By Mamphela Ramphele
We cannot solve our socio-economic problems by using the same thinking that generated them. Ground-up citizen participation and co-creation are the only guarantors of restoring dignity and responsibility to communities.
As we prepare for the re-opening of our economy, let us recognise that the economy of yesterday is no more.
We need to reimagine and reframe our economic system in the light of the disruptions of the dysfunctional global economic system by Covid-19.
Listening to webinars by economists and business media commentators, including the one I participated in by Dr Thabi Leoka on 24 May, makes me very afraid of the pervasive blindness to the dire consequences of the crisis upon us.
There is no normal to get back to. We need to create a new normal with a more inclusive vibrant socio-economic system.
We dare not forget that our economy was already in crisis before Covid-19. Our failure to deal with inherited and self-made structural constraints throttled any sustainable progress.
No economy that leaves more than 80% of citizens to survive on 15% of the national income, whilst the top 1% takes home 20%, and the top 10% enjoys 65%, can be sustainable.
Covid-19 has simply opened our eyes to how the bottom 60% of our fellow citizens make do with life in crowded shanty towns, and in neglected rural areas.
The current economic crisis is part of a multi-layered system failure brought about by humanity’s deep footprint on the earth’s ecosystem.
This has been brought upon us by our insatiable consumption of natural resources, pollution of our environments and extinctions of life forms essential to sustaining biodiversity.
The health crisis brought about by Covid-19 pandemic, is one of the symptoms of climate emergency that has also led to droughts, fires and floods across the globe.
Our response to the current global economic crisis requires very different approaches from the previous financial crises.
In the 2008 crisis the world papered over the then cracks in the financialised economic system.
The “too big to fail” approach fed the beast, and perpetuated the dysfunctional system that has now brought us to this multilayered crisis.
The good news is that significant initiatives are afoot across the globe to “build back better.”
For example, Oxford University, Smith School of Enterprise and Environment, assembled a team of international experts including Nobel Prize winner, Joe Stiglitz and climate economist Nick Stern to draw lessons from the missteps of 2008 and identify policies that could bring both short-term high economic impact and long-term structural change.
Recommended policies are:
- Investing in renewable energy where the return on investment per dollar was found to be higher in terms of more jobs and cleaner energy.
- Reducing industrial pollution through mandatory carbon capture and storage using established technologies.
- Investing in rolling out broadband internet to close the digital divide and enhance teaching and learning disrupted by the pandemic, and to develop 21st century skills in all graduates.
- Migration to electric vehicles to sustain low carbon footprint.
- Using nature-based solutions, including back to basics to organic agriculture and free range livestock farming.
What can we as South Africans and Africans learn from this approach?
We need to re-imagine our economy that was already in junk status by tackling inherited and self-imposed structural constraints.
Our re-imagined economy must focus on linkages with our continent rather than rely on hot money investments that only benefit rent-seekers.
Africa needs to leverage the much talked about Free Trade Agreement and take advantage of the huge combined market of our youthful population by harnessing its creative energy.
Covid-19 is giving us the opportunity to tackle the unfinished business of reconstruction and development of our iniquitous socio-economic system into an inclusive thriving participatory citizen driven one.
There is no place for top-down approaches beloved by many corrupt public servants.
Ground-up citizen participation and co-creation are the only guarantors of restoring dignity and responsibility to communities.
The core urgent areas of work are:
- Invest in a National Health System by building on the strong elements of our current health system and the public/private partnerships that have emerged. Invest in building strong referral systems from clinics, community health centres in both urban and rural areas. Huge job and training opportunities would revive livelihoods and create hope. We need to keep a focus on comprehensive health: prevention, treatment and promotion of well-being.
- Invest in rolling out broadband internet to close the digital divide and promote remote and independent learning for all learners from basic to higher education. Spectrum must be freed now and not continue to be captured by vested interests. Job creation and livelihoods can be sustained through this.
- Invest in access to water and sanitation infrastructure in both urban and rural areas to enable all citizens to wash their hands and practice proper hygiene to promote health. Young men and women are ready for jobs and livelihoods opportunities to build and maintain such infrastructure.
- Re-imagine urban settlements as we decongest the unspeakable slums on the doorsteps of thriving cities. Government’s intention to move people out of overcrowded slums would be much easier if people were treated with dignity and given incentives to co-create appropriate solutions. This would also promote responsible ownership and agreements on regulations to prevent slums. Allocating land large enough for a temporary structure with basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity and WiFi, which people can develop further, would see people flocking to these new housing opportunities. Appropriate capital would need to be allocated to support dignified home building. There should be no place for the discredited corrupt RDP housing process.
- Investing in small and medium enterprises to promote circulation of cash within communities to generate ground-up sustainable enterprises that can become part of supply chains for PPE and other necessities in our Covid-environment and beyond.
- Reinvigorate and clean up corruption in Land Reform and Restitution to revive rural development and the support for livelihoods. We have vast fertile areas that are begging for investments to enable agricultural development to feed the nation and export surpluses to the rest of the continent and world. The desperate migration of unemployed young people is fuelled by the mismanagement of public services and the denial of opportunities for livelihoods due to corruption.
We cannot solve our socio-economic problems by using the same thinking that generated them.
We need to re-imagine our country’s development and harvest the huge opportunities awaiting us if we invest in freeing the human potential of all citizens, especially the young ones.
Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and president of the Club of Rome
Image Source: Wikipedia