Rabbit holes of multinationalism

Alice discovers Wonderland after chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole. The character, Alice, is based on a young girl, Alice Liddell. I found Lewis Carroll’s answers to her very many questions, I imagine, very intriguing. The curiosity built up in young children requires the kind of imagination in his book. His ability to blend the real with the imaginary makes a very good read.

The World Economic Forum on Africa (wef) ended on September 6th 2019. The theme led me down a rabbit hole, but unlike Alice, to a different kind of Wonderland.

#AF19 whose theme this year is “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The agenda will cover four key areas: innovation, sustainable development, digitalization and governance.

Inclusive. shared. sustainable. digitalization.

These words like Alice’s characters sounded fascinating. There are so many fascinating scenes in the cartoon, I shall restrict my musings to the caterpillar scene.

Data from the African Development Bank (AFD) shows Africa’s GDP growth reached roughly 3.5% last year, about the same as a year earlier, and up 1.4 percentage points from the 2.1% in 2016.The continent’s growth this year is projected to accelerate to 4% and 4.1% in 2020. While higher than other emerging and developing countries, Africa’s growth remains insufficient to make a dent on unemployment and poverty. These challenges manifest amid an imperative for Africa’s growth to be shared by everyone, particularly by providing our growing populations with good jobs and social protection. What can be done to address these challenges? Let me underscore three priorities for South Africans, and for the continent as a whole: greater cooperation, policy injection and human capital development.

The caterpillar asks Alice who she is and she does not know. She has changed so many times.

Photo credit: Pinterest

It seems like Alice that we shall show up only three inches tall rather than what we were earlier. The caterpillar on the other hand, is three inches tall and happy about it! He has the ability to metamorphose. This he does right before Alice’s own eyes. His parting remarks as a butterfly are instructions on eating a mushroom.

Shall we eat the mushroom?

In March, the African Union launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This landmark agreement aims to create a single market expected to generate a combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion and benefit over 1 billion people. Alex Liu

The free trade area creates a single market and and has similar laws governing goods and services and dispute settlement. The AfCFTA was signed by 54 out of 55 countries. By the time, it was operationalized in July 2019, only 27 countries had ratified it. The requirement was 22 countries. We are not the same as we were this morning.

While we may not metamorphose, there is a mushroom that we can eat, one side will make us taller. Another side will make us shorter.

4IR is going to be the fastest revolution because it builds on existing technologies and enhances their capabilities. Like transformers, the ability to change in seconds will be achieved for most of our technologies. Take the duration from 4G to 5G, some of us are still migrating from 3G to 4G.

The speed at which we adapt to change in Africa has to increase. The speed at which we or our governments adopt changes to laws and to policies needs to increase.

Overcoming the ‘xenophobic’ attacks and never ending wars requires a mindset change. It is one thing to open our countries for exchange of goods. Services come with people. Different people. Their cultures are different. Their language is different. They do not find your jokes funny.

The notion of open borders shall indeed shift in our metrics of success and growth. Our little and sometimes shallow thinking shall be stretched. Our imagination needs to grow beyond our little safety nets. Our identity will not be based on how strong our affiliation for our nation is but how agile we are at navigating the free trade area. Diversify or die.

If our collective growth is not sufficient to overcome poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen. Will the rich barricade themselves in their wealth or will the poor in true Marxist style lead a revolution?Or shall we really begin to love our neighbor?

One side will make us taller and another side will make us shorter. Tradeoffs have to be made, big ones for certain nations and smaller ones for others.

One African sky. A single African passport. Border less continent. Shift from extractive to value addition.

We shall not be the same as we were this morning.

It is my hope that like Alice at the Hatter’s party we also celebrate, with the rest of the world, our happy unbirthday!

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