For Olopade, for many places in sub-Saharan Africa, the informal economy is the only economy – generating, on average, half of all economic activity.
In a rare case of the author resorting to statistics, she quotes a study undertaken in Lagos, by the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, which found that “nearly 94% of the city’s businesses operated outside the law”. The study goes on to add: “This [informal] labour is worth $50bn – bigger than both the annual foreign
assistance to Nigeria ($11.4bn) and foreign investment in Nigeria ($5.4bn).”
It should be pointed out that the spirit of Kanju is found operating practically everywhere, such as within the indigenous NGOs that spring up in Africa to fill the gaps that are left by their international counterparts.
Olopade refers to Dr Lynette Denny, who manages the Khayelitsha Cervical Cancer Screening Project out of two metal shipping containers; and then goes on to describe how the Ghanaian journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ investigation firm, Tiger Eye, using the Kanju formula, fearlessly collects and exposes corruption and misdeeds.
Her style is refreshingly breezy, and displays an inherent confidence that belies her youth. Through a number of anecdotes, she makes her case in a compelling way
Throughout the book, the spirit of Kanju is identified in various modes – from internet scammers to informal traders; from indigenous NGOs to investigative journalism – and is even evident in national identities such as she found on a visit to Hargeisa and the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland (as yet, unrecognised internationally).
“For all its rough edges, Somaliland is an example of Kanju achievements in the shadow of state dysfunction,” Olopade writes, adding, “and it’s another reminder of the formality bias that pervades development and foreign affairs … against all logic, Somaliland is a comparatively functional government of, by and for its people.”
In a chapter that is simply entitled “Stuff we don’t want”, Olopade notes: “Channelling charity from fat economies [i.e. the global north] to lean ones in Africa is a 50-year habit, with a dubious payoff.” She acknowledges the work of Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist, whose devastating analysis of the international aid industry in books such as Dead Aid, has received so much attention.
Olopade believes that, in addition to Moyo’s argument regarding the inefficiencies of international aid, and the damage it does to local economies, that “in many situations, earmarked aid leaves the recipient country in the form of salaries, per diem allowances, and ‘hardship pay’ for employees of the World Bank; JICA (JAPAN); DfID (Great Britain); SIDA (Sweden); SNV (the Netherlands); Norad (Norway); or the rest of the alphabet soup”. A little later, calling it “outside-in aid”, she concludes: “For years now, the donor economy has been both inefficient and out of touch.”
The family map (said to be ‘the original social network’) has an entire chapter devoted to it, and reflecting Olopade’s own family’s circumstances, explores the role of the diaspora in Africa’s current story. Reflecting how the centrality of family networks is so crucial, she recalls how the family house’s spare bedroom hosted successions of aunts and uncles (only some of whom were blood relations) who had followed her parents in fleeing Nigeria’s years of military dictatorship.