Investment should start with owners of the resources not outsiders
While the temptation in most African countries is to celebrate investors from outside and money from global institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), investment should start with the owners of natural resources not outsider. An important question to be answered by each African country is: How are we creating an enabling economic environment for communities to invest in themselves?
Starting from the market
Each country should strive to use existing knowledge to build local investment starting with local markets. African countries cannot continue waiting for foreign investors when local communities can become investors when given the right knowledge and shown existing opportunities. For instance, farmers are already producing. Investment interventions should start from the market back to farming areas and that includes starting with understanding how local authorities function in order to fix challenges that affect the market which is the demand side. How does knowledge travel within local authorities and communities?
Community Investment Guide
A simple but very important resource that can be developed together with communities and value chain actors is a community investment guide. That way, local people can be assisted in identifying local investment opportunities which may be hidden in plain sight. As governments try to preach the gospel of youth creating their own businesses, there should be an investment guide first in order to coordinate all efforts and build the right synergies. Communities and youth cannot just start from anywhere because they may not have the right expertise and exposure to investment issues. For instance, people in Marange area of Zimbabwe were seating on diamonds for years without knowing it. They were later introduced to imported notions like community share ownership that are not sufficiently home-grown.
Self – sustaining community knowledge platforms
Local investment should be anchored on self-sustaining community knowledge platforms. Unlike in the Global North where knowledge is largely associated with formal education, in most African communities, knowledge can be defined in several ways from the social to the economic perspective. Key questions include what knowledge is existing, what is coming in, what is getting out and what is being shared around socio-economic issues? From an economic perspective, knowledge can be defined through economic skills and livelihoods. Social knowledge is about making sense and preserving your identity. Also critical is political knowledge where people want to contribute through interpreting and accessing their rights.
Different faces of the knowledge landscape
Other important parameters in defining knowledge include age, gender, location, economic status, level of education, cultural background, etc. This means the knowledge landscape can be understood differently. Within each community are knowledge hubs and participants who include elders, chiefs, opinion leaders, artisans, spiritual leaders and others. These share social knowledge at various levels such as household, community, district, etc. More than 95% of the knowledge is tacit, not documented or captured but shared through connections.
Economic knowledge has its own cluster that is particularly unique. There are people who can use local resources like water and land to produce something very good for the benefit of the entire community. How can politics enhance community development? How do community members deal with political conflict? Answering all these questions speaks to political knowledge. There are also issues to do with knowledge and gender, domestic violence, child abuse and resource management, among others.
All versions of knowledge have champions and knowledge pockets are built within communities by age and this can connect people of the same age. There is no doubt that as a basis for development, knowledge is the main resource. Information and knowledge define the common goals and the way people handle different issues. For instance, widows from different communities can have similar experiences and passion to share. What connects them is not just membership in a community but similar circumstances and experiences.
Rural areas should not be associated with poverty
There is an enduring tendency to associate rural communities with poverty in the material sense. For instance, most development actors are working in rural areas because they think they want to reduce poverty in rural areas. But rural areas are rich in their own ways which if properly understood will inform development interventions away from crafting development support in social welfare support terms like handouts – food, cash transfers and small stock. Such handouts are more about consumption. If local knowledge was adequately taken into account, development interventions would not be defined as projects with a lifecycle (design, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and close) but processes with clear pathways for knowledge exchange and sustainable local investment.
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