Experts flock into Africa from anywhere in the world to solve problems that Africans are apparently unable to solve by themselves. However, the impression we have is that these problems barely get solved such that there seems to be a recurring need of international experts on the African continent. But at what cost? The truth, as straightforward as it may be, is that Africa’s problems could be solved by African experts, thus significantly limiting the need of international expertise. Therefore, why is it not the case?
A deputy from an African country explained to me once that there was a very interesting project that was developed by Africans who had a proven expertise in their subject. A minister read the project and agreed that it was a very good one. However, this project, he believed, had a major flaw: the whole team was only composed of black-Africans. Yes, that was the major problem which had nothing to do with the qualifications of the African experts. They just had the wrong skin color because the minister suggested that they add a white man to the team.
When I shared this story with an African industrial expert I had a chance to meet at a high level meeting in Addis Ababa about Africa’s industrialization, he told me that the same thing happened in his country, too. Is this one of the reasons why Africans are still unable to manufacture their own industrial equipment and solve by themselves their energy, water, healthcare issues and much more despite the existence of a local expertise that could do a fantastic job on the ground?
How many Africans feel so frustrated because they are not valued in their home country? How many of these African experts are underpaid compared to their international counterparts? Even football is an interesting illustration of this problem where international coaches are hired at a high cost by some African football federations, even when an African coach does have the required qualifications and skills to do the job, and do it well.
If a certified African coach, who was also a great player in Europe, for instance, is not taken seriously in his home country, what about an African engineer who has never studied abroad, but who has conceived mechanical or electronic devices that could contribute to Africa’s industrialization? The chances that someone listens to him are very illusive. As a result, the wrong impression that we have is that Africans are not highly qualified to do the job. But how can they do the job if they are neglected as it is often the case with the majority of inventors and innovators on the African continent?
The reason why international venture capitalists (VCs) come to Africa, for instance, is to find out the best innovations that they will eventually improve and sell back to … Africans, among other clients. The elephant in the room is that they know what most African rulers tend to overlook: Africans are brilliant and have talent. VCs know that African universities, hubs and street repair shops are places where innovation is thriving. And this is where, for the moment, R&D is taking place with limited funds, scraps and recycled materials. But contrary to the theorists, these pragmatic African innovators and inventors do come up with prototypes, mobile applications, etc. Unfortunately, when mediocrity becomes the norm within a system, talents are not emulated.
The international private sector in Africa is moving the opposite direction compared to most governments. International companies tend to hire locals as managing directors, finance directors, human resource directors, operations directors, etc. Why would they trust and value these women and men if their expertise was questionable? International companies that are trusting Africans are still making profits in Africa because they know the truth about talent: it's universal. If African governments could also trust the African genius and believe that they can, industry-wise, help Africa emerge then Africa would be a much better place to live in. But when an elite still has inferiority complexes and believes that only international experts can do the job, it’s this elite that should be blamed for. That’s why Africans must really understand the deepness of this Igbo proverb that I recently shared: He whose brother is in heaven, will never go to hell.