Friday, May 3, 2013

Solutions for African Progress: Harnessing the Power of The Third Sector

Wesley Old Student Association
Segbwema in Community Development
In most African countries, only two major players are recognized, the private sector and the public sector. By the private sector, we usually refer to the economic activity of individuals and firms for their sole benefit. Individuals in free market societies engage in economic transactions that will yield them the greatest satisfaction, or what economists term utility, though that term has different meanings in other disciplines. Firms are economic production units that have profit making as their primary purpose. In the majority of cases the self interest activities of individuals and firms fall under the private sector of the economy.

The public sector of the economy is the sector that is under government control. The activities of public sector organizations are aimed at maximizing the welfare of citizens, or at least they should be. There are occasional sector overlaps, where some institutions may fall under the private sector and a similar organization be public depending on the source of control and primary goal for its existence. For example government or public schools are usually set up to indirectly improve the welfare of citizens by providing them with education that will enhance their lifestyle, their skills set and increase their future earning potential. Private schools can also exist that can be engaged in helping the intellectual development of individuals, but the primary aim of its founders is usually to make some monetary gain from their operations.

In most African countries, economic society is comprised primarily of the private and public sectors and sometimes even economic textbooks at the secondary school classify all economic activity as being either under the private or the public sector activities.
Angelique Kidjo
African Philanthropist

Most African countries are at the threshold of economic development, with the public sector towering over major aspects of economic activities. In Subsaharan countries, most schools, hospitals, bus transportation, mineral and agricultural activities and the administration of utilities fall under the direct control of the government.

With government control over almost every major aspect of economic activity, the citizenry gradually come to view the government as the solution to all of society's problems. In my country Sierra Leone, there has been an attempt over the years at privatization, the main push coming from donor institutions like the world bank and the IMF, which view public run organizations in third world economies as bloated institutions characterized by excessive bureaucratic procedures, inefficiencies, redundancies, duplication and waste. In Sierra Leone for example, successive governments have been trying to build a single Dam, the Bumbuna Dam,for over forty years and to date the project is plagued by problems.
Self Help Project

Even where private firms are given contracts for infrastructural development in African countries, the level of direct or indirect government interference is stifling. As there is not much public sector accountability in most of these countries, much of the interference by the public sector workers in private activities is not for purposes of regulation, but to oil the wheels of illegal activities like bribes and kickbacks. There is hardly any public contract awarded in Sierra Leone in which public sector individuals do not receive the proverbial envelope under the table. In a lot of instances the amount of kickbacks firms are willing to part with become the primary basis on which decisions are made to award contracts. The story has been the same, regardless of which political party is in power. When it comes to corruption in Africa, the only difference between parties is the degree, but everybody has their hand in the cookie jar.

As technological infusion is progressing in African societies, this narrative is slowly starting to change. Social media is acting as a vehicle that is not only driving public awareness, but is slowly giving a greater voice to the common man. A fed up citizen in Makeni or Segbwema will see an illegal activity that he disagrees, use the Facebook app on his cellphone to inform a social forum on Facebook and before the end of the day, Sheku Sheriff in USA, Boye Jallo Jamboria in Norway or Khadi Mansaray in UK will know about it. By the start of the following week, Saidu K. Sesay in UK will have contacted Leslie Koroma in USA who will put a panel together of people in Europe, Africa and USA, upload the discussion to Spreaker, for transmission the next day to the rest of the world. (see Voices of Diaspora Forum on Facebook)
Fynda Fillie-Faboe
Sierra Leone Philanthropist

This technological empowerment of the citizens is creating a new phenomenon that is slowly starting to take shape. Citizens in these countries are slowly starting to realize that not only can they use social media for civic engagement in their countries, they can also harness this emerging technology for community development. Already there is a Segbwema Development Association group on Facebook in which there is an ongoing discussion by people from the area of Segbwema and Njaluahun all over the world, to mobilize financial resources for small scale development projects in the area. Facebook, Skype and google groups, have social chat and video functions that are now used for real FaceTime discussions by people in far flung corners of the world. Facebook and Skype are leading the way to make the world smaller allowing people to communicate for just the cost of their Internet connection. I now have friends on Facebook that I talk to everyday who I have never met in real life.
Women Empowerment

Given this trend, a third sector is therefore emerging in African countries. This involves citizens coming together not for private benefit, but to engage in the pursuit of the social good. Strictly defined, they neither belong to the private or public sector, but belong to what is known in advance countries as the third sector. In developed countries, this sector is described as the nonprofit sector. It comprises individuals coming together to solves problems that are neglected by the government and do not provide a profit incentive to the private sector. It is a sector that is driven by conscience rather than economic forces. By the desire to give rather than the desire to receive. This third sector is based on the Biblical philanthropic principle of "blessed is the hand that giveth than the one that taketh," or on the Islamic concept of "Zakaat" or charity. This sector will be less prone to the forces of corruption, as it will be driven mainly by the desire to do good. The desire of individuals to be the vehicles of change in their communities. the desire to rely on internal rather than external forces for societal progress. The sector is mission rather than profit based and represents the desire to give back for the blessings an individual has received in life.

As social media and other technological tools increase civic engagement and mobilize citizen led development, the third sector will slowly start to play an increased role in African societies and represent an alternative path to national development. There are bright times ahead in African countries, and citizens will lead the way.
Sheku Sheriff
Hamline University

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