Last week, I attended a rather informative forum on productivity. Right! You know how human resource turn abstract resources into wealth. I left with one goal in mind, encourage Africans to have real catharsis over why this continent is an example of underdevelopment, poverty, famine and other negative conditions that follow Africa’s name like an afternoon shadow.
Because am African, I can pretty much say it like it is and write subjectively about Africa without the fear of drawing the ire of all you who are dedicated to sanitizing Africa’s name by window dressing. I can do this without the fear of pulling a Justin Sacco. I will do this without fear of some will accuse me of hanging this continent’s dirty linen in the open.
The first question I will pose out there is, are Africans inherently lazy? Back in my high school days, our teacher for literature told us a fable about an experiment carried to ascertain levels of creativity among different children. Three children: one Caucasian, one Oriental, and one African were put under the crucible. Well, not under a microscope but each of them was left unattended with lots of food in a locked room with various experimental objects. The Caucasian and Oriental children ate and discovered the environment, sampling this or that thing, while the African child ate, slept, woke up, and ate some more. At the time, we dismissed our teacher as a ‘self-hating’ Africa. After all the races in the world fall into the folly of believing in their magnificence and we young Africa boys were no exception. Perhaps unbeknown to us and owing to our teacher’s experience with life he was in a better position to discern life in Africa than we young souls could, he had stopped romanticizing about Africa and started telling it as it is.
Which leads me back to my original question: are Africans inherently lazy? No, I would say, but they aren’t inherently hardworking either. Although African oral history is replete with examples of adages and proverbs that encourage hard work I have seen nothing in terms of social-cultural philosophy that abhors laziness and sloth. I mean in some societies being called lazy would be one of the highest forms of insult a person would suffer, being lazy would provide grounds for social ostracization, but no not Africa.
Before you accuse me of throwing words around here are the facts, according to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI 2013). African countries perform dismally in the 103 country index. They occupy positions edging towards the hundred; Kenya occupies position 95, Senegal 93, Algeria 103, Tanzania 97, Ethiopia 99, with the most top-ranked country in Africa being South Africa at position 55 in an index topped by Switzerland. From the preceding it seems Africans are untalented as well, whereas I know there are some certain historical and structural issues that might be used in defense of this phenomenon. It has been 50 years since most African countries gained their independence, but most African countries have had little to show in terms of human capital development.
Indeed, African countries have shorter weekly working hours, way below international hours. In Chad the working hours limit per week is 39 hours, in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Madagascar, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and the Congo the working hours limit per week is 40.
In Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Morocco Angola, Burundi, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo the working hours limit per week is 46, Tunisia and Mozambique have a working hours limit per week of 48 hours. In Africa, only Kenya has a working hour limit per week above 48 hours. It is critical to note that the global ILO standard is a 48-hour work, and clearly, African countries in their droves fall below the global standard. Such statistics are inimical to progress and development.
Africa also has a smaller appetite for increased productivity than her most synonymous benchmarks, read South East Asian countries. According to the Productivity Commission of Kenya between the years 2001 and 2012, Kenya posted an increase in the Labour Productivity Index of 18.0%. Whereas that seems decent enough, it translates into a measly annual increase of 1.65% which pales in comparison when China’s statistic are put into consideration; China had an annual growth in its labor productivity index of 10.5% between 2003 and 2012.
For a long time, Africa’s growth model that has primarily been based on extractive material exports has ignored the role a vibrant and competitive labor force plays in the in economic growth. Work ethic and service delivery especially in the public sector is poor. It is time Africa flips the coin and realizes that oil, gold, or diamond will not change this continent, its people will and they need colossal changes in attitudes to do so.