In This Issue:
Watch Tutu Alicante's narrative about corruption in Equatorial Guinea in our continued focus on why African countries are poor: leaders abusing their authority and helping themselves to their people's resources.

Addressing Income Inequality


Income inequality has become a major political issue. Since 1980, income inequality within countries and between nations has become more severe. The debate heightened since the economic collapse and financial crisis in 2007-2008, which wiped out much of what those who are less well-off own while leaving the wealthy largely unscathed.

Income inequality is extreme. The bottom 50 percent of the world’s population, and in the population of most countries, own next to nothing, as low as five percent of national wealth, while the top one percent may own as much as 50 percent and the top 10 percent as much as 90 percent in some countries. Africa, like much of Latin America, has one of the most extreme forms of income inequality and capital ownership disparity anywhere.

The French economist Thomas Piketty conducted a study on income inequality in his monumental book, Capital in the Twenty First Century. Piketty’s theory is that income or economic inequality is a function of the ownership of capital. To a much lesser extent, it is a function of inequality in earned income (wages and salaries), and to some extent to disparities in education, knowledge and innovation.

But ownership of capital is by far and away the main culprit that leads to income inequality, regardless of country, regardless of era, simply because the return on capital is much greater than any other return. It is exacerbated by governance structures that are paralyzed by local politics. As a result of the paralysis, they are rendered incapable of implementing policy initiatives that will create an “opportunity-ladder” for citizens of a country, regardless of background, through education, entrepreneurial promotion and access to investor capital and lending. This scenario is likely to continue and it portends major problems, such as political upheaval or social collapse.

Along with governance failings, the ownership of capital is especially problematic for Africa. What is owned is owned by a few, and many of those few are not Africans in Africa or Africans anywhere else for that matter. Raw materials and commodities, which comprise much of African economies, are controlled by the state, agents of the state, operatives of the state, friends of the state, or multinational corporations.  The means of extracting, producing, shipping and distributing are in the hands of a very small minority, which in most cases are aided and abetted by a cabal of foreign business personalities and their companies. Two examples are the late Marc Rich of Glencore Xstrata, the global commodities trader and Rowland Tiny Roland, then of Lonrho, the business conglomerate that he built on the backs of African countries.

Piketty’s solution is a progressive tax on capital at the global level. But there are important caveats. The only way this can happen is if governments cooperate, such as sharing banking information with each other. Otherwise, a global tax on capital will be defeated as the very wealthy will hide information and move their wealth around to evade such a tax, especially into countries that are tax havens for the very rich.

It has other challenges as well. The concept of a global tax on capital is virtually unenforceable because of domestic political implications for many countries, especially in rich ones. The divergence of opinion on taxation is an integral and profound difference in the philosophical character and underpinnings of major parties.

Piketty’s prognosis is not very heartening. Based on his analysis, the rich will continue to get much richer at the expense of everyone else, not just the poor, but of the nearly rich, the middleclass and even of entire countries. How to prevent this from happening is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

Perhaps there is a way for Africa to address the problem of capital formation and ownership and reduce income inequality. Recommendations in John Akhile’s book, Unleashed, may point a way forward. His proposals for African countries to focus on trade, to diversify their economies and to learn the lessons of Singapore and other Asian Tigers, may help to provide answers. Much like the Tiger economies of Asia have created a rising tide of economic prosperity through export trade that has lifted hundreds of millions (if you count China) from poverty into the middle and wealthy-class, the ideas in the book point a way for African countries to replicate the results through export-oriented industrialization.

Africa's Boom is Over

by Rick Rowdan
In recent years, economists and popular publications alike have argued that Africa was on the threshold of an economic boom. Pointing to a decade of high growth and increased foreign investment, this argument held that the continent was finally on track to leave its long years of poverty and under-development behind. Some even said that Africa could become the next global economic powerhouse, following in the footsteps of East Asia.

This view never went entirely unchallenged, of course. In 2013, I argued that Africa’s growth would not be real, lasting, or beneficial for its people until it was based on industrialization rather than exporting raw commodities. Rather than focusing on the hype of mobile phones and African billionaires, I urged advocates of the “Africa Rising” argument to look at some basic development indicators: Was manufacturing increasing as a percentage of GDP? Were the goods African countries exported becoming more valuable — finished products rather than raw materials? In 2011, a U.N. report looked into these very questions, and found that most African countries are either stagnating or moving backwards when it comes to industrialization, quite unlike the East Asian experience.

Today, I’m sorry to say, it looks like the skeptics were right. Oil and commodity prices are plunging, China’s purchases are slowing, and GDP growth rates across the continent are in steep decline. Reflecting these trends, the IMF has cut its 2015 projection for growth in sub-Saharan Africa from 4.5 to 3.75 percent, concluding that the decade-long commodity cycle that had raised African export revenues “seems to have come to an end.” With a population boom on the horizon, experts now worry about how the continent will produce enough jobs for its people.

Africa’s plight is reflected by developments in its two leading economies, Nigeria and South Africa, which together account for 55 percent of the 48 sub-Saharan African nations’ GDP, and which have both been particularly hard hit by falling mineral and oil prices. Nigeria’s growth rate has slumped to 2.4 percent in the second quarter, the slowest pace in at least five years, while South Africa’s economy contracted by an annualized 1.3 percent as power shortages curbed output. The fall in commodities prices has hit other oil producers, too, such as Angola and Ghana, while Zambia, the continent’s second-biggest copper producer, has suffered as copper prices have plunged to a six-year low.

Without the commodities boom, the actual failure of Africa’s development has now been laid bare. In November, the Economist finally came around, noting with sudden distress that “many African countries are de-industrializing while they are still poor, raising the worrying prospect that they will miss out on the chance to grow rich by shifting workers from farms to higher-paying factory jobs.” But like most free market champions, it got it wrong when analyzing why Africa has not been industrializing, citing the conventional lack of the “basics” — infrastructure, skills and institutions.

In fact, Africa has had difficulty industrializing because its leaders drank the Kool-Aid of free markets and free trade proffered by the World Bank, the IMF, and the best university economics departments over the last 30 years. Of particular harm has been the insistence that African countries forswear the use of industrial policies such as temporary trade protection, subsidized credit, preferential taxes, and publicly supported research and development. As a result, African countries have abandoned these key tools, which they could have used to build up their domestic manufacturing sectors.

Free market advocates told African countries that such “state intervention” in the economy usually does more harm than good, because governments shouldn’t be in the business of trying to “pick winners,” and that this is best left to the market.

Africans were told to simply privatize, liberalize, deregulate, and get the so-called economic fundamentals right. The free market would take care of the rest.

But this advice neglects the actual history of how rich countries themselves have effectively used industrial policies for 400 years, beginning with the U.K. and Europe and ending with the “four tigers” of East Asia and China. This inconvenient history contradicted free market maxims and so has been largely stripped from the economics curriculum in most universities. By now, two or three generations of students have unlearned it.

To be fair, critics of industrial policies were correct to cite some historical cases where the policies had badly misfired in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. But these critics were often selective in their criticisms, ignoring successful cases and neglecting to explain why they worked so well in the United States, Europe and East Asia while failing so badly in Africa and elsewhere. In Africa and Latin America, industrial policies often failed because they were focused inward on small domestic markets. Companies were often given support based on corruption or nepotism, rather than their efficiency. On the other hand, the successful East Asian countries focused on international markets, and they instilled discipline in companies by cutting off support to those which failed to improve. But this says more about how to do industrial policy — not whether it should be done.

But a strange thing happened in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and global economic slowdown: industrial policies have made somewhat of acomeback. Harvard’s Dani Rodrik said, “industrial policy is back.” In 2010, even the Economist could not ignore “the global revival of industrial policy.” Both the United States and the European Union have adopted new industrial policies in recent years, and even in Canada industrial policy “need not be taboo,” according to a public policy think tank. The London School of Economics’ Robert Wade noted that, by the way, industrial policy never really went away in the rich countries, even if the U.S. refuses to acknowledge its own federal programs such as the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as “industrial policy.”

Africans, too, have taken notice. Recent annual meetings of African finance and development ministers, the African Union, and the U.N. Economic Commission on Africa have been raising the issue in a high-profile way. The ECA has begun promoting what it calls “smart protectionism,” suggesting that trade policy in Africa should be “highly selective,” with special treatment for certain sectors to advance national development goals.

But if industrial policy is making a comeback, its not likely to be so easy for those in Africa. Many African countries have foolishly signed on to World Trade Organization rules that have clearly restricted their “policy space” for using such policies. And while WTO rules still afford them some limited provisions, this isnot the case under a raft of other newer and further-reaching regional free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties promoted by rich countries over the last 15 years. And even more are on the way: Some of the biggest deals on the immediate horizon are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in International Services Agreement (TiSA), and the EU’s free trade deals with several African regions, known as Economic Partnership Agreements.

So, even as we are seeing a renewed appreciation of industrial policy, trade negotiators from the rich countries are twisting arms, cajoling developing countries into signing new treaties and agreements that will restrict their use of industrial policies. Many developing country leaders either buckle under such pressure or willingly sign on in the hope that they can export more of their primary commodities into rich country markets in the short-term, even if this means foregoing long-term industrialization.

Given this situation, the logical conclusion is still seldom spoken in polite company: African leaders who are serious about pursuing industrialization will have to back-track, renegotiate, and re-design their previous international trade commitments, and refuse to sign new ones that put them at a disadvantage. Offending more powerful trading partners and big foreign investors would likely invite serious short-term consequences, including lawsuits, threats to cut off foreign aid and trade preferences, and possibly lower foreign investment. But the longer-term consequences of not doing so may be far worse.

In Johannesburg, I recently asked the Chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, how Africa could expect to industrialize if it signs on to the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreements. Her reply: “We’re going to have to renegotiate some of them.”

Rick Rowden is a doctoral candidate in economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Previously he worked as an inter-regional advisor for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva and as a senior policy analyst for ActionAid.

"Africa's Boom is Over" was originally published on December 21, 2015 on It has been reprinted with permission from the author.

Winning in the Game of Nationhood

by John I. Akhile Sr.
Great leaders are excellent persuaders. The art of statesmanship is based on the ability to persuade others to adopt one’s point of view without diminishing the value of their own. It is founded on the “sweet science” of reason. Mahatma Gandhi used it to gain independence for India. Dr. King used it to gain civil rights for African-Americans in America. In the mother of all persuasion, in the 16th century, The Reverend Martin Luther used it to expose the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church and birth the protestant movement against all odds of his escaping papal power and the menace of the inquisition. Persuasion is a powerful art form.

Fig 1 Persuasions is an indispensable skill of leadership

The president of Zimbabwe’s recent speech to the AU was a perplexing glimpse into his parallel universe. It telegraphed that the old Lion of Africa has totally missed the boat of the “game of nationhood”. A process whereby leaders advance their country’s interests by gaining support from all the stakeholders he or she needs to achieve it.

The speech itself was a vituperative protestation against perceived ills committed by nations of the western alliance. It did not address the ills committed by African leaders against their own people. Since independence it is incontestable that the greatest injustice visited on the peoples of the continent of Africa is the economic and physical violence through corruption and civil wars perpetrated by the leaders of the respective countries. The speech left no doubt that he will carry the bitterness to his grave unless he accepts grace to excavate and relegate it to the ash heap of experience.

Land Reform in Zimbabwe, a Classic Case of Mismanaging a Good Policy

The tap root of President Mugabe’s angst against the West is the sanctions imposed on his country. However, the evidence is overwhelming that there has not been any introspection on his part; to comb the process and to study if perhaps a different course could have yielded a different result. One can argue that he gummed up the works in the (extra-national) politics of land reform which was United Kingdom’s angst against Zimbabwe that led to the sanctions. Because there is a powerful precedence for land reform carried out by the pre-eminent nation-state in the Western alliance, the United States of America.

If the late General Douglas McArthur, then-Allied Commander in the Pacific and Viceroy of Japan, was able to sell his land reform in Japan to the United States Congress,  President Mugabe could have and should have invested the time, energy and politicking needed to sell land reform in Zimbabwe to the world’s community. In the backdrop of the anti-apartheid protests, political optics favored President Mugabe and his country. It was then and still is utterly defensible that the people of Zimbabwe needed land reform at least as equal, if not more, than the need in Japanese society after WWII. Given the precedence set by Gen. McArthur in Japan, it would have been sheer hypocrisy for Zimbabwe to not have been allowed land reform after making the compelling case of precedence and grave necessity to the world. The process would have involved some “horse trading” but he would, in the end, have had his way because of the power of his position. President Mugabe won the battle for independence of Zimbabwe but lost the war of the game of nationhood.

In the audience were the heads of governments of all the heads of government of members of the African Union, their handlers and chief ministers. The enthusiastic applause suggests that the tempestuous rhetoric found receptive ears. And in it reposes the challenge for this iteration of African leaders and their abused, misrepresented and misled people.

Fig 2 A Lesson in the traits of Great Leadership from an Icon of Leadership

Trade is the Foundation of the Modern World

The greatest challenge facing African countries contrary to popular belief is not lack of money or products to export. It is the dearth of leaders who understand the purpose of nationhood as defined in the post-medieval era. A nation is definable as an aggregation of people of varying sizes, united by common consent and living in a land ascribed to them by heritage under a government that they own. The various and sundry aggregation of peoples in the world in their respective lands under their respective governments makes up the global community of nations. What happens within the extra-national arena, between nations which make up the global community, is the game of nationhood. It started in the era of navigation and global trade known as the “Age of Discovery” with the Portuguese discovery of the Atlantic Archipelago of the Azores, the western tip of Africa beginning in 1416-1419. The “Age of Discovery” was ushered in by the desire of Portuguese and subsequently, European monarchs to advance the economic interests of their people and nation by trading with distant places. It was formalized in 1297 when King Denis of Portugal began an ambitious campaign to export Portuguese products to places beyond Europe.

Improvements in maritime technology led to longer voyages culminating in Vasco da Gama’s trip around southern Africa to Asia, which opened up a new trade route with Asian cultures. Before da Gama’s voyage, the Spanish entered the fray and sponsored major voyages, including Christopher Columbus’s epic voyage in 1498, that culminated in European awareness of the “new world,” present day Americas, in the futile attempt to find a new, shorter course to Asia. The driver of all of the risk of limb and treasure was trade. The world as we know it today was forged from the intense life and death competition that ensued between European monarchs to control trade routes and trade with particular cultures. Most of the initial improvement in European armament and techniques of waging modern warfare derives from the period. It’s all there in the historical annals of the activities of the period. The first public-private partnerships (PPP) started in the era and trade was the motivator of it.

If one is seeking to understand their place in the world in the 21st century, this is a good place to begin. It has shaped and rigidified the template of global prosperity. Only the Asians (viz. the Tiger economies) have successfully emerged almost unilaterally, from the initial template cast in the period. European diplomacy or external politicking was borne from the effort of nations to one-up the other in the matters of trade. Diplomacy was the language with which nations discussed the business of trading (business) with each other and if that was insufficient, then war would be the arbiter of which nation decided how things would be done. A vivid example can be found in the Opium Wars. During which the public private partnership comprised of the British Parliament, Queen Victoria and principals of the British East India Company, successfully deployed British naval power to compel China to allow the company to sell opium to the Chinese against the wishes of China’s Qing dynasty’s Emperor. In China and in most of history, the conflict is referred to as the Opium Wars. In the United Kingdom, it was known as it was sold to the public and debated in parliament, as the war for free trade. It is the game of nationhood.


Fig 3 The World’s most prosperous countries are the top exporting nations. Source:

The Grand Game of Nationhood

The game of nationhood is one in which skillful visionary leaders bend extra-national and intra-national wills, policies, economic activity and politics towards cognitive cooperation in ways that empower their nation and people to achieve social-political-economic equanimity. Think about the decision of Park Chung Hee’s government to nationalize South Korean banks under the concept of “guided capatitalism.”  Another example is Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew’s policy of pragmatic capitalism and non-alignment in the teeth of the cold war. In both of the situations the leaders were able to gain support from countries and world community for policies that contravened accepted norms philosophically and in practice.

The struggle to bring prosperity to people in its’s realm is the game played by one government and people with other governments and nations. To paraphrase U.S president, Calvin Coolidge’s “the principal business of the American people is business,” the principal business of nations of the world is business. When founding leaders of the Asian Tigers pivoted to the transcendent reality that earning enough income to feed their people, create a prosperous society and defend their country was the principal duty of government and its leaders and not self-enrichment, it produced the Asian Tiger economies.

Fig 4 A crucial trait of Leadership is to Learn from the Led per Mandela an Icon of Leadership

Mao Zedong concentrated on internal politicking and lost the game of nationhood because he was unable to hold two conflicting views in his consciousness. That China must revise economic methods using capitalist methods to ensure economic prosperity and still maintain the government structure of communist party rule. Zhou En Lai and Deng Xiaoping on the other hand did not have the same inhibitions to the idea and China is better for it. Under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership and inspiration, China has prospered in a capitalist command economic system. It was aided and abetted by philosophical and ideological enemies of China, Western nations. That is an example of how you win in the game of nationhood. Deng Xiaoping succeeded in getting nations with which China disagreed on virtually everything about economic policy and government to agree sufficiently to ensure that economic cooperation, capital and know-how flowed to China to enable China to develop and prosper. Compare the outcome to that of President Mugabe’s land reform and the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe.

African leaders have concentrated on internal politicking, in the art of perpetuating their hold on power. To the absolute neglect of how to feed their people, engender socio-political-economic equanimity and defend their nations. Mugabe’s speech concentrated on the disrespect being paid by Western nations to Africans in not allowing African nations a stronger voice in the United Nations through membership in the U.N Security Council. The reality is that it is incontrovertible that an overwhelming number of African nations including Zimbabwe depend on the largess of Western and other nations-China, for instance- to survive and pay their bills. His speech therefore is a classic conundrum of “biting the hand that is feeding you.” There is a time and place for everything under the sun. This is the time for African leaders to master the game of nationhood. To develop economic strategy that will enable their nations to feed their people, engender socio-political-economic equanimity and defend their nation. In due course, with job one accomplished, African nations can assume their place. Respect like a ripe fruit will fall. See China and the Asia Tigers.

John I. Akhile Sr. is the author of two books: Compensatory Trade Strategy: How to Fund Import-Export Trade and Industrial Projects When Hard Currency is in Short Supply and now Unleashed: A New Paradigm of African Trade with the World. He is also the President of African Trade Group LLC., a U.S. based trading company.

Pan-African Life: A Nuanced Broad Brush

by Olivia Wondu

W.E.B. Dubois once suggested that Africans in the Diaspora look to Africa as one united continent, one unit, mainly because they can’t trace their particular roots. But where does that leave Africans that can trace their roots? What stake do they have in embracing Pan-Africanism? The question takes me back to my secondary school days in Uganda. Specifically a conversation that I had with a friend of mine about future prospects. We were in our last year and she was fixed on the idea of "studying abroad." After I casually mentioned that as a Kenyan, she was in fact studying abroad, she threw me an incredulous glance and said, “You know what I mean.” Not only did I know what she meant, but at the time I was also nursing similar aspirations. Of course in retrospect it's clear now that the underlying notion informing our exchange is that intra-African travel doesn’t hold much promise of intrigue and opportunity. This commonly held sentiment illustrates how abstract the "African" identity is and how its image has been effectively commandeered by non-Africans.

The quest to present a more hopeful image of Africa involves deconstructing widely held myths and narratives. The monolithic Africa story which glosses over a vast array of ethnicities, histories, and languages is one of those myths. But the complete picture of Afro-pessimism doesn’t come full circle without the failed state, poverty, war, and ineptitude trope. On the surface one would think that those of us with visceral ethnic, cultural experiences could easily dismiss that story. To a certain extent we do--but only after disassociating personal heritage from an "African" identity. So one only becomes aware of their "African-ness" via international interactions be they face-2-face, digital or through media in the form art, music or literature.

Part of that includes the repeated exposure to the Afro-pessimist narrative. It’s a narrative that continues to disempower and disenchant Africans with regards to their own capacity. By the same token it colors their attitudes about other Africans with customs different from their own. The lack of openness and aversion to African unity and oneness is to some degree physically evidenced by poor transport networks, inadequate Internet connectivity, and sub-par cross border infrastructure.  In the words of
Paul Kagame, “There is no reason why we should be the world’s suppliers of cheap commodities and yet remain a vast market dependent on the outside world for most of our consumption goods.” Many Africans consider African products to be lower value. Recent findings by the Visa Openness Index have found that 55% of African countries impose severe visa requirements on fellow Africans to pass their borders. The Asian Tigers by contrast formed partnerships, joint projects and learned from each other’s best experiences and practices. African countries would do well to follow this example.

A paradigm shift in mindset is a necessary to foster co-operation between African leaders and people on matters of trade and inter-cultural exchange. One element of that mindset is a conscious embrace of the African identity from the top down and the ground up.  While Pan-Africanism may refer to Africa as a single entity, it should also aim to present a humanist, contextual understanding to the "sum of its parts."

Olivia Wondu is a South-Sudanese American, passionate about unleashing Africa’s latent potential through media, alternative ideas, and perspectives. She spends her time writing and researching about topics that explore cultural and economic intersectionality. In 2014, she received a scholarship to attend Knox College where she graduated with a dual B.A. in Environmental Studies and Integrated International studies. She is an Assistant Media Manager for the Unleashed Marketing Team.

Ethiopian Entrepreneur Builds Global Enterprise

by Gayle Cottrill

One Step at a Time

In 2005, young entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu founded the footwear brand, soleRebels. She began her business in the city she grew up in, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To build soleRebels, she focused on integrating the culture of her home and the skills of local artisans into building a footwear brand that is at once contemporary and also is rooted deep in the traditions of Ethiopia.

Alemu set out to provide a way for Ethiopians to generate their own prosperity and be successful, not just in their community, but in their country, and throughout the world. With the genesis of soleRebels, she helped local people by providing a foundation to excel, but relied on their talent and ideas to fully build and shape the brand of artisan crafted footwear. The simple yet powerful motto of soleRebels is: “Making the world a better place. One step at a time.”  bethlehem tilahun alemu , founder & ceo soleRebels footwear-cropped.JPG

While soleRebels has been Alemu’s primary endeavor, she is also the founder and creator of Republic of Leather and the founder and CEO of Garden of Coffee. Her exceptional entrepreneurship has not gone unnoticed. Among the long list of recognition, she has been named by Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s Top Five Most Successful Women and was in their World’s 100 Most Powerful Women List. Forbes Africa listed her as one of the 100 Most Influential Women and the Guardian said she was one of Africa’s Top Women Achievers of 2013. Alemu is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

A Global Enterprise

Since 2005, soleRebels has greatly expanded. While the headquarters are still in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there are eighteen retail locations in nine countries (Ethiopia, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, United States, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, and Greece) and that number is still growing! Alemu says that they “will open  50 to 60 more  standalone soleRebels retail stores over the coming 18-36 months,” and “are on track to open over 150 stores  and  generate over $250 million USD in revenues by 2018, and over 500 global stores and $1 billion in revenues by 2022.” SoleRebels also has its footwear featured in Urban Outfitters stores in the US.

Besides physical retail space, soleRebels has also expanded online. The brand is sold through ecommerce sites like Amazon US and UK, and the EU’s number one online footwear retailer,

According to Alemu, “soleRebels  is also the first and only global branded retail chain from a developing country.” Sharing the traditions of Ethiopia is an important aspect of the soleRebels brand, not just in the shoes themselves, but also in every new store opening is a celebration intended to illustrate that. store opening 2.png


The soleRebels Brand

There is a lot to the soleRebels brand, and Alemu has strived to create and withhold a list of core values at the root of her business and product.

First and foremost, soleRebels is a brand that supports people and community. Its creation provided an opportunity for the people in her home city to prosper and climb out of poverty themselves. They supply the labor and the creative vision of the brand through their Ethiopian culture and traditions. Each shoe is hand-crafted by the employees of soleRebels, made from recycled tires (for the soles), and home-spun cotton for the shoe itself. The colorful designs of the shoes are created on looms and weaved with care by expert artisan hands, passing along the traditional patterns Ethiopians have weaved for centuries. The footwear is eco-friendly; it keeps old tires out of the landfill and prevents them from being burned, thereby releasing excess CO2 into the air. SoleRebels is also the only certified World Fair Trade Organization [WFTO] Fair Trade footwear company in the world. This certifies that in addition to the product being fair trade, the business practice is also fair trade, which is an important distinction Alemu is proud to have.  we proudly hand spin and hand loom every single metre of fabric that makes up our amazing shoes . . . right down to the  laces. the result - WALK NAKED.jpg

“Each  and every soleRebels shoe radiates with what we call the essential four C’s,” says Alemu. “It is the shorthand we use to guide our design and production process, ensuring that  each and every soleRebels shoe possesses the core qualities/attributes of: Creativity, Color, Craftsmanship, and Comfort.” Consumers are drawn to the design of the shoes’ look and also comfort level, reporting that wearing a soleRebels shoe is like putting your foot into “your favorite sock,” which is where the term “Walk Naked” came from as a tagline for the footwear line. Aiming to understand what consumers want and desire for their favorite shoe, soleRebels keeps every style of shoe they ever made on their website. People can always choose the style that works for them instead of having the business change styles too frequently. SoleRebels aims to keep customers for life.

a soleRebel is born.jpg

The Magical Effect

When asked, in an interview by The Brandlaureate, about the success of soleRebels, Alemu said, “People want their brands to be real. I love the fact that soleRebels is the brand, the factory, the marketer, the designer, the shipper. It’s a radical yet beautifully simple repositioning of the producer-consumer paradigm, a case of the product you as a customer wear and love being made directly by those designing, making, and selling it to you.” weaver.jpg

But the wonderful effect of this brand is not just in the producer-consumer dynamic, but also what the company has done for its workers, and what many entrepreneurs and start-up businesses in Ethiopia and Africa should set as a top priority when creating their companies. By Alemu keeping the focus of her business on helping her community, by setting out to prove that positive change can happen in a town like Addis Ababa, in a country like Ethiopia, without having to travel to another country, she discovered the “magical effect” of soleRebels had on its employees.

“People have started making their own money and are in positions where they can support their extended families,” said Alemu. “People are buying their own houses and condominiums;  their children go to good schools and they can afford to send them to post secondary education--college and university. People also have changed through the different trainings we have given: people now dream of going out and doing their own business when it is the right time.”

bethlehem in store.JPG

SoleRebels sets an example for all African businesses and entrepreneurs. It proves success is possible in a developing nation by everyday citizens who want to better their lives and use their own resources and experiences to do it. Change for the better can happen through entrepreneurship and under leadership like that of Bethlehem Tiluhan Alemu.


Using Cultural Centers to Develop Export Culture

Export orientation introduces a dynamism that no other development strategy can compare to or compete with. It creates labor intensive jobs during the initial phase because countries have to compete for markets in goods that rich countries are unable to produce at a cost effective rate because of labor and other costs. That is good news for countries that need to create a large number of jobs. Producing labor intensive goods expands the supply of value-added manufacturing and processing industries to the local economy. Exporting imposes discipline on a country to become competitive in all aspects of its socio-economic-political substructure because it exposes the country to standards of affluent markets.

By its very nature, having an industrial export base diversifies sources of a country’s income and reduces dependency on raw material exports. It improves the banking community’s capacity and revenues. Export industrialization expands markets for local producers and increases the income of the country. If it is successful, it will ultimately make it easier for countries to import goods and services because of the expanded income base. The Asian Tigers are known to be prolific exporting nations but because they import most of what is converted into export goods due to a dearth of naturally occurring raw materials, they are also large importers of goods. See figure 1, a list of the world’s top trading nations. All the original Tigers and China appear on the list. It demonstrates that as countries grow their export prowess their appetite and capacity to pay for imports also increases. African countries are struggling to pay for imports because the first part of the equation, export prowess, has not been put in place.


                                                  Fig 1 Top Merchandise trading nations

The process of building export capacity is not a one-size fits all although there are common elements that are adaptable to the situation presented by each country’s internal economic dynamics. However, the strategy applied by countries will vary. The first step is to sell the idea of export oriented development to the business community, entrepreneurs and society at large. It cannot be a cloak-and-dagger process. Rather it must be fully participative, consultative and transparently accountable. Governments have to communicate the idea openly and solicit involvement of every segment of the body politic. In other words, the first duty for governments is to create a “Team Export” comprised of every stakeholder in their respective countries. There is precedence. In the chartered company era, European nations/kingdoms (King’s domain) chartered companies to exploit trade opportunities with distant lands. The shareholding of the companies often included the monarchs and elite of the Kingdom. In recent time, Asian nations developed indigenous companies that executed the nation’s export industrialization strategy with financial and sundry support from government. Samsung, the giant South Korean Chaebol is an example.

It is important to consider the modalities for gearing up the concept of using export as the means to lift the economic prospects of a country and its people comprehensively. In Singapore, the government used Cultural Centers to indoctrinate society to the importance of social harmony, as a crucial piece in the puzzle of developing an attractive environment for companies that are considering locating industrial plants in the country. One of the hindrances was deep-seated cultural conflict between the Muslim community of indigenous Singaporeans of Malaysian heritage and the majority Chinese community of Chinese immigrants and their descendants. To this cauldron entered the communist (party) agitators who were using the labor movement to ferment strife and exacerbate tensions. The genius of Lee Kuan Yew and Dr. Goh Keng Swee was to recognize the threat and develop a comprehensive plan to nip it at the budding stage. They built cultural centers throughout the little country and held interactive teaching gatherings. The effort earned Singapore’s government the goodwill to create a labor bill that pacified labor and neutered the communists. They have not been heard from since and Singapore has gone on to become one of the most prosperous political arrangements in the world.

Developing Cultural Centers

Africa countries can use Cultural Centers to indoctrinate society on the virtues of exporting, entrepreneurship, social harmony and defeating corruption. An intriguing aspect of developing cultural centers is that it can also create vast economic benefits including jobs while giving society a resource with which to transform and intensify citizens’ engagement in participatory democracy. All of which can be done with virtually no negative fiscal impact on the public purse. Paying for the centers is simple if one starts with the premise that: (1) they will be designed as INDEPENDENT profit centers like a private business; and (2) that the government’s main role is a mortgage holder on the building. If the two assumptions hold, then developing cultural centers will be a stimulus to the local economy. A reasonable ratio is one center for 50,000 people. On that basis, one can estimate that some countries will require several thousand centers and some only a few.

Funding: To ensure a profitable business unit centers can be funded by local bonds backed by government guarantee. Financial institutions will enjoy good business from the underwriting and market-making. The public will have an excellent investment to add to their portfolio and the cost of developing the centers can be paid from the proceeds of the bond.

Ownership structure: In order to not increase the operating cost of government by the establishment of the centers, it will be necessary to create a hybrid organization (government funded but privately run and managed) that is listed on local equity markets and thereby owned by shareholders who invest in the shares. Eventually the original bonds will be swapped for bonds issued by the public company, thereby relieving the government of all obligations and liabilities for the cultural centers.

Jobs: Construction of the centers will create jobs and economic activity in the local economy.

Post Construction: Each center will require a management staff for managing each property, any center-owned business or businesses, seminars and all other events and activities that are part of the life of each center.

               C:\Users\John\Pictures\Cultural Center.jpg

                                          Fig 2 Rendering of a Cultural Center Development

Amenities: Centers can rent space to community members for hosting meetings and other social events. Government can also rent space from the center for various uses, including office space. Centers can be used as a one-source destination for registering and formation of companies. It is useful to decentralize activities associated with registering companies in other to bring the process closer to citizens.

In conclusion, cultural centers can be used to inform, educate and inspire citizens to engage in exporting as a business, in the furtherance of a national “Team Export.” It can be used to teach entrepreneurship and business management skills. Because the business sector of most African countries is not indigenous, cultural centers can be used as a focal point of creating an indigenous entrepreneurial culture that will change the makeup of the sector. Creating a business community on which government can rely to avail itself of incentives that facilitate investment in priority sectors such as export oriented industrialization.

Unleashed: A New Paradigm of African Trade with the World is now available to buy at any of the sites listed below. 

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Our Mandate
To deliver Africa to the world and the world to Africa.
Our main focus is on African trade. We specialize in helping clients in African countries to develop industrial projects. We will broker commodities and manufactured goods to and from the global market to African countries. In the area of industrial exports, we will help our clients to develop export oriented industries and market the goods produced in hard currency markets.
Our Vision
Our goal is to be a key component of the transition of African countries from raw materials exports to industrial goods export. In addition to contributing to the rise of export industries in every African country, AFRICAN TRADE GROUP aspires to become the premier company in the trading of commodities and manufactured goods of African origin.
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