Leadership and economic growth: learning from the Brazilian example – By Temitope Adeyinka

The economy of Brazil is bigger than the economy of all 54 African countries put together! Going a bit granular, Brazil’s economy is 2 times bigger than the economy of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. To equal the economy of Brazil, you’ll have to add twice the Nigerian economy on top of all 54 African countries. In simple arithmetic, it means:

Brazil = Africa + 2X(Nigeria)

As at 2002, just ten years ago, the GDP of Brazil was a little over $500 billion, foreign debts were over $160 billion and foreign reserves a paltry $17 billion. On 1 January 2003, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva assumed the presidency of Brazil and within 8 years, he grew Brazil’s economy to a whopping $2.1 trillion!

The thrust of his administration’s economic agenda was combining free market policies with expanded social welfare programs. Under Lula, Brazil’s economy grew at its fastest pace in decades – 31 million Brazilians were moved into the middle class and 20 million were lifted out of absolute poverty. Unemployment was brought down from a high of 12.5% in 2003 to 7% when he left office in 2010.Lula steered Brazil from being the world’s largest emerging-market debtor nation for decades to becoming a net foreign creditor. Brazil’s staggering debt which was over $180 billion in 2003 was all paid up within 4 years. Brazil’s international reserves swelled from $17 billion when Lula took power to $188 billion in early 2008. Brazil became a net creditor to IMF and gave more than China to the World Bank’s IDA fund for the poorest countries.

Some argued that Lula was simply lucky to preside over Brazil at a time of commodities boom and massive petroleum discoveries. However it is to Lula’s credit that he built strongly on the solid macroeconomic policies inherited from his predecessor Fernando Cardoso and managed to strengthen Brazil’s economy despite a crisis of confidence in 2002. If it all boils down to luck and boom then successive prodigal rulers in Nigeria wouldn’t have frittered away huge oil windfalls of many years with nothing to show for decades of billions or perhaps trillions in oil revenues.

Lula’s promise to his people in 2002 was, “…I will do all a human being is capable of doing… I will do all that is possible for our people to start smiling once more, for there to be new hope and for the economy to start growing again”.

After 2 terms as president and within 8 years, many in Brazil and across the globe believe Lula has achieved just what he promised: Brazil’s economy has grown, emerging from the global financial crunch faster and healthier than most other nations. Government coffers have swollen with profits from the commodities boom and an increasingly diverse export portfolio, poverty levels have been slashed and the middle-class has become the majority for the first time in Brazilian history.

Nigeria presently shares a lot in common with Brazil – well the Brazil pre-Fernando Cardoso and Lula da Silva. A huge population nearing 200 million people. A history of military dictatorship, reckless economic policies, economic inequality with huge gap between a few rich elite and a vast poor masses, increasing foreign debt and dwindling foreign reserves, endemic corruption, collapsed infrastructure. Brazil has managed to leave most of these behind largely within the past 10 – 12 years and making progress in tackling the remaining few.

Yet Nigeria and indeed Africa seem to be on a cusp of economic growth. We cannot afford to have average men steer us through this inflection point let alone clueless men and treasury pillagers. We need men in the mould of Lula da Silva who will build on the little gains of the past and set a clear course for the future. We don’t need men who keep re-inventing unnecessary wheels, setting up useless committees to audit the works of other useless committees. We need men who know how to synthesize – bringing together the diverse wheels of free market ideologies with social welfarism. We need men with spine who know what to do and who will get their hands dirty doing it. We need LEADERS!