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Dullness versus the creative: prospects for development and human wellbeing


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Dullness versus the creative: prospects for development and human wellbeing

19th May 2023

By: Saliem Fakir


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Africa’s problem is not fossil fuels or a dependence on raw land and minerals but the lack of capacity to transition from these dependences into something else. This is a matter requiring imagination, as it is an enabling environment to change the status quo of dependence on natural resources that is needed. Enabling capacity can be found anywhere, provided it is nurtured, and that requires respect for human potential and fulfilment – the only source for creativity.

Economic freedom is the twin of political freedom, and in some cases both do not even exist.


The fulfilment of economic freedom must be accompanied by a desire to see the creative explode in all its wonders. Post-extractive economies should be undergirded by an ‘ideas and knowledge economy’ and less by the material base as the basis for economic value. An ideas economy is a dematerialised economy. If you watch where the decarbonisation world is going, oil and gas enclave economies ought to be thinking what the world with little or no oil and gas will likely look like. Hanging on to oil and gas forever is the dull economy.

African talent is untapped and increasing digitalisation will be an important foundation for greater intraregional connectivity by enhancing Africa’s ability to play a bigger role in tradable services, which remain underdeveloped because the continent’s human talent is under-appreciated.


To get to Internet empowerment – which will enable Africa to access the global knowledge commons for African solutions – we need more electrons to be delivered into both centralised and decentralised grid systems. Pan-African liberation comes from the freedom of intraregional interactions, as well as Africans working across the globe in pursuit of ideas in culture, the arts, the sciences, philosophy, engineering, finance and other domains pertinent to the development of the continent.

Electrification is Africa’s true liberation, as this is akin to the continent decolonising itself from the grip of the dull economy and transforming the economic landscape to stir pan-African creatives.

I find it remarkable wherever I go on the continent to find that ordinary citizens who have been excluded from the wealth of the enclave economy are busy shaping their own futures autonomously. Their survival instincts carry with them the tenements of creativity and entrepreneurship whereby a lot more can blossom with the right enabling conditions.

Our transitions are first and foremost all about economic transitioning and within this will also be laid the future path of decarbonisation. Decarbonisation is a new vista and opportunity to capture and align the new technology waves and solutions to meet African needs. But if we do not prime ourselves for these opportunities, we will be beaten down by other continents’ increased propensity for deepening their industrialisation and economic diversification increasingly tilted towards decarbonisation – while yet, once again, taking our resources.

For instance, access to new technologies that were unaffordable in the past can aid in fixing the development deficit in terms of energy access. Renewables have become cheaper over time, and, if we create an enabling environment for the scaling of renewable technologies, there is potential to build interlinkages with critical minerals, thus strengthening industrial and manufacturing capacity on the continent and simultaneously nurturing new tradable skills and services.

We can see this now with the potential diversity of creative business models to deliver decentralised energy services that are still costly and prohibitive with large-scale and centralised infrastructure investments. Creativity lies in payment systems that are innovating as more and more decentralised energy technologies can be deployed to build autonomous towns, cities and neighbourhoods.

Decarbonised strategies cannot exist as a hyper reality outside the real economy. They have to be embedded within the existing African economies, with some economies having the capacity to go faster than others – partly out of necessity, given the realities of the emerging threat of carbon border tax adjustments on their carbon-intensive exports.

Depleting resources give the illusion of progress but, as we can well see, the holes are filled back with dirt – not promise.

Extractives are akin to hollowing out the future – a hollow metrics to human welfare and development. This is a brutal assault on hope.

We are in need of more enlivened, economically diverse transitions out of the enclave as the first step and then later transition to a decarbonised civilisation. The one cannot happen without the other. It is paradoxical that, because we have left ourselves behind, by using natural wealth to support consumption instead of building new things, we have to dig more ground and extract more to move ourselves forward once again – and all the time continuing to increase our debt. It is unrealistic to expect countries to embark on a decarbonisation trajectory without building a bridge out of extractives into new technology waves. That journey also requires us to first deal with the nagging beast of parasitism.

The worst class in our society is the parasitic class; they take everything and give nothing back. Sigmund Freud once described this psychology as a ‘death drive’ and by this Freud meant the pursuit of actions that in the end are self-destructive. Those who take and give little back genuinely believe that they are doing good – except everywhere one looks, one cannot make sense of their good propositions, given the growing surrounding decay and maladministration.

Africa should position itself to reap the benefits of global decarbonisation, given that the continent has strategic minerals of value at a time when the world embarks on scaling the process of global decarbonisation transitions. This requires some strategic capacity and coordination, which is less a problem of technocratic skills but more of political leadership. In addition, the geopolitical fractures the world faces at present are seeping through into climate diplomacy – this too requires Africa to adopt new forms of climate diplomacy pivoted around the continent’s own development needs. We need more climate change diplomacy for development and not climate diplomacy for its own sake.


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