We overrate the need for education

Many Africans are held back because of an exaggerated sense of how important education actually is. It is also often given as the reason for the continuance of poverty.

Don’t get me wrong, in some situations, of course education is absolutely vital. For instance, when creating engineering, technology and IT-based products, projects and infrastructures, or in carrying out research work, the more advanced education you have the better. There is no doubt that lack of it in these fields appears to put Africa at a disadvantage to the West, Japan and China.

But even in these areas, I wonder whether the problem really is lack of educated talent in Africa, as is often claimed. Granted, no one would argue that Africans in general are less highly qualified in these advanced fields. Nevertheless, in a population of 1.2 billion plus those in the diaspora, I wonder whether there aren’t enough Africans sufficiently qualified to spearhead an African-owned and -led technological revolution in Africa? And whether the real problem isn’t just lack of will?

Another reason people give is that Africa simply doesn’t have enough to invest in such projects because it is too poor. That is not true. Africa is actually extremely wealthy. It is by far the richest continent in terms of raw materials but, unfortunately, the wealth from these are taken by the West and China, not left in Africa to help it develop.

It already has huge sums of money but they are in the wrong place and the wrong hands. It is estimated that corrupt Africans so far hold over US$ half a billion in assets in the West.

Western MNCs also take close to $100 million per year out of Africa through the use of creative accounting to remove their profits (just as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Starbucks and others do in the UK), and through tax avoidance and evasion.

Advanced education is also vital in some professions: medicine, law, accountancy, architecture and so on.

But other highly educated people such as academics, the intelligentsia and economists, are very much to blame for the great majority of Africans still being in poverty when they could have escaped it years ago, and could by now have been enjoying a Western-quality lifestyle or, if not that, then rapidly approaching it.

The fact is, the West has not done what it should have done at the end of colonialism and since, to bring African lifestyles up to Western standards. It is academics and economists who should have realised this and done something about it. But they have completely failed to do so. Therefore it is their fault Africans are still in the state they are in.

Some indeed, did realise it. As far back as the 1960s, a few economists and development experts were pointing out how dangerous official Western aid was, and a few have since. But the great majority of their colleagues have not listened.

That is not the only area where academics and economists have failed all Africans. Almost their sole focus is on how to develop nations, not their citizens, as if, by developing a nation, you automatically bring prosperity to its citizens. All of history proves this is a non sequitur, and a complete fallacy. What they should have done was to put all their focus on how to get Africans themselves out of poverty and into a Western-quality lifestyle. Had they done that, they would have come up with very different solutions, and ones that would have worked.

They also have not done the obvious thing, which is to study how the citizens of what are now the developed nations escaped from their poverty into affluence. Almost without exception, they, too, not only suffered from poverty as extreme as any in Africa today, they also suffered under governments as oppressive as typical African ones. Failing to study this is another reason why they consistently come up with the wrong advice.

When you study the developed nations, you find that in almost every case three preconditions had to be in place before their citizens could go from poverty to affluence:

  1. Governments have very rarely initiated and led the move to take their citizens out of poverty and into affluence. It has almost always been in response to a critical mass of their own citizens getting together in an overwhelming mass movement, and forcing them to do what is necessary. Yet, almost without exception, academics and economists talk about what governments have to do, instead of what citizens have to do.
  2. The nation was protectionist until its economy was strong. This applied to the UK, USA, virtually all developed nations. There are NO exceptions to this. The latest economic miracles, Japan, China and South Korea, only went into globalisation after they had established a solid domestic business base.
  3. The nation’s business and financial base was not dominated by foreign commercial and financial interests.

Precondition 1 has never happened in Africa, and preconditions 2 & 3 do not apply to any African nation. Clearly, that is because most economists and economists consistently give the wrong advice. Again, a few have come out with the right advice, but they are ignored by their colleagues. The result is that all Western efforts, far from making sure these three preconditions are met, actually employ policies that actively prevent them from happening.

China’s appearance in Africa, much-heralded by some African governments, is also based on blocking these three preconditions.

Most academics and economists have also failed dismally in another area. By far the most important people in Africa are its entrepreneurs and businesspeople for the simple reason that they are the ONLY people who can create and build the businesses that are capable of paying Africans at Western rates. Governments cannot do that, they can only help or hinder (Western aid also obviously cannot – again, it can only help or hinder, and right now it is badly hindering).

But because academics and economists have more educational qualifications, they assume they must be more intelligent and therefore “know” more than entrepreneurs and businesspeople about what needs to be done. In fact, they look down on entrepreneurs and businesspeople as lesser beings. That is a disastrous attitude for Africa’s future.

Academics and economists talk glibly and learnedly about how to create strong national economies, coming up with fanciful theories about why this has not happened in Africa, and what needs to be done to create them. The result has been to complicate the problem of poverty so much that no one can see the wood for the trees any more.

But there is nothing complicated about it. Why don’t Africans have Western-quality lifestyles? It’s simple: because they don’t earn enough to be able to afford one.

And what is the solution to that? There is only one: each African nation has to develop enough businesses that are capable of paying the majority of its citizens enough to be able to afford a Western-quality lifestyle. There is no other possible solution.

So academics and economists should have spent all their time on working out the very fastest way possible to build these business bases. And all aid & development should have been focused on creating those businesses.

Had that been done from the end of colonialism, Africans would have been taken out of poverty years ago, and now been living Western-quality lifestyles, or else rapidly approaching it.

Finally, where academics and economists are very much at fault is the way in which they have completely ignored Agenda 2063. This plan from the AU lays out the fastest possible way to get the majority of Africans out of poverty and into Western-quality lifestyles. It is a truly brilliant plan, far and away better than the West’s plans such as the MDGs that failed miserably, or 2030 Agenda with its SDGs that are also bound to fail pretty much for the same reasons.

Going back to Africa’s entrepreneurs and businesspeople, if they are the most important people in Africa because they are the ONLY people who can create and build the businesses needed to take the majority of Africans out of poverty and into a Western-quality lifestyle, where does education fit in with them?

It doesn’t. It is a fallacy that entrepreneurs need much education. Many of the West’s most successful entrepreneurs left school without completing their education.

Sir Jack Cohen, who created Tesco, arguably the most successful retailing business ever because it blazed the trail that others followed, left school at the age of 13 with no qualifications, and started on his father’s barrow in a London market. Out of that, he built Tesco. He told me that entrepreneurship needs no education because if you need educated or qualified people in your business, you just hire them.

This is even true in a high-tech business. One example of many is a man who created a high-tech billion dollar business, yet he was dyslexic and barely able to read. He just hired the qualified people he needed, as and when he needed them.

Alan Sugar is one of the UK’s best-known entrepreneurs. He also left school early with no qualifications, but that did not stop him from revolutionising the UK’s the computer industry. Again, he just hired the expertise he himself lacked.

You can apply this to any business. Many highly successful authors did not write their books, and could not write a good one to save their lives. But they have the ideas, and what they do is to get someone else to write for them, the so-called “ghost” writers. I myself have written several books for highly successful businesspeople only because they were not literate enough to write one themselves.

In fact, many entrepreneurs believe that more education you have, the less chance you have of succeeding, for two reasons. First, education breeds imagination, and imagination can be a killer simply because it is too easy to imagine what can go wrong. True entrepreneurs often have little or no imagination so they don’t worry about what might or might not happen. If they want to achieve something, they just go for it.

Second, the more educated people are, the more they try to think things through instead of just going for it.

MBAs are seen as the “holy grail” of business, but it’s a myth. Sir Alan Sugar believes MBA courses are killers of a true business sense and instinct. He calls them the death of entrepreneurship. I have worked with many MBAs in my life, and can’t think one who was any good as an entrepreneur, usually grossly overcomplicating starting up a business to the point where it drowned in its over-expertise.

Frankly, they don’t even make good businesspeople. I have worked with hundreds of highly successful businesspeople who were ill-educated but won their success through the inner qualities that it really takes to be successful in business.

So what I am saying is that if you, as an African, want to create a business, don’t let yourself be held back just because you don’t think you are well educated enough! Just go ahead with getting your business going because any knowledge you need, you can acquire easily.

If you need education for any part of your business, just hire someone who has the knowledge or experience you need.

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