Africa Positive – what we stand for

Frustrated by the exclusion of blacks from the economic mainstream, indeed even from its tributaries, publisher Ted Sceales initiated a movement back in the 1970s to foster inclusivity in the collective mind of South African business. That vision, unpopular and sometimes dangerous in the context of the political dynamics of the time, remained a cornerstone of his philosophy and is shared by the editors of Africa Positive.

Young South Africans of today may not have heard of Stem (Southern Technical and Economic Movement), the movement started by Mr Sceales in the 1970s to break the cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement spawned by successive apartheid governments, but they are certainly beneficiaries of its enduring legacy. For example, 500,000 South Africans were taught to read in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of a Stem-inspired literacy programme. Many of the sons and daughters of these newly-literate South Africans today occupy some of the highest offices in the land.

Stem rallied South Africans of every ethnic and economic background around a common vision of non-racialism and prosperity for all. It lobbied tirelessly for economic reform, sometimes loudly and sometimes behind the scenes, so that black South Africans could participate more equitably in the economic life of their country. Its members included the late Professor Simon Brand, previously head of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, businessmen Richard Maponya, David Chamberlain and Peter Gallo, and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to name a few.

Stem’s core philosophy of liberty and free markets drew rich inspiration from classical liberals such as Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek. Africa Positive continues this tradition. We likewise draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s philosophy of reconciliation, and his belief that inclusivity, accountability and freedom of speech form the bedrock of democracy.

It was Bastiat who pointed out that governments are incapable of producing anything on their own, without diverting money and resources from citizens who are far more efficient at directing their own spending and determining their own priorities. He railed against public works programmes, protectionism and socialism – and this in the early 1800s – with arguments that have yet to be convincingly refuted.

Drawing on this rich tradition of classic liberalism, AfricaPositive will continue to argue for individual liberty (as opposed to its bastard offspring – group rights) and untrammelled economic freedom. A study of economic history demonstrates that wealthy countries such as Sweden and the US achieved the peak of their prosperity during periods of economic liberty. The fact that they are now stagnating economically is evidence of their renunciation of individual liberty and economic freedom.

It is founded on the premise of advancing the cause of sustainable economic growth in Africa. Its ethos is one of tolerance and unity, with a vision of empowering ordinary people, entrepreneurs and leaders in Africa. As a non-partisan, non-governmental wealth and work creation movement, it harnesses the continent’s vast reservoir of talent, resources, opportunities, entrepreneurial energy and ancient cultures and values.

Through this melting pot of knowledge, understanding and strategy, AfricaPositive promotes creative thinking, effective management and positive activities which generate economic development throughout the continent – but is not uncritical in doing so. We recognise that governments and misguided policies are often the worst enemies of economic and social progress.

Through AfricaPositive you will be introduced to some of the brightest stars on the continent. Africa has a prodigious talent for innovation, as evidenced by the more than 1,300 submissions received last year by the African Innovation Foundation. The volume and scope of innovations emerging from the continent each year is truly staggering, and it’s time we shed the image of Africa as a “dark continent” infested with hunger and strife. Africa is capable of solving its own problems, and it is our purpose to explore these solutions in a challenging and intellectually robust manner. In this way we aim to create a network of talented innovators and powerful private sector organisations  are committed to AfricaPositive’s vision of a development-driven, pan-African economic giant.

It was Ted Sceales who first espoused the concept of Africa Cubed – the idea that networks are capable of yielding results that are far greater than the sum of the parts. We see evidence of this all around us – farming solutions in Egypt and Algeria that can be exported to the rest of the continent to help solve the problem of food scarcity; technology solutions from Kenya and South Africa that could bring schooling to the remotest parts of the continent; irrigation innovations from Ethiopia that could help Africa reduce its consumption of water. To make such pan-African business opportunities a reality, there needs to be a much richer exchange of information and experience. AfricaPositive aims to provide such a platform.

If Africa is to draw inspiration from abroad – not always a good thing to do – perhaps we should look to the east, or even closer to home, where countries such as Nigeria and Ghana are today among the fastest growing in the world. The old argument that these countries should not be studied too closely “because their growth is coming off a low base” holds little water. What about China and India, which are growing at rates of more than 7% a year despite slower world growth? Surely they are not coming off a low base. The truth is that Ghana and Nigeria have embraced economic freedom, however imperfectly, and that is why they are achieving superior growth.

There are lessons here for all African countries. South Africa for all its vast natural resources, is incapable of achieving growth rates in excess of 3%. Something is surely wrong here. What policies are driving investors away and stifling growth? Rigid labour laws? Excessive regulation? Policy uncertainty? We would suggest all of these, and more.

“As many members of previously disadvantaged communities are discovering to their dismay, political liberation does not necessarily equate with economic liberation,” says Mr Sceales. “And there are grave dangers for the future of South Africa, its neighbours and their neighbours, if the path to a more equitable distribution within the broad South African economy is perceived to be barricaded by prejudice, self-interest or outright racism, recognising that racism is a two-way street.”

As South Africa approaches its 20th anniversary as a free and non-racial country, the fault lines of racial and economic division are still etched deeply within the national psyche. Not, we would argue, because black economic empowerment has trickled so lightly upon the broad masses, but because true economic freedom has been frustrated by misguided or ill-informed policy makers. The same is true to a greater or lesser extent in countries to the north, where post-colonial governments cling to misguided policies inherited from failed or failing Northern Hemisphere regimes.

It’s not too late for the great African awakening of which former South African President Thabo Mbeki dreamed.

“Economic growth is the ingredient which will unleash the economic potential which awaits the African continent, but only if we encourage free market principles and innovation,” says Mr Sceales. “Economic growth, accompanied by sensible management of resources, is the answer to unemployment and poverty.”

Nothing else will get us there. Forced redistribution – which has been tried all around the world with deadly consequences – will not get us there.

In this spirit we welcome you to the relaunched Africa Positive website. In these pages we will celebrate Africa’s innovators and champions. We will continue to make the case for liberty and economic freedom in the belief that anything less will rob future generations of Africans of the dignity and prosperity their politicians have promised them. We will introduce you to some astonishing entrepreneurs whose stories are seldom told. In this way, we hope to tell the true story of Africa, of which we are all a part.


Ciaran Ryan

Ted Sceales