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An Analogy Of The Scrabble Board With Nigeria’s Economic Growth

The Oasis Reporters

December 31, 2020

By Datong, DG

Professor Ricardo Hausmann in 2015 gave a lecture that explains the secrets of economic growth by likening it with the board game called SCRABBLE. He likened the scrabble tiles to the level of knowledge that society has; its “quantity” and its “relatedness”. The more letters we have, the more words we are able to make and also the longer our letters will be.

His analogy suggested that each word made, is like a product. Some products are very simple and may contain just a “letter” long while other products can be complex, containing a combination of many letters.

This analogy may describe the subsistence farming in Africa as a word with say three letters while an aircraft that contains combination of knowhows to be 20 words. In fact, the letters in advanced countries can form sentences.

If you have played scrabble before you will understand that there are times when you will have the scrabble tiles and you’d be unable to make any word at all, sometimes leading to a discard to pick new tiles. This analogy suggests that it is not just ok to have knowledge, but to have relevant knowledge that can easily fit into the society’s needs.

You can have as many professors but if they form the irrelevant combinations of “consonants”, no word can be formed.

Society therefore makes economic progress when it tailors it’s knowledge and skills in such a way that they become related enough to solve its problems.

I wonder very little that Nigeria is not able to make any progress because we are not able to harness our knowledge to solve our societal problems. Our workplaces are littered with the struggle to balance a good combination of tribal and religious sentiments rather than relevant skill. Our letters, in Hausmann’s analogy are tribes and religions which we belong to, therefore the only words we can create are hatred leading to daily conflicts.

Today we are a country of millions of graduates in various fields but ignore those skills to roam the streets, while society’s needs continually degrade to miserable levels.

Our politics is zoned via ethnic compasses, our security is a concoction of unprofessionalism carefully guided by ethnic and religious protectionism. We ignore the need to have skills rule our quest to solve societal problems.

Do you wonder why Nigerians excel when they leave the borders of this country? Their skills (letters) fit exactly with those of others to make words and to fit them into sentences.

Back home, we have skills that are deliberately disconnected and kept so by strong bars of religion and ethnicity.

Government would not inject money into Innoson Automotive Industries (Innoson Motors) because there is no counterpart car manufacturing companies in the other Geopolitical zones to balance the ethnic biases. This company has the potential to employ engineers from all parts of the country. Similar cases dot the country here and there.

Nigeria has a large number of tailors for example, yet, they work individually in the name of self-reliance and in the end, our clothes come from India that may have less number of tailors than we do. Harnessing the skills of these tailors in a company will give Nigeria the ability not only to reduce drastically, the importation of clothes but also to make it sell to other countries leading to increased wealth for Nigerians and Nigeria.

Our farmers overburden themselves with hard labour due to the lack of support technology has already developed in tractors, harvesters, fertilizers, herbicides and simple relevant information on farming. Yields from our farmlands are one-tenth of their capacities because our “letters” deliberately don’t add up to words.

We must build our skills looking at what we want to achieve as a people and deliberately combine them to form products of our needs. Our skills and tools must not be too diverse as to make them irrelevant.

Written by Datong, D.G.

Conflict, Security and Development Expert.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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