As the most populous country in Africa, the one with the greatest number of upwardly mobile citizens, history will not forgive us if we fail to take advantage of China’s meteoric rise in global influence. Crawl or run, beg or gripe, we must find a way to catch up and grab the beckoning hands of the Chinese at the back of their hurriedly advancing moving van. This, I believe, could be our only free ride to the ever-elusive Nigerian El Dorado.
The idea of a “raid” on China came to me as I found myself watching an episode of the MTV prime time dating/reality series, “Room Raiders”. On the show, three men or women have their rooms inspected, or “raided” by another single man or woman. The raider does not meet or see any of the three singles (any personal photographs of the contestant are removed from the room or covered with a smiley face sticker). The three contestants watch and comment, while sitting in a van, as their rooms are inspected. At the end of the episode, the raider chooses to go on a date with one of them based on the contents of their rooms.
I will like to visualise Nigeria as the room raider; the industrialised nations are the contestants; let us name the three, for instance, as Europe, America and China. We are in their rooms and inspecting their belongings, bathrooms, kitchens, toiletries, clothes, shoes, underwear, etc. We are meticulous to feel and see the personal taste of the three contestants, and evaluate if they are amenable to our own personal proclivities, as we are about to take a decision of which of the contestant to date – or to marry.
Now, with this scenario at the back of our mind, let us take a mental journey to the developmental milestones of the three contestants, Europe, America and China. We need to visualise the process that led to the contestants’ industrial development. We need to also interrogate the ambient socio-economic atmosphere, the prevailing global condition, and the undergirding anthropological experience to which each individual is constrained to tackle its existential challenges.
We know that the root of the present global economic advancement has its foundation in the Industrial Revolution that occurred three centuries ago. We are also aware that the revolution started in Europe through the deployment of machines to increase production and boost intercontinental trade. To be specific, it began in Britain as cottage industries sprang up in clusters where coal and steel were the major drivers of technological advancement (from where it went through a continental conveyor-belt like movement starting from the UK to Belgium to Germany to France, and so on).
It made the continent a superpower and helped it colonise most of the globe. However, as it stands today, Europe’s growth has slowed, and it is concerned more with consolidating on its global influence through high-level politics, scientific advancement, and intra-continental commerce. The European Union is the largest economy in the world. But the question is, is the stuff in his room agreeable to our present needs?
The second contestant is the United States. Its own industrialisation story dates back almost to the same time Industrial Revolution began in Europe. An early landmark moment in the Industrial Revolution came near the end of the 18th century, when Samuel Slater brought new manufacturing technologies from Britain to the US and founded the first US cotton mill in Beverly, Massachusetts. Before long, major industrialists like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, and major inventors like Thomas Edison and Graham Bell redefined global economic and technological progress, and set America up for its ascendance to world’s number one spot. Today, the country’s economy has moved from industry to innovation and consumerism, controlling most of visible global brands like Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Subway. Yet, the question is, is the American kitchen agreeable to Nigerian condiments, and hunger?
Let us move to the third contestant’s room. China’s industrial revolution, which started 40 years ago, is perhaps one of the most important economic and geo-political phenomena since the original Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. This rapid growth has puzzled many people, including economists. How could a nation with 1.4 billion people transform itself relatively suddenly from a vastly impoverished agricultural land into a formidable industrial powerhouse when so many tiny nations have been unable to do so despite their more favourable socio-economic conditions?
The quantum leap in growth and development experienced by the citizens of China within a few decades is what a country like Nigeria should set up a think tank to look into. We have similar circumstances; with an army of impoverished rural dwellers and unemployed urban youths, Nigeria is tottering on the precipice of a demographic disaster. In the 1960s, about 60 per cent of the Chinese labour force was employed in agriculture. By 1990, the fraction of the labour force employed in agriculture had fallen to about 30 per cent, and by 2000 still further.
Interestingly, we can see that presently, this world’s second-largest economy has begun to shift away from manufacturing and move towards consumption and the service industries. While China’s purchasing managers’ index reading has been in contraction mode since March, for instance, the service industries-which include financial services, insurance, entertainment, tourism and more-are ever-expanding. In China, overseas travel, cinema box office revenue and ecommerce are all seeing explosive growth. The country’s once-struggling real estate market is also robust. The government relaxed rules to permit more foreigners to purchase mainland property.
Furthermore, rising sports participation among white collar workers in China is very visible these days. In a sector controlled by America before now, there is today an emerging, innovative sportswear franchise in China, with a burgeoning middle class bringing about a new air of prosperity and global outlook to the average Chinese youth. This has made the country to remain one of the most compelling growth stories in the world and continues to provide exciting investment opportunities.
What Nigeria finds in China’s bedroom is very familiar. Firstly, China is a developing nation which has leveraged an existing Socialist ideology to suit its own culture and tradition, tailor-cutting it to become pliable to its socio-cultural peculiarities. Secondly, the Communist Party of China right from the day it crafted the framework for a new China in 1949 decided to make “service to the people” its central guiding dictum. Thirdly, recognising that corruption is a threat to the vision of a great China, the government is still vigorously fighting corruption up to this moment. In fact, it was reported last week that the government of China apprehended some of its corrupt government officers from here in Nigeria.
Fourthly, because of its rapid industrialisation, China came face to face with crippling environmental challenges, like air pollution, as we today experience in some of our major cities. Fifthly, as China is moving from an industry-based to a service-based economy, it needs enduring partnership especially with a fellow developing country that could absorb its divesting manufacturing infrastructure and proprietary potential; as it had once acquired from the West. Nigeria stands a chance of becoming a sister country to China, a fellow South-South alliance member, through whom, with requisite will, could leverage immeasurable advantages.
Sixthly, China had on May 15 2017 presented its latest offering to the world: The Belt and Road Initiative. It is China’s greatest international economic ambition, aiming at stimulating economic development in a vast region covering sub regions in Asia, Europe and Africa, which accounts for 64 per cent of world population and 30 per cent of the world GDP. It certainly has the potential of turning the underdeveloped “Belt and Road” region into a new vibrant economic pillar and contributing to economic policy thinking by incorporating successful experiences of emerging market economies like ours. Nigeria cannot afford to miss this opportunity.