African development is lagging behind because governments under-emphasize human capital while placing more emphasis on mineral resources in the development spectrum, said African Development Bank’s executive director for SADC, Mihe Gaomab. Gaomab, during an exclusive interview this week which coincides with his one-year anniversary since joining the continental bank, is worried over the fact that African governments do not spend enough on research and development. He feels the continent is too focused on natural resources for trade purposes while ignoring the potential of technology and human development. “The world is at an interconnectivity phase where everything is about technology and turning information into a product. African governments do not treat research and development as an important criteria to stimulate technology into viable products. We lag behind because we do not see that potential, we think something can only be sold if it is tangible, but if you take humans through a process of mental reorienting and exposing the mind to mental capacity to think of new products we will make strides and catch up with the first world,” said Gaomab who is responsible to vouch for the interests of the constituency made up of Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe at the bank. He added: “We must learn from Asian states such as Vietnam, Cambodia and South Korea who have experienced tremendous growth in recent years yet they do not possess huge natural resource reserves, but their zeal to invest in human development is yielding results.” The executive director blamed the lack of innovation on the continent to the poor investments made in the research and development sector.
African governments have agreed to spend 1% of their total GDP on research and development but most governments fail to honor this commitment. Countries that have invested in education, science and technology have managed to break the cycle of poverty. The UK spends 1.7% of GDP on scientific research, while America spends 3% (government and private sector investment). African countries are lagging behind in development because their investment in science remains low. Namibian economy Gaomab also touched on the tenderpreneurship concept which he believes is one of the reasons why the economic proceeds of the country is not trickling down to the majority of the citizens. “Tenderpreneurship, as far as I am concerned, captures the economic potential of a country for personal gain because it takes away the potential of the common greater good. That in itself is unfortunate because they become champions of people that can change or reform the economy through establishing a company or to build industrial capacity, but sadly proceeds are merely for personal wealth creation of a few. This concept enriches few people in the chain, hence we need to look at pathways and processes that can ensure broad based economic growth of the entire society,” he opined. He also underscored the importance of youth inclusiveness in the country’s development agenda.
Describing Namibia’s economy as resilient, Gaomab is worried that it is too enclaved towards South Africa. “From a commercial and business fabric our economy is still too bias towards South Africa and we still take growth on maintenance and not an expansion basis. We need to look at other countries in the region for trade and place more emphasis on expanding our trade network,” he said. For this to happen however, Gaomab says there is need for reforms that can propel economic restructuring. I am glad to see the Government Institutions Pension Fund is beginning to look into infrastructure development. “The trickle-down effect is not taking place widely and as a result the economic cake is still strongly entrenched around a segment of people. It is unfortunate that our people are taking it[New Equitable, Economic Empowerment Framework] too personal and view it in such a narrow fashion. In principle it is aimed to bring a restructuring process and not necessarily taking from rich to poor because in the end the framework must ensure that both rich and poor can partake in the economy,” he said.
He however expressed concerns with the level of governance on the continent, but vowed that the bank has the technical and human capacity to assist governments to practice good governance, “We need to finance a regional value chain to enhance trade on the continent because we are marginalized as a continent. Most African states trade in minerals hence the low-level of trade taking place. To boost trade we need to offer something different but this will only be possible through innovation,” he said. Gaomab concluded saying: “Africa must develop strategic policies to take advantage of the interest expressed by developed nations and we should ensure that we are able to negotiate for their own preferences.”
Gaomab, who in the past said the bank is not well-known in Namibia, said efforts to expose the bank in the country are in full-swing. Since his time at the bank, he indicated that most funding applications were in the areas of energy and agriculture. The bank has also recently moved into direct private sector support around infrastructure, transport and regional integration. “The concern is that the portfolios are not balanced because of the historical dispensation of the bank, it is more closely attuned to west and north Africa. The central and east African areas were not really attended to but that is my task to change things,” he said.