By Brian Sedze
Africa is the genius at mimicry. It is a real Thaumoctopus (mimic octopus) of human culture, economic models, social norms, health management, culture and traditions, education, intellectual engagements, laws and constitutions, democracy and politics, and even food and etiquette.
It’s a hollow imitation of a superstates like United States, Great Britain, China, Canada and European countries.
Unfortunately, mimicry is neither preservation of the core of a country nor is it innovation. By copying other super states, a country will perpetually fail to compete against super state mirror economies.
Innovation around the familiar by incremental innovation of existing products and services will make African economies perpetually subservient to super states.
We are at a point any African country should discard mimicry to invest in radical and disruptive innovation to enable it to compete with other nations on the basis dynamic competitive advantages.
In the natural world, the physically weak are overcome by the physically strong. That is an observable and provable law.
But even that law has its exceptions and variations. Those not possessing physical strength (power, speed) find safety in other mechanisms, ranging from excreting poisons thereby making themselves taste bad or in some cases, deadly to consume) to deception (camouflage), evolving to mimic characteristics of the strong as a defense.
There is at least a half dozen categories of mimicry in nature, such the hawk-cuckoo, a cuckoo that has feather and wing patterns like a hawk; the false cobra, which has the same distinctive hood as the Indian Cobra; many insects copy the African monarch butterfly due to its legendary bad taste; and in a very impressive display of mimicry, octopuses of the genus Thaumoctopus can change color and shape to resemble a poisonous lionfish or even sea snakes.
The weaker of cultures are eventually subsumed by the stronger cultures. History also proves that without moving outside the mimic culture we are doomed to extinction. In the continent we are doomed by our adoption our colonial powers on everything from fashion to constitutions. We are even moving closer to becoming more British, Portuguese and French than being African even in dress, styles, mannerism, religion, marriage and etiquette.
In a competitive platform (who wins or loses in a direct contest) is eschewed as a determinant in a struggle for domination, one could reasonably deduce the progress of the fight by which entity begins to mimic the other as a defense mechanism.
When one entity begins to adopt the trappings of the other, it is often a sign that the battle for supremacy is lost, and the weaker entity is signaling it can no longer expect to win and end the predation and is merely looking for a means to survive in an environment in which it can no longer hope to dominate.
Our new found friend, China, kicked off their R&D (Rip-off and Duplicate) programs and drove them into high gear, creating a mimicry for a purpose more than just a mechanism for survival, it was a way to skip several steps in their evolution, learning though replication.
China has now decided to let their mask of mimicry fall away by even being a leading force in Science, Technology and Engineering. It is also time for a combined Africa to move in that direction.
Africa’s innovation funnel is often worse than incremental innovation which our leaders often base on a false fad of globalization of brands in food, medicine, dressing, religion and other things.
We aren’t even a continent copying and improving but one that is always trying to play catch with the super states we adore and desire to emulate.
I will use a few pointers at how we face a future of perpetual control by superstates in food, medicine, education, banking and finance, democracy and politics, culture, and intellectual engagements.
Countries in Africa are failing to preserve the core in animal breeds and seed varieties in cereals, fruits and vegetables. The companies leading this ill thought “better “varieties are controlled mostly by Americans and Europeans.
In a few years from now Africa would have lost control of the food chain as they will control the entire food chain from research, genetic engineering, farming methods, disease control, pesticides, storage, distribution and retailing. At each point along the chain its profit for the owner of the variety.
It is even possible when they desire more profit, they will manufacture a crisis in the entire food chain so they can profit from a crisis only themselves can solve.
The superstates through the big pharmaceutical giants sponsor our teaching methods and students in medicine, pharmacy and biochemistry. If you find a scientist who deviate from the super state norms, he or she is most definitely unemployed. Yet Africa is better off with joint research and has enough wealth to enable of upscaling traditional medicine and own disease control.
In Zimbabwe the Chinese have been allowed to establish a Chinese traditional medicine institute at the second largest referral Centre ahead of already existing African traditional medicine.
It is time alternative home-grown medical research and outcomes are accepted by medical and drug control authorities who are funded by Africa.
Most of the continent mimic European and American dressing, etiquette, food, drinks, and ceremonies. What is not seriously considered is that Africa has become depended on foreign brands for affirmation and acceptance. Super state brands like Gucci, Nike, Adidas and so forth are considered the standard and it seem not possible to fathom anything else.
African attempts at developing own brands, dress codes, consumption patterns and traditional ceremonies are increasingly become obsolete resulting in over reliance on super state supply chain in the sectors. Made in Africa is a sign of inferiority and cannot gain traction. In fact, adoption of home-grown dress codes, music, art, etiquette, norms and traditions is frown at as cultural regression.
The major albatross of innovating outside the familiar is lethargy to investing time, energy and intellect to design our own models. We are heavily reliant on Western ideology, education systems, democracy and politics. It is with doubt its system that work in the majority of African context because we are lazy to preserve the core and start new ways.
It is further unfortunate that we are still reliant on western educated intellectuals and a new breed of activist lawyers, journalists, civic society leaders and politicians. The world is paying our people to continue the mimic in every aspect of our lives disguised as activism. To imagine circumcision was only accepted and adopted when it came from the west after years of it being defined as genital mutilation.
If we do not wake up from the deep slumber, we shall continue to mimic and be subservient to the super states. The world will have nothing to fear from our continent. We have a choice, a say in this matter and that is Africa must desist from innovating around the familiar.
Brian Sedze is strategy consultant and President of Free Enterprise Initiative. Free Enterprise Initiative is an advocacy in public policy. He can be contacted on email@example.com