Some people are flying. Other people are crawling, laughing derisively at the notion that flight is possible. What I am about to share is a small case in point about how Nigeria and Africa in general suffer from a scarcity of ideas.

Over the past 24 months, the Naira has depreciated by roughly 80%, leading to consumer inflation in our import-heavy economy, and a renewed call to diversify the economy away from oil and increase non-oil export earnings. Sounds like rocket science right? Well, I will propose one simple solution using myself as a case study, and then compare that with what the government has been doing.

The attached picture is a recent news article based on a press release from the Ministry of Agriculture. The minister, a geriatric career politician called Audu Ogbeh has been a political appointee since my late dad was in high school. His proud achievement is that Nigeria has just exported 72 MT of yam tubers to the UK and the US. Never mind that Nigeria’s yam production is not enough to satisfy domestic demand, and yam prices have doubled since last week – this is “diversification”. The country is earning foreign exchange from a non-oil source.

Clap clap clap.

Now here’s my idea.

At as December 2016, Nigeria had 96 million unique internet users, and a literacy rate of just over 60%. That means that there are about 90 million Nigerians who can read and write, and have internet access. This population is very poor, with a monthly minimum wage of N18,000 (about $50). If just 10 million Nigerians can be put to work in cheap outsourcing solutions for customer service, content creation, coding and IT support at an average of $100/month, Nigeria would earn about $1bn/month in forex without having to spend a fortune.

All it would take is a token investment in work spaces, cheap computers, and 9 hours of guaranteed electricity per day. The beneficiaries will be responsible for providing their own Internet access. India runs a similar system successfully, contributing positively to their balance of payments and the stability of the Rupee. Earning foreign exchange does not necessarily require backbreaking effort expended on drilling, mining, manufacturing, harvesting etc. Intellectual content earns foreign exchange in even bigger numbers.

The skills are already there. The global market opportunity is there. I personally have dealt with only 5 Nigerian clients since we launched Nova Nigeria last August. The overwhelming majority of work we have done has been for clients we have never seen in person. We are based here in Lagos but we bill foreign clients, helping Nigeria’s balance of payments. The investment required is minimal, and the only limitation is the strength of our ideas and execution.

10 million Nigerians engaged in bottom-level outsourcing can earn Nigeria $12bn annually. India earns $150bn annually from this system. At $300/tonne, I wonder how many metric tonnes of yam tubers Audu Ogbeh will have to export to match such a contribution to Nigeria’s foreign reserves. India makes an amount that is equal to Nigeria’s budget for 5 years every year from outsourced solutions – essentially just the condensed brainpower of their citizens. It is possible in Nigeria too. All it takes is a healthy imagination and a belief in the power of possibility.

But the old men like Mr Ogbeh and his boss are prisoners of their own lack of imagination, trapped in the empty cupboard of their own bare minds. And so Nigeria will keep on advertising the export of a few containers of unprocessed agricultural output to African food shops in New York as an achievement, while the world explores vertical farming and other innovations which will render our pitiful exports irrelevant in a few years.

Until Audu Ogbeh and his geriatric generation of African “leaders” mercifully step aside, or die in power. Whichever comes first.

Reblogged on reviewnaija.com with permission.

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