Africa, which has experienced a decade of strong economic growth—its trade with the rest of world has increased by more than 200 percent—deserves a greater voice in the BRICS countries. South Africa found its place in the group in 2010, but it represents only the tip of the African iceberg. The group should consider including a “K” in its acronym for Kenya.
Kenya is a major investment destination and a worthy potential addition to BRICS. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 “Africa Attractiveness Survey,” Kenya’s foreign direct investment (FDI) in other African countries grew at an annual compounded rate of 77.8 percent between 2007 and 2012. That put it ahead of Nigeria (73.2 percent) and South Africa (66.2 percent).
When we look at the investment made by the BRICS countries in Africa, the questions that first come to mind are: What are the individual and collective motivations of the BRICS countries for investing in Africa, and which countries are the dominant voices? Discussion of these questions naturally focuses on interests in agriculture, natural resources, manufacturing and infrastructure. The political and social factors that inform these investment decisions are more complex and problematic, and commonalities are difficult to pin down.
The general consensus, however, is that Kenya has the potential to be the next African voice in BRICS, though the country’s political instability remains a major stumbling block.
Most experts in the field would agree that the original BRIC countries, before South Africa joined, were not well-equipped to meet the needs of their partners in sub-Saharan Africa. When South Africa entered the group in 2010, some said it was a major step forward, for it brought a much-needed African perspective to the equation.
At the time, Kenya was expected to be a major beneficiary of South Africa’s entry. Increased capital flows to South Africa would encourage firms to expand into the continent’s other frontier economies. South Africa came to be seen as the new gateway to Africa for firms in the U.S. and other countries wanting access markets across the continent. Today, however, these firms are now sidestepping South Africa and investing directly in Kenya.
Kenya has a long-standing history of engagement with the BRICS countries. India, for example, has long imported oil and other natural resources from the country, and it has an established economic and cultural presence in Kenya. Although minerals and oil still make up the vast majority of Brazil’s imports from Africa, the South American powerhouse has also demonstrated interest in investing in Kenya’s agricultural, auto manufacturing, construction, and healthcare sectors. Trade relations between Brazil and Kenya are growing rapidly, as the country is perceived as a hub for entrepreneurs and investors wanting access the broader East African Community (EAC).
It is no secret that China also has its large footprint in Kenya, mostly in infrastructure. It has recently announced a $13.8 billion railway project, which will connect Mombasa to Nairobi. The railway is expected to eventually extend to Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan. In August 2013 China and Kenya signed an agreement to deepen trade cooperation.
Although Russia has a less visible presence on the African continent, its investors have a clear interest in exploring for oil, natural gas, and minerals in Kenya, as well as in developing horticultural projects. Kenya and South Africa, meanwhile, continue to pave their own trade relationships. In January of this year they solidified an agreement that could eliminate administrative barriers and boost the exchange of goods and services between the two nations.
Considering Africa’s many distinct economies, it is difficult to envision South Africa forever remaining the only African voice in the BRICS group. Of all the possible African contenders for a new place in the group, Kenya seems the most logical choice and its possible inclusion should be discussed at future summits.
Morgan McClain-McKinney currently serves as Program Analyst for the Private Capital Group for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a unit committed to leveraging private investment in a range of sectors including agriculture, financial services, health and energy in support of development priorities that include both social impact and financial returns. She is passionate about supporting vulnerable populations by developing and implementing sustainable solutions for economic growth and entrepreneurship. Prior to her experience with USAID, she spent time on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. Department of State, engaging with International Organizations.
The views in this article reflect only those of the author and in no way represent the United States Government.
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington