Money rules the earth. Just look at the seductive power of money over humanity and you can see how all other subjects have now become footnotes to economics. The mother of money is of course, business.
For thousands of years, economic activities were described simply as acquiring and delivering ‘from nature’ to “buyer”. Human life in ancient times was predominantly physical. The manipulative power of collective intellects over nature was weak or in its infancy.
Accordingly, what was sold in those economies were mostly goods in their original or semi-original forms as provided by nature. Not much by was done in the olden days to turn objects into wholly other.
The key activities that defined ancient businesses were: picking, mining, catching, farming and robbing. The main requirements for success in such systems were physical superiority, comparative (natural) advantage and access to buyers.
Let’s call this the physical economy. Physical men run physical economies. Physical economies depend largely on the supply of “founds” and not “mades”. Physical economies are limited by gravity, quantity and brevity. This economy is less flexible. It can be described as “hard” and it is actually breakable. Here, output and efficiencies decrease over time and the earth is its limit.
In some places on earth physical men have given over to mental men. Not surprisingly, physical economies are increasingly being made part of the museum of economics. The dominant and powerful economies of today and tomorrow are different. They are characterized by the transformation of nature into wholly other things.
Mental men run the shows. The key structures of the new economy are linguistic (“specialized”) competence, exclusive ‘tribal’ bonds and dedicated cooperation in sequential relays. The fundamental qualities for success in such endeavors are intellectual superiority, cooperative advantage and continuous exchanges of technological synonyms.
Let’s call this the magic economy. This type of economy is “unnatural”. It is based on the continuity and evolution of ‘magical’ abilities and organic networks to supply: “strange”, “foreign” or previously fictional products to a bewildered and yearning herd with loads of money. The magic economy is highly elastic and almost limitless.
It is better described as “fluid” or “formulaic”. Here, output and efficiencies expand over time and only the imagination is its limit.
The secret to the success of the magic economy is the mental man. The mental man minds the powers that move the skies and the oceans. The magic economy is driven my learned imagination. It is a near-complete shift away from dependency on physical limits. It is not driven by the order of easily disconnected and irrational cooperatives also known as individual men.
Rather, the magic economy is an organic system of connectible, expandable and flexible symphonies called programmers, engineers, scientists etc. linked by one language and manifest goal of functional excellence. Mental men are evolving “cells” in the “organs” of “arted nature”.
The myths, the practices, the disciplines, the laws and the institutions that govern the magic economy attach to and flow from the sequenced men. Each mental man is one with his function and thus produces what he must almost automatically in its fluid and evolutionary continuities.
In the magic economy men, functions and responsibilities are ordered as time: that is, they are qualitative quantities. They are crafted, positioned and sequenced.
This makes the economist, the scientist or the leader in the magic economy the same as the linguist, the priest, the judge and the artist. Integrated and evolving performances of the imagined under one symphonic festival, is the best way to picture the magic economy.
It is therefore, difficult for an outsider, an alien properly called, to understand, to partake in and to excel in this new economy. This economy paradoxically is an exclusive tribal club. Mental Natives only. Physical men excluded.
Mental men rule physical men. Thus with the growth of magic economies, those persons and nations that are dependent on physical economies are increasingly being “fixed”, confined to old penny-wise currencies and excluded from the very important world order. A little mental man with drones is far more important than a giant physical man with plenty of cash.
It is clear then that even the best-performing of such physical economies would be non-performing and non-competitive in the magic economy. Clearly, assets and competencies in the physical economy are no match for the assets and competencies of the magic economy. Experts in physical economies are more like blind-men in the magic economy.
Unfortunately, African economies are predominantly physical. Not much is being done sustainably to migrate, to welcome, to integrate and to support Africans to transition from physical to mental economies. The problem is that people confuse operational competencies with creative competencies.
The ability to use a computer for example, is not the same as the ability to make a computer from ‘nothing’. When people say that Africans are developing they usually men that they are increasing their capacities to consume or operate the goods of mental men.
Remarkably, from the writings and actions of the vast majority of African economists and scholars, it appears that most Africans are not even aware of the existence of the tribes and “mysteries” that form the magic economy.
Using archaic assumptions and semi-scientific discourses, a lot of so-called African and development experts confuse consumption, grants, loans and theft by a few of collective wealth, as a sign of economic growth.
To say that physical economies can sufficiently support the endless development goals and the ever-increasing populations of Africa or to say that physical men can compete with mental men, is one of the biggest lies ever told. Africans must transition from being physical to intellectual.
African businesses and leaders must learn to speak and to embrace the imagination, the language, the tribalism, the sacred rules, the practices and the continuing evolution of the magic economy. This is the only answer to development and the permanent cure against chronic poverty.
The truth about Africa is not about diseases, corruption, better-governance or hard work. It is not about development-goals and this and that assistance program. Neither the IMF, the World Bank nor any other so-called world development institution can help Africans to achieve their great destinies.
A large percentage of the loans will be wasted. The machines that the loans buy will break down. The infrastructures that the loans build will become ruins; and then what? The truth is about creative imagination, applied knowledge, useful art, a learned priesthood, a passionate and dedicated brotherhood and unshakable will.
If the academics are silent on these things as the mother of development, you can bet that the politicians are even more clueless. Their manifestos and promises are wish-lists to a world Santa Claus.
The politicians may mean well but they cannot do much to change Africa unless their economies are transformed from the physical to the magical. As political life is short and self-centered, we cannot expect the elected politician to transform a whole nation from one set of consciousness unto another.
That is the work of generations of learned patriots and their prophets. The transition from being physical men unto becoming mental men will be difficult and perhaps, it would even be painful.
Success will require a new but creative way of feeling, of seeing and of navigating the world. To be wise is to know the times and their requirements and to act appropriately.
Unless Africans want to guarantee their irrelevance and possible extinction in the near future, they have no choice but to start the process of moving from physical to mental immediately.
Until mental trophies become more valuable and more abundant than physical trophies to the African, mental men will rule, exploit and impoverish Africans. Today is my birthday. I have been blessed to tell told you the truth. Who is thinking with me? Thank you O Most High God for your greatness.
A World Lecture by Nana Oppong, President of the Distinguished Scholars of Africa