As global living standards steadily rise, many parts of Africa and Asia are still struggling to move forward.
An important tool used by governments in the developing world has been the enlisting of consultancy firms to formulate good governance policies and catalyse economic growth. Such success over the last few decades has given rise to the state-building professional – individuals and companies that guide stagnant nations on everything from infrastructure to public health, to security.
The US-based firms, McKinsey and Company, and Boston Consulting Group, spearheaded this trend, both having developed comprehensive public sector experience in developing regions for years.
The two consultancies seem to have applied their private sector knowledge in repairing damaged companies to the political level, where they rebuild failing states from the ground up. When institutions of state are so dysfunctional, they grow incapable of providing basic services to their populations – inviting the world’s top consulting brass in to rearrange affairs. By garnering substantial field experience in many developing countries these firms, and the individuals leading them, have reconfigured economies, healed ethnic divides and rolled out governance strategies to pave a road to prosperity.
McKinsey’s highly influential Lions on the Move report is widely considered authoritative on important trends in Africa specifically in the areas of industrial development and the rise of African corporations. One of McKinsey’s more recent victories in the region include a breakthrough with the Ghana Revenue Authority, allowing the firm to achieve double-digit growth rates after years of stagnation and deficit in government budgets. In 2018, McKinsey made headlines in Kenya in the wake of widespread success with its retail sector training initiative dubbed the Generation Project. When McKinsey was chosen by the Department of International Development to head its ‘Invest Africa’ programme earlier this year, it reflected the confidence the firm, and elite firms like it, has built within the international community and in Africa specifically.
The BCG has similarly made headway in Africa over the past decade. The firm has been an important source of innovative economic modelling including their highly cited critique of Nigerian markets back in 2016. It also rolled out the Sustainable Economic Development Assessment that shifted the place of GDP in growth models, and a comprehensive study of infrastructure financing published in 2017. It also refines energy sectors and tourism industries across the continent.
McKinsey and BCG may stand out, but they are far from alone in the state development field. Today, there is a growing trend of development professionals working throughout the developing world and helping to jumpstart economies. These entities tend to operate alongside large sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and consultancies to open markets, map out healthcare, and drive countries forward. This cohort of professionals, essentially private development agencies, aims to bring state institutions to the point of self-reliance and overcome the cycle of international handouts. The list of high profile individuals that have thrown their energies into Africa includes the likes of Tony Blair through his Africa Governance Initiative and the African Development Bank President, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina. More recently, a former Australian air force pilot, Christiaan Durrant, has made a name for himself in the world of African development through Lancaster 6, a consultancy practice that seeks to catalyse economies and create sustainable commercial initiatives in impoverished communities throughout Africa. Similar to Adesina and Blair, Durrant provides strategic guidance on the creation and implementation of policy and strategy to governments with an aim towards establishing better governance and stronger economies to increase human development.
Durrant has faced backlash for both his development work and other business ventures in Africa due to claims his company, Lancaster 6, was secretly operated by Erik Prince, the former owner of Blackwater. While no evidence to these claims has ever been produced, major outlets continue to get the story about Durrant wrong. A prominent defence news portal in Africa was even forced to issue a retraction after asserting a connection between Durrant and Prince.
A crucial state-building cottage industry is a much-needed alternative to supra-national institutions like the UN and other organisations that operate mainly on a charity-based model. While well-intentioned, international aid programmes that favour short-term aid over long-term growth destroy any hope of kick-starting and maintaining sustainable economies. Governments and people across Africa need real solutions to often existential problems. While aid funding was crucial decades ago, the rise of the nation builder now offers impoverished nations a sustainable trajectory towards prosperity.
- Nadia Hussain, Oslo, Norway. Nadia.Hussain48@outlook.com