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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The true measure of Africa’s rise is the quality and capacity of its human resources

Few individuals, especially the so-called experts, really understand Africa. This is partly because there is not single comprehensible thing called Africa. Africa and the countries that comprise it is a colonial invention.

Africa is an immensely vast continent, historically and culturally complex. Africa is larger than the United States, China and Europe put together. Africa is about the same size as South America, Australia and India put together. Africa is truly confounding.

On May 11, 2000, a bunch of editors in sitting in London wrote off a continent. They wrote, “No one can blame Africans for the weather, but most of the continent's shortcomings owe less to acts of God than to acts of man. These acts are not exclusively African—brutality, despotism and corruption exist everywhere—but African societies, for reasons buried in their cultures, seem especially susceptible to them”. The Economist declared Africa “The Hopeless Continent”.

In the run-up to the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, this club of wealthy and powerful nations advocated for increased aid to Africa to catalyze growth. Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa report declared that Africa was a “scar on the conscience of the world”.

On March 2, 2013 The Economist wrote, “This special report will paint a picture at odds with Western images of Africa. War, famine and dictators have become rarer. People still struggle to make ends meet, just as they do in China and India”. The Economist editors picked up, dusted up Africa and proclaimed “Africa Rising”. And yes, African people were just like Chinese and Indians, normal.  And experts just don't get it.

What changed in just 12 years? How did Africa suddenly rise? Something just did not happen overnight or in one decade. The Economist was wrong in 2000. They did not understand Africa then, and they certainly don't understand Africa today. And the G8 was wrong too. Africa does not need simple solutions like aid.

Africa rose when it was written off, and the global agenda shifted to America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Africa rose because of the neglect and apathy of the international community. According to the World Bank growth in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 4.7 percent in 2013 to circa 5.2 percent in 2014.  Africa’s economic growth surged largely because of rising investments in natural resources, infrastructure and strong household spending; not foreign aid.

However, even after more than a decade of strong economic growth real and urgent challenges persist. Africa remains one of the most food-insecure parts of the world. More than 40 percent of Africa’s children are stunted. 30 million children in sub-Sharan Africa are out of school. Unemployment among Africa’s youth is over 50 percent and most of them lack employable skills. Women participation in paid labour remains low. Agricultural production is now just one-third of Asia's levels. Over 70 percent of Africa’s growing urban population do not have access to water and sanitation.

So who’s Africa is rising? The perpetual traffic gridlock in Africa’s major cities is evidence of a bulgding middle class, even though the definition of Africa’s middle class is not settled. The structure of Africa’s growth are revealing, and explain why there is no trickle down.

Agriculture and Africa’s rural economy are comatose yet over 75 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population are employed directly in this sector. Climate change and especially drought, poor soils, rising cost of inputs, lack of appropriate technology have contributed to the stagnation of Africa’s agricultural sector. The majority of Africa’s agricultural workers are women, who lack prperty rights, have no access to financial and extension services. Africa’s agriculture is yet to benefit from the demographid dividend because a majority of the unemployed and unskilled youth are attracted to off-farm opportunities.

To deepen the impressive GDP growth of the past decade, Africa must double its investment in  human capital, especially women and youth, and harness the vast potential of its agriculture. Africa can lead the world by leveraging its hugely successful ICT revolution to power a truly 21st century, smart African Green Revolution.

According to Obiageli Ezekwesili, Africa’s untapped potential is not its oil or gas or minreals or timber or soils. Africa’s untapped potential is its people. The true meausure of Africa’s rise is not GDP growth. The true measure of Africa’s rise is its human capacity and the opportunities it creates for women and youth.

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