Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning “the right or opportune moment” and there are many examples of occasions in history and current times when people failed to grasp their kairos moment. While many parts of the world are going through difficult times from economically, socially and politically points of view, a number of countries in Africa are enjoying steep economic growth, while discovering ever more deposits of oil and minerals in addition to the abundant land and natural resources they already have. In other words, there are great opportunities, if used wisely, to turn the tables, process the resources, produce, and export and earn a fair pay in return.
There are concerns though about the ongoing exploitation of Africa’s resources, the environmental degradation, the lack of production and the fact that many African nations keep on depending on imports of products made from the very resources they exported. “When are we going to produce items ourselves that compare or are even better than the ones imported from abroad?”, is the question. We have the natural and human resources and much of what is produced locally is done by foreign investors, precisely because of that and because production costs are relatively low. Meanwhile, unemployed youngsters are leaving this country and the continent daily to find opportunities and employment elsewhere. What does that mean? Are there better opportunities for them there than here? What kind of employment will they find and how will they be treated there? Some of them may be successful but I suspect this is not the case for most.
Now, if we decide to begin producing more ourselves, do we have what it takes to do it well? Do we have what it takes to produce the quality and quantities of goods that can compete with imported items or that can even be exported? Admittedly in some sectors we have made good progress but much more can be done. Will we strive to reach global standards, or will we remain satisfied with mediocrity?
The quality of what we produce ourselves is particularly important in case of exporting as the standards of many products have been defined internationally and sub standards will be rejected. Why would we continue to accept the mediocre level of quality for what it is? Why not setting the standard higher?
Certainly, it is not easy, to have to compete with all kinds of cheaper, sometimes even low quality imported products. If we seriously want our local manufacturers to develop and grow in this era of globalization, they need support. Countries like China and South Africa have been closed economies for many years and during those years developed their own manufacturing industries. Now they are leading exporters of many products and services. Ghandi successfully made India manufacture its own products as well. In the same spirit we can invest in our local producers, paying fair prices, so they can maintain and improve their quality. With the African populations growing at a very fast pace, we will need jobs for millions. Successful companies will be able to create employment for the future generation. Sadly though, there are examples of factories that are not doing well because they cannot compete with the cheaper imports. Let us buy from the local producers, we need them. We must realize that indeed the private sector is the backbone of any economy, initiating development and employment. For them to be able to play their role effectively though, it is essential that they can operate in a conducive environment to be created and facilitated by their governments. An environment that is fair in terms of competition, taxation, conditions of service, an environment that protects human rights and Africa’s natural resources, an environment that is free from corruption and which protects and provide services that can be relied upon. The moment is there to be seized. All eyes are on Africa, with its resources and great opportunities to make a giant leap into economic development. Will we take the opportunity, or will we waste it? Will we take it in a way that will sustain us, or will we allow the continent and its nations to be exploited further? Will we do it with integrity or will we allow corruption to infiltrate society even more? Will we excel, or will we remain mediocre? The choice is ours. This is Africa’s kairos moment.

Ton Haverkort