Economic development: Kola Karim says African countries should be more ‘selfish’

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Kola Karim Picture: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

The need for greater regional economic integration among African nations has for long been a popular theme at conferences.

However, businessman Kola Karim believes countries should concentrate on developing their own economies before worrying about regional integration.

“Integration is something we push in Africa, but it never works,” said Karim, CEO of Nigeria-based Shoreline Energy International.

He was commenting on a suggestion for improved regional cooperation to develop West Africa’s power sector during a panel discussion at last week’s Africa Oil and Power conference, held in Cape Town, South Africa.

“Look at Japan. Japan is a country that doesn’t have any natural resources. Their source of energy is imported – all of it. So why could [African] countries not devise a process that is self-facing, self-standing and self-sufficient for their own needs first? You feed yourself and become self-sufficient before you start thinking of others,” Karim noted.

“The more you think about this ‘regional’, ‘inter-Africa’, ‘inter-connection’, that is where we keep stepping back.”

He said the reasons why regional initiatives often fail is because countries have different goals and not the same financial muscle. “What Nigeria wants, might not be where Ghana wants to be tomorrow. And what Togo wants is not where Ghana wants to be next week.”

Using the example of cocoa, Karim said countries should maximise their domestic resources. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are among the world’s biggest cocoa producers, but most of the crop is exported in raw form, with little processing done locally.

“Africa today is the largest producing continent of cocoa… But please tell me how many chocolate factories… are based here?

“Let’s look at basics… Let’s deal with it on a [national] level first. Let Ghana be selfish. What will make Ghana thrive? Then [Ghana] becomes successful, and then other countries will copy that. That’s what we need to focus on.”