West won’t ask us to stop digging debt holes, they give us the drills

Saturday June 24 2023

African states getting entangled in debt traps bring to mind the game of table tennis, otherwise known as ping-pong. PHOTO | FILE


What does the American common sense saying teach about holes? That when you find yourself in one, stop digging. So how come that even when we go to America to seek solutions for our holes, otherwise called debts, we get more digging tools and come back more determined to dig ourselves deeper into the debt holes?

The East Africans budgets have been presented, to become operational in a few days, and are significantly debt-based.

My Ugandan ancestors used the analogy of two ignorant lepers, each backbiting the other that his sores stink, having lost his sense of smell and thus unaware that he too stinks as much.

Let me be a stinking leper and backbite my Ghanaian brothers, who are celebrating the three big drills (read $3 billion) they were recently loaned to dig hard after finding themselves in a deep debt hole.

African states getting entangled in debt traps bring to mind the game of table tennis, otherwise known as ping-pong. It is played on a board the size of a family dining table using bats that are far smaller than the rackets used for (lawn) tennis.

Table tennis requires even more skill, because its ball is exceptionally light, yet requiring a lot of speed and force to direct it and score against the other player.


Now, ping-pong has for ages been synonymous with the East, as (lawn) tennis has been with the West.

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The two parties are now dining — sorry, duelling —on a big table called Africa. Dropping or missing the ball doesn’t mean the end of the game — it happens a hundred times in one match. The players continue playing until the scores are tallied.

Even then, there are more matches, and more tournaments, so losing a game doesn’t stop the ping-ponging.

Despite being very big, when our soft continent is hit with the big racket across the Atlantic, it tends to shrink into a soft ball-like object, which becomes small and white as it flies over the Indian Ocean.

It gets hit back with a bat and doesn’t settle where it should, and instead overflies the big table all the way back to the waiting tennis racket, getting inflated and softer as it absorbs the Atlantic moisture. And the ping pongs on.

What will it take for Africa to stop being tossed across the seas as the hole in between gets deeper? Well, what we now know from experience is that it will not be dollars, euros or yuan. It now requires a mind-set change more than anything else, to earn more from what we have.

Take tourism, whose earnings could sort out our debt if maximised. But how can this be when we aren’t even selling it to fellow Africans in this fastest growing market of the world?

Look at the source of the Nile — the source of civilisation! Uganda does not market it to Egyptians and Sudanese, whose very livelihood and prosperity is Nile-based.

What about Entebbe, the scenic waterfront site of the epic 1976 battle, where Israeli commandos staged a 90-minute rescue operation? You can bet there will be no 50th anniversary bash in 2026 that would attract the attention of millions of moneyed Jews across the world to commemorate the assertion of their determination not to be “joked with,” to East Africanise the expression.

Let smart Kenyans snatch the idea and sell the package as the route the IDF took in 1976, after all, Nairobi played a key role in it, and Benjamin Nentanyahu’s rise to power had a lot to do with his big brother Yoni Nentanyahu being the commander and casualty of that mission.

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A Kenyan operator can sell this, the way they sold Kilimanjaro for decades, but what portion of the billions paid by tourists landing in Nairobi and Mombasa really enter Kenya anyway? Tourism is one activity that distributes something to ordinary citizens across a country, because the tourists go around, sleeping, eating and buying souvenirs.

But, to earn more and reduce borrowing, we may have to lean on what is called natural capital.

Africa has resources that are being picked cheaply.

These need to be sold at better prices so as to fund development and increase incomes, even in the short run.

With higher incomes, Africa, which is the world’s fastest-growing market, would then be able to support industries that produce goods relying on its minerals and farm outputs.

That way, we would stop producing hole-digging budgets while squatting in a hole.