, and leaders who embrace thriving.
Africa is currently floundering in challenges associated with lackluster infrastructure, food instability, and water insecurity. Systemically, the continent lacks the physical infrastructure, with 620 million individuals living without electricity. Basic infrastructure challenges critically influence the dire food and water scarcities that define much of life intra-continentally. In a continent where 70% of individuals believe religion is very important, values influence the conflicts associated with tribalism, non-state actors, and religious contentions. Leaders must prepare for the burdens of unprecedented droughts and floods radiating throughout the continent due to disruptive climate change. The list only continues. Overcoming these challenges is a duty for leaders who envision a future where Africa is thriving and contributing at the global level.
Africa could hold an influential role on the world stage in 2050. Today’s leaders must recognize how present decisions are actively - whether directly or indirectly - impacting the future. Current events and decisions are already shaping 2050. Within Africa, consider the lasting impact of civil conflicts between people groups and shifting forms of government within African countries. From an international perspective, consider the impact of the unprecedented foreign funding, specifically from Chinese investors. The African people represent more than a number. They represent a diverse cultural tapestry, an unrivaled human development opportunity, the largest global workforce, and new thought contributors. In addition to human capital, Africa offers the world rich natural resources including oil and gas. These resources already catch the attention of international players through the recent manufacturing revolution and pharmaceutical production influx. As the earth faces disruptive climate change in the coming decades, the natural resources found in Africa will strongly influence both state and non-state decisions. From an altruistic perspective, a thriving Africa is essential to the global citizenry in 2050.
Africa has moved beyond simply surviving and toward rising. In the coming decades, Africa once again has an opportunity – an opportunity to move beyond rising toward thriving. Thriving not only allows for Africa to flourish but allows for Africa to help the world flourish. This is a heavy call on the shoulders of leaders guiding this continent that is home to a complex tapestry of nations, tribes, religions, and languages.
Alex Floate,a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the financial system of Africa by next three decades. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
2019 – There is a small isolated village in Africa. In this village is a small one-room schoolhouse built by a foreign aid society in the early 1970s and still used for its intended purpose. This school, like the rest of the village, is not electrified, but it does have large windows that allow light to shine on the large slate blackboard at the front of the room. Sticks of chalk fill the tray, and the board is clean except for a small note in the upper right corner; “Please silence your cell phones.”
2049 – A prefabricated multi-purpose building has replaced the one-room schoolhouse. An array of solar panels and small satellite dishes powers the air conditioning and connects the village with the outside world. In one part of the building, students engage in small groups or interact with holographic images. In another, villagers take advantage of the cool air to lounge and discuss village politics, or conduct business over their various networks. A message flashes across the glasses of one of the villagers; FedEx drone inbound, ETA 5 mins.
Even though the ancestors of all of us originated in Africa, the continent was the last place to achieve the post-colonial dream of self-rule and determination. In many places, local strongmen took advantage of colonial structures and culture to exert control over the people and the economy. The promises of freedom and economic prosperity fell mainly to those involved in the corrupt governments or local representatives of foreign resource extraction firms.
There was an advantage for Africa as the 21st Century began. Without large scale legacy infrastructure or deeply entrenched economic systems, Africans were free to begin creating new ones. For electricity generation that meant there were fewer coal plants or outdated nuclear reactors creating environmental and safety issues. For finance, that meant fewer established institutions to dominate the commercial and political landscape.
The first step came with the build-out of cell phone capability. In many places, mobile phone penetration exceeded access to electricity, with users dependent on gas generators or solar panels for recharge. As networks increased in broadband capability, the population became adept users of phone apps. They used local networks focused on creating and marketing businesses, sharing information on resources, banking, education, and news.
New financial products to meet the needs of the population began appearing. With over 50% of the population sub-Saharan Africa previously excluded from the financial system, these new products began offering new opportunities. The ability to save and invest allowed for an accumulation of wealth. Mobile payments allowed for participation in markets outside their local ones. Micro-lending and new insurance products provided farmers and entrepreneurs with increased opportunities. The companies providing these products prospered as well, extending their reach throughout the continent.
African entrepreneurs understood they did not need to industrialize, but to innovate in today's finance and technology markets. The impetus to build finance hubs throughout Africa, and in the process marshal both homegrown and foreign funding, increased both the quantity and quality of financial companies. Initially done at a city level, as the results began to show promise and profits, national governments began to examine how to duplicate the results through investment and policy.
By the 2040s, Africa had built a modern consumer and entrepreneur focused financial system, while creating and tapping new local and global markets. An expanding financial system built for purpose served as an example for the world on how a finance system can serve the needs of people while, in the process, unite a continent.
Posted By Administration,
Friday, October 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Daniel Riveong has written his sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He examines globalization through African and Islamic approaches to social values and economic thought. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
While globalization recalibrates the relationship between the West and the Rest, our discussions of socio-economic systems are too often dominated by Western sources. More specifically, our choices seem to be either neoliberal capitalism or socialism. This both marginalizes the full diversity of human thought and also deprives us of new ways of imagining socio-economic systems. We should look towards other traditions and consider what we can learn from African and Islamic approach to social values and economic thought, as a way expand our options on building new socio-economic systems and also helping us revisit Western thought.
African social-economic concepts are deeply rooted in communalism, such as in ujaama (familyhood), ubuntu (“I am because we are”), masakhane (“let us build together”), and others. Tanzania’s first president promoted ujaama is an African approach to socio-economics. Ujaama draws upon the idea of an extended family. The individual is deemphasized in favor of communal land ownership, communal labor, and village self-sufficiency. The primary difference from socialism and capitalism is that ujaama, as an economic plan, sought to regenerate the socio-economic systems of communal African villages.
While the ujamaa socio-economic plan ultimately failed, the idea of a more communal system of governance and economics continues in Africa, as represented by Desmond Tutu’s promotion of ubuntu and Tony Elumelu’s Afri-Capitalism. These African concepts emphasize reciprocity over selfishness, collaboration over competition, and reconciliation over punishment. While these concepts arise from the African context, they share similarities with the ideas of conscious capitalism and inclusive capitalism.
In contrast to African guiding socio-economic philosophies, Islamic thought has long sought specific guidelines over wealth and trade. Islamic jurisprudence on economics, called muamalat, encourages trade and wealth. Yet in Islam wealth and trade comes with its limits: profits must be earned responsibility and spending must have a social benefit. There are guidelines on how wealth can be earned, how much profit can be attained, and how it is to be used.
Islamic economic guidelines state that profits must come from being productive, fair, and socially responsible. For this reason, making money from money is prohibited; thus, charging interest, selling uncertainties, and gambling is off-limits. The absolute prohibition on interest was common in the Christian tradition as well, until debates in the 15th century helped to differentiate between interest and usury.
Eleventh-century Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali prohibited excessive profits, warning against attaining more than 10% profit margins or more than 5% for essential goods. (In comparison, in 2016 companies like Apple achieved margins of 21% and John & Johnson 23%.) Echoing today’s socially responsible investing movement (SRI), Shariah-compliant funds have long prohibited investing in socially harmful companies, such as in tobacco, defense industry, etc.
While there is much to learn from rethinking socio-economic systems within the context of communitarian values (such as in ujamaa) or social responsibilities (as outlined in muamalat), such thinking does also exist in the West. We should revisit these similarities in traditions and reinterpret older Western concepts such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (what does brotherhood mean today?) and the Roman law of res communis (how can we rethink the Roman concept of the commons?). We should treat these times of uncertainty about capitalism and neoliberalism as an opportunity to revisit the moral basics. Even Adam Smith, the figurehead of capitalism, warned against selfishness and ignoring the poor. What would he say about where we are today?