Economists as Assassins… Locating Africa’s poor scholarship, development

AssassinsWHENEVER issues of Africa’s development come up for discussion, the ready culprit is leadership. This was also the position of Africa’s literary icon Chinua Achebe, which has come to gain currency in popular imagination. The failure of leadership has come to be seen as a universal given within the African context. But just, as this problem is continually highlighted so too does development continue to elude the continent. Perhaps, the wrong diagnostics are being applied?

This is where Jimanze Ego-Alowes’ critical intervention in his seminal work Economists as Assassins: The Nigerian Connection (The Stone Press, Lagos; 2015) plays an enlightening role in shedding light on the yardsticks to measure development. It is a book that lends itself to layered reading of development challenges on the African situation.

Ego-Alowes’ thesis is fairly simple. First, he argues, and rightly too that the world is divided into two maps, one for developed nations (Europe, America) and the other for nations with foundational religions or philosophies (the Arab). This division Ego-Alowes calls the ‘Axial World’ and ‘Dearth World’. He states that while the Dearth World holds on dogmatically to one religion with no possibility of plurality, the Axial World has long seen the need for plurality of gods or philosophies. In fact, Ego-Alowes argues that because the Dearth World (to which African belongs on account of its conscription to Christianity and Islam) has shut the door to the emergence of different philosophies, but that the Axial World thrives in plurality and so has made more advances.

The great scriptures emerged from the Dearth World region, according to the author, and do not permit any addition or updating and so do not permit newness or innovation. But the Europeans came, particularly from the Greeks with their multiple gods, and paved the way for plurality, addition or updating of existing scriptures.

Ego-Alowes explains, “If the Dearth World mind is monogamous… the European mind is polygamous, polytheistic, even if the European man is monogamous. It explains why the Dearth World is no longer able to convert her words to bread, roads, electricity and physical development. Development is a mind activity, expressed in numbers, kilometres of road, GDP, etc. Development is thus in the authorship or creation of new and contending scriptures. It is not in the reading or believing of extant scriptures or old psalms.

Simply put, the European mind and man are the most developed because they have written the most (commanding and contending) scriptures… there have to be updating of scriptures, different from the originating scriptures, or ground scriptures. This is their golden treasury, a Greek inheritance, perhaps in contrast to the Dearth World, Semitic influences. For the European mind, ‘E+MC2 is part of a composite scripture and also a standalone scripture”.

This first chapter of Economists as Assassins: The Nigerian Connection is telling its impact and even moreso as it is titled ‘It Is Budha, Not Caesar That Develops Nations’. In other words, it is not kings or presidents (Caesar) that develops nations, but Budha (intellectuals and scholars). ‘E=MC2, Eisetin’s theory of aerodynamics without which no plane can fly, according to Ego-Alowes, could not have been developed by an American president, but by a scientist, a scholar.

The author then argues that Nigerian scholars, for instance, would scramble to pick up crumbs from the table of presidents or governors in form of appointments just to validate their worth, which he says is the very antithesis of scholarship. For Ego-Alowes, scholarship is a far greater calling than becoming a president, who is easily forgotten, who cannot make any landmark achievement on humanity.

This is where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law, gets the author’s flak for holding public service higher than academics or scholarship. As he puts it, “For a professor to believe that public service is the way to make maximum impact is to think ‘Dearth World’. It is not a European or liberating mindset… Out there in the West it is a plural world, endlessly contested for. Thus no one sector is the one doing the greatest good”.
The moral of the Greek god Prometheus, “a god who stole – challenged – the gods and passed on the secret of fire or light to men. He is thus the first great mythical scholar, the guy who will challenge knowledge as cult, and passes around new knowledge, light, like he was sharing a pack of cigarettes… the European minds, the greatest of them, have imitated Prometheus – to contest the god or the monopoly of any good. All Prometheus did was what Plato, Newton, Guttenberg down to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg did and are doing”.

EGO-ALOWES stretches the argument further to the production of wealth as originating from scholarship. Clearly, the Dearth World countries, including Africa, fail to produce wealth because they lack the platform knowledge to add new scriptures, new knowledge to the existing one that was bequeathed to them as against the European mind that keeps questioning and adding more. It stands to reason that without further expansion of scriptures, there cannot be wealth production.

And the author puts it in sharp relief thus, “Thus development is a contest of scholars, or the contests scholarships, not the drama of actors, politicians, fools or generals, godogodos and the rest of the rot” and connects the nexus between scholarship and development: “development happens only in the contention of schools, not parties, politicians or other persons. Development only is where parties, politicians, persons seeking power are proxies for schools of thoughts or faculties of new enquiries… development of democracy, using the words inter-changeably, is a contest of ideas, not persons. The persons and parties at play are representing ideas, the ideas at work.”

Sadly, this is where there is confusion in Nigeria where politics is never a contest of ideas, but of persons just as scholarship has not provided the ideas politicians should contest for.

And since the Dearth World countries have failed to produce wealth, there is nothing for economists to manage, Ego-Alowes argues. Therefore, anyone masquerading as an economist in a clime that cannot produce or manufacture anything, but depends solely on import is a fraud who succeeds in hoodwinking even the most educated of us! Here, the author reorders the sequence of things. Whereas it is given that economists manage scarce resources, Ego-Alowes states otherwise, contending that economists manage abundance instead. In a country that does not manufacture, for instance, what do economists manage?

This is where platform knowledge is key, according to Ego-Alowes, as it is the creator of wealth. By Platform knowledge the author means the primary sciences of physics, chemistry and mathematics through which wealth is created and not fanciful, latecomer economics. He further states that Africa came late to history and so puts economics first above the foundational, original or platform knowledge or primary sciences upon which all modern wealth is built.

As he puts it, “It so happened that by the time we came to history, Europe and the West had moved on to finance capitalism. But unlike us they have a platform, a background and have lived knowledge of a past, of an entrepreneurial past, they intend to keep alive and well. We joined them in being finance capitalists without a background of entrepreneurial capitalism”.

Economists as Assassins: The Nigerian Connection is Ego-Alowes’ masterstroke in understanding ideas as the foundation of wealth creation that economists purport to manage. “It is this misguided denial of the poet (scholar, intellectual) as the superior of Caesar (president, governor), of ideas as a greater and higher currency than the Naira or mighty dollar that lays us low,” he states.
This is a classic book for all seasons.

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