Thursday, March 23

Our Rural Economies Are Unproductive

By Dr. Sam Amadi

I visited Owerri, Imo State, for the funeral of my late sister last week. I had opportunity to visit the home village for the burial. As it is usual with me, I walked through the villages in the town (sorry I continue to use the word ‘village’, but not pejoratively).

As I walked with my driver I started a conversation about development in the local communities. Of course, there are beautiful houses of sons and daughters who have made good in the major cities in Nigeria and across the world. These edifices add a sense of well-being to communities that are not thriving in any economic sense. In my community, there are many entertainment centers that convey a false impression of a real city life. Young men and women manage to live the good life, in spite of economic rustiness. Drinks and cruise everywhere. Life seems good; except you look underneath.

As a development scholar and professional, I don’t get fooled by the illusion of well-being. I always like to ask critical questions. First, how does the average Joe in the community make a living? Is it through sustainable economic activities that can be scaled up, or through remittance? Is the economy in the rural community a bubble? Always, the answer is that there is no real economy in these communities. People eat and drink but they don’t produce much of their purchasing power in the communities.

They either earn elsewhere and return to the village to enjoy or they are recipients of the numerous remittances from national or international diaspora.

The point is that the rural economy in Nigerian communities lack a lifewire. It is not founded on any production or economic activity that is rooted in the community. The rural people are either spending what their family members in cities send home as remittances or some percolations from political rents in the city capital. These are supplemented with proceeds of local crimes. But really, there is no economic life.

There can be no real economic development of the magnitude we saw in Asia, especially China and South Korea except we re-conceive rural or local communities to be economically alive and local people to be creators and producers of economic values.

It is the work of leadership to restructure community life and rewire the incentive structures that sustain well-being in the rural or local communities. The state government is the most important driver of such transformation in a federal state, even as development-oriented central leadership will do the political heavy-lifting required to push society onto such a productive path.

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