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Rui Oliveira

Degree:

Diploma in Strategy and Innovation

Location:

Angola

Industry:

Asset Management

Year:

2019

By Rui Oliveira

It is the Kimbo’s way: Angola’s pathway to social innovation

Jean-Jacques Rousseau so eloquently said “men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains,” but if so, then the civil society to which all men are “chained” to, Burke argued, must be governed by a social contract upon which “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” is reflected (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract & Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France).

Kimbo of Vila de Cangamba, East of Angola

Figure 1: Kimbo of Vila de Cangamba, East of Angola

Long before its emergence as a democratic, pseudo capitalist nation, known for its exceptional abundance in (arguably) one of the world’s most valuable commodity – oil – Angola, was a vast land of different communities, what came to be known as Kimbos–a set of houses that form a rural agglomeration or community–usually, run by a male leader known as the Soba, whom through matrilineal lineage, had political and economic centralised power of command.

And, although, after independence, and, later due to its 30 yearlong armed conflict, there’s been a significant increase in mobilisation of people from rural, farming areas to urban centres in search of a safer environment and better opportunities for income generation, resulting in accelerated levels of urbanisation, the Kimbo culture can still be felt among these now miscellaneous “modern” Angolan communities. This, ultimately, led to a significant knowledge gap and a split of ideologies across generations – one which caters for a democratic political system, technology advancements and new economic thinking, and other which feels that this progressive thinking is pervasive to its traditional ways of living.

Whether we find Rousseau’s and Edmund’s assertions strenuous or even trifling to relate to our modern times, history, from premodern Ottoman Empire to modern America, has undeniably shown us that a nation’s social contract between the sovereign and the general will of the people, based on four factors — property rights, scientific rationalism, effective capital markets, and efficient communication and mobilisation – coalesced with the country’s institutional context (labour markets, capital markets, openness, political and social system), may lead a nation to prosperity (when in presence of), but a lack thereof is a recipe for a decaying state. And, as the country now strives to amend previously incorrect state of affairs, then here, I believe, lies the key to understanding and perhaps help steer the Angolan Sovereign’s political and economic function to effective reforms built around social innovation, with sole purpose of fostering inclusion and well-being through improving social relations and promotion of empowerment processes.

Never, before, in history, has Angola faced enormous social-economic challenges, where an inefficient public machine continues to crush the private sector, and will now likely be forced to exit it perhaps less cordially. As the capacity of fiscal policy to promote economic stimulus is almost nil, with successive fiscal deficits, that is, the lack of fiscal savings and public debt to face these already existing deficits of 100% of GDP, associated with the lack of domestic savings, reducing economic options to: (i) Renegotiation of external and domestic debt to free fiscal capacity; (ii) Mobilisation of external savings in the form of foreign direct investment; both only possible with a quick and decisive economic reform to put the country in the map of investment destinations. Furthermore, many of our great social challenges today as Angolans—those of poverty, community displacement, income inequality, literacy, weak institutional context, political patronage and nepotism, and, poor infrastructure, to name a few—are all direct outcomes of an ideological dilemma that policymakers, and dare I say, all Angolans, still face, of what should constitute the country’s social contract.

A Soba and his wives

Figure 2: A Soba and his wives

But in Angola, this has proven not to be a simple task. In the Kimbo’s culture it is the Soba’s sole duty to provide safety and guarantee the wellbeing of the community, to be the “Pai Grande” – the argot for a person with immense or absolute authority – not of its members; If there is a drought, the Soba must find the solution, if there are disputes between the members of the kimbo, it is up to the Soba to gather consensus, if there is a pandemic, the Soba seeks a healer to find the cure for this plague. So, for instance, when a high Government ranked official favours hiring relatives or assigns a Government funded project to a close relative, it is not seen as nepotism, but rather as a duty and right if he or she is the breadwinner of the family.

Furthermore, Angolan policy makers must be aware that the ambition to reach inclusion and shared prosperity across the nation, can only be achieved through a series of structural changes, aimed at establishing a new growth model to overcome institutional voids (See figure 3).

The institutional context in Angola. Based on the model of institutional voids by Tarun Khanna, Krishna G. Palepu and Jayant Sinha, 2005

Figure 3: The institutional context in Angola.
Based on the model of institutional voids by Tarun Khanna, Krishna G. Palepu and Jayant Sinha, 2005

As a result of the large population mobilisation, the abrupt process of urbanisation brought the convergence of two cultural structures that, in truth, contradict each other. Hence, our inability to decrease the Government’s presence in the productive sectors of the economy, resulting in corruption and poorly managed public funds – But, how are they to be blamed? And who are we to demand of them a servant leadership, after all, they are in their birth right “Sobas”, and as Edmund Burke would say “if the king were to bring himself to echo this new kind of address, to adopt it in terms, and even to take the appellation of Servant of the People as his royal style, how either he or we should be much mended by it, I cannot imagine.”

I urge us to see that therein lies the future of our demise as a society: the absence of property rights, not only for physical property, but also intellectual property, and of a strong functioning private sector, surely belittles the innovator’s or businessman’s motivation to create and produce beyond his most immediate needs. Bernstein, William J reminds us of this: “The modern developed nation is a “service state” that actively provides public goods that enhance commerce.” (The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created)

Thus, it will take more than merely possessing physical objects or natural resources or even great quantities of money to bring national prosperity. Rather, it will be an institutions-based framework, rooted in our traditional themes of solidarity and community living, where people can interact with one another, transfer skills and scientific knowledge, develop innovative solutions to social problems, these solutions can then be placed in a structured opened marketplace to be funded and brought to light.

Though as tempting as it may be, we must not overlook the progress that has been made in the past years. For instance, we now have a less opaque Government; strict rules are now in place to combat and prevent money laundry and corruption; we have cleared 100,000 landmines (is estimated to have 1,100 minefields remaining) since the war ended, allowing for safer mobilisation across the country; the capital markets is maturing, it has a functioning secondary bond market with a stock exchange and a nascent fund management market segment; the Government’s refocus on social sector, national budget spending in health and education has increased over the years, expecting a 40.7% absorption of fiscal expenditure, representing a 27.6% increase from previous year – but, there is still much to be done.

It is therefore, important to recall that it took most of the second millennium for the Western world to correct its missteps in overcoming a lack of property rights, capital markets and the absence of effective communication and transportation and enjoy the fruits of its labours. But this fact should not discourage us, quite the contrary, in fact, it should give us a clear glimpse of how a nation can thrive, if the right innovative strategy is at heart, one which social infrastructure is built to safeguard and provide for community resilience.

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  • Gil Miguêns

    Well done. In fact we are just a few century behind western countrys with great oportunity to avoid the same mistakes.
    However, its not realistic believe that we can move forward by coping models from abroad, negligent the cultural roots and lack of people educated to fullfill the needs of a developed country.
    May its time to accept the stage of development we are now, and on near future statrting evaluate if is the western country democracy, will work on the best interest of the African people. The pandemic moment we are living now, show us may be is too soon to follow the steps of democracy and keep the model with “Pai Grande” as we have in our Kimbos.
    GM