CONVERSATIONS WITH MAWERE
"Invest in the change you want to see"
- Mutumwa Mawere -
Africa 2009 – Pushing the envelope of knowledge – business – Part 6 of 20
Posted on November 29th 2009
Unfortunately, human beings are perishable and all we leave are memories of what we have done on earth.
We all know we are going to die but we conduct our lives as if we are immortal and I have no doubt that is what God wanted it to be otherwise life would have no meaning.
Our past makes the present meaningful and the present is no more than a theatre in which the future ought to be mapped.
If one does not like what one sees in the present all is not lost because one can make a choice today that will change the future into what we what we want to see.
If anything, I would like to be remembered for adding value to the bank of knowledge that can prepare all of us to better deal with the challenges of the present.
We all need to look up to something and inspiration and faith play a big part in human development.
So when Vusi Sindane, a member of AHS www.africaheritagerivonia.com suggested that an online magazine be launched as part of the outreach program to bring more people into the conversation on what kind of Africa we want to see, I was quick to respond.
The proposal is that we target issues that are most relevant to existing and potential members.
As suggested by Vusi, Monday has been dedicated as the Business and Industry heritage day.
Each and every one of us has a story to tell. Unfortunately, in life we forget that our legacy is defined by our own actions.
I often get calls and requests for advise from many people about business and how they can improve their standard of living through the instrumentality of business yet many of us do not know what a business is.
Africa's movers and shakers tend to take a political profile and yet the real critical drivers of economic change are the men and women whose decisions and choices result in goods and services being exchanged in the market place.
The political legacy of Africa has left many wounds and inflicted psychological pain to many.
We know how bad it was but rarely do we pause to reflect on some of the positive aspects of our business heritage.
In our daily conversations it is rare that we actually devote any space to reflect on the journey travelled so far as business is concerned.
What occupied the minds of our business pioneers? Was it greed? Or was it motivated by the same desire to serve that political players wish to monopolistically appropriate to themselves.
In this inaugural series dealing with business, I think there is no better starting point than to define what business is and what it is not.
By volunteering to be the first contributor, I do hope that I will also encourage others to add their voice to this important conversation.
Many of us would rather not leave a legacy of our thoughts and in so doing deprive future generations for knowing what informed our choices.
In order to reduce the frontiers of poverty, it would be naïve to assume that government alone can make a difference.
We need business and in order for business to play its part certain rules of the game have to be in place and observed.
What is a business? It is an artificial legal construction whose sole objective is to provide goods and/or services to willing buyers. It is also called a company, enterprise or firm.
The relationship between a firm, shareholders, directors and employees is rarely understood as is the relationship between the state, state actors, and citizens.
Colonial Africa was designed fundamentally as a capitalist construction in which most of the economic activities were privately driven and formed to earn a profit that then would be taxed by the state with the residual income being available for distribution to members or retention by the enterprise.
The settlers who chose Africa as an address to live and work must have known that there was nothing inevitable in life.
Surely only the naïve would have left Europe to be poor in Africa.
They came to advance their personal interests and yet there was little on the ground institutionally to just jump into business without investing in key foundational and fundamental values to underpin the kind of society they wanted to see.
Necessity compelled the settlers to invest in a constitutional order that was attractive to more settlers while at the same time being to encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and business growth in an environment that respects the rule of law, property and human rights.
Without a legal framework, corporate civilization cannot take place.
Without the instrumentality of business organization, companies die with the death of their founders.
What was important, therefore, was to create a constitutional order that would then allow for business transactions to take place on a willing buyer willing seller basis.
At independence, Africans states inherited a business model underpinned by values, beliefs and principles that we have yet to embrace notwithstanding our interest in becoming rich.
The shareholders or parents of business organizations have as one of their main objectives the receipt or generation of a financial return in exchange for work and acceptance of risk with the exceptions being cooperative and state-owned enterprises. Businesses can also be for formed no-for-profit.
The state of being busy either at the individual or at the level of society as a whole doing commercially viable and profitable work generally gives a nation state some character and helps in defining a nation's heritage.
What is Africa's heritage? When you think of an African in terms of business what comes to mind?
It is often easy for people who live in the valley to blame those who have dared scale the heights forgetting that without the hard work, there would be no food on the table, for example.
As we continue the conversation, we need to locate the unsung heroes who have helped shape Africa's civilization through the instrumentality of business.
Our heritage is too important to be monopolized by political players. We need to change the content of our conversations to deal with the issues that promote or hinder business development.
How best should we organize ourselves to meet the challenges of our time? Should we look to business? If so, who are our role models?
How do we bring more public awareness to the role of business in nation building and more importantly the role of business players in inspiring people in the valley to aspire to scale the heights?
Let us share the knowledge so that working together we can build our own knowledge bank.
The first part is to know our past and from it we can draw lessons on what we need to do to move forward.