FOR THE RECORD
Olusegun Mimiko, at a recent lecture, postulated that by paying attention to certain details, especially youths, Africa will be unstoppable
Africa is already being described as the world’s youngest continent in terms of the average age of its population: by 2030, it is predicted that Africa will have the lowest dependency ratio of any region – in other words, the largest ratio of working-age population to the total. By 2040, Africa will have more than 1.4 billion people of working age – far surpassing China and India. This position has been corroborated by the United Nations World Population Prospects that by 2035, the number of Africans reaching working age (15-64) will exceed that of the rest of the world combined.
It is therefore imperative for Africa to leverage on its greatest strength, its future asset: the size and quality of youths across the continent.
The African Continent has not really seen the brightest side of life. Described as the “Hopeless Continent” during the chaotic 1990s that was characterized by anaemic growth and pervasive poverty; the continent experienced economic turmoil that crashed many economies at the time, all thanks to the stipulations and theories of the Bretton Wood Institutions whose economic theories were pushed through the throats of African Governments. Africa witnessed rising unemployment among the population, the currencies took a free-fall and sovereign debt crises ensued, thus, leaving Africa prostrate.
However in the late 2000s, after decades of slow and unimpressive development, a new vista of robust economic growth and improved governance emerged on the horizon, prompting a whole new narrative for the erstwhile gloomy continent. Africa Rising is the cliché that very much captures the glowing phase of growth emerging on the continent. From the ashes of centuries-old balkanization and subjugation, a new Africa, with guided optimism is gradually unfolding.
IN THE BEGINNING
In the long march of man from the cave to the computer, the international system had always been an unequal system. Africa’s contact and interaction with the developed world has been skewed and not quite beneficial to the continent.
The Managing Director of IMF, Christine Lagarde’s assertion at the 2014 Africa Arising Conference in Maputo that “when everybody benefits, growth is more desirable” aptly resonates the wise saying of the Yoruba that ‘ajoje o dun, b’ enikan o ni’. The above expressly captures the precarious situation of Africa in the global economy.
Africa’s contact with the rest of the world has remained at the expense of the continent. The two most important fallouts are the transatlantic slave trade and colonization. Africa’s dilemma during slave trade has become part of history but one of its permanent legacies is the African Diaspora, which has had ramifications for the development of the world in Europe and the Americas.
Strictly speaking, the African only became a slave when he reached a society where he worked as a slave. Before that, he was first a free man and then a captive. On the whole, the procedure by which captives were obtained on the African soil was not only debasing but demeaning. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry and kidnapping.
Many things remain unclear and uncertain about the slave trade and its consequences for Africa, but the general picture of destructiveness is clear, and the logical consequence of that destructiveness is yet to abate on the fortunes of Africa.
Beyond slave trade, European colonization after the partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 led to the looting of African treasures with impunity, and the establishment of an economic system to help perpetuate exploitation. The resultant effect of this great scramble was the truncation of genuine socio-economic and cultural evolution of the continent which readily manifested in the loss of everything of value to Africa – the economy, the culture, even the African psyche was undermined by this callous takeover. The continent could not develop at its own pace but became a caricature of the colonial overlords. It is unfortunate that, till this day, Africa is yet to untangle itself from the webs of colonialism.
The perceptive questions then are: were there any real prospects for independent Africa in the world? How far can the self-governing African States rise above poverty and want and catch up with the global community?
Although African states are today independent of colonialism, they remain heavily dependent and exploited under the effects of internal political failures, neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism. This dependency and exploitation has adversely affects the living conditions of millions of people in Africa, creating economic hardship and in some cases encouraging political repression.
Former Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah described neo-colonialism as the worst form of imperialism and capitalism the worst form of exploitation. These have hampered African countries and the continent has been unable to show brilliant performance in the management of her developmental efforts.
For instance, on the economic scene, most African States are neck deep in foreign debt, corruption, executive recklessness, and irresponsible economic policies and management. Majority of the African countries are faced with ‘debt crises, a situation of irredeemable debt while the resources that ought to make the Continent better off are repeatedly exported to the developed world.
This therefore raises some questions: To what extent has Africa truly arisen from the crucibles of its chequered past? To what extent is the continent positioned to capitalizing on its present advantages to create for itself a sustainable future? These and several other questions are begging for answers. It is my candid hope that the on-going conversation about African Renaissance will be further enriched by answering these questions.
IS AFRICA RISING? IF YES, WHAT TYPE OF RISING?
Grieve Chelwa in 2015 expressed concerns on whether Africa is rising or not. He stated that: “In the year 2000, the Economist ran a cover story with the title “Hopeless Africa”. Four years later, Robert Guest, who served as the Economist’s Africa Editor, published “The Shackled Continent”, a book that pretty much concluded that, barring any miracles, Africa’s future was bleak. The book was widely praised, not least of all by all-round Africa expert Bob Geldof who said “[it] was written with a passion for Africa and Africans”.
However, in 2011, the current era of Afro-euphoria signaled its triumphant entrance with the Economist’s Africa Rising cover story. In contrast to the Economists cover story of just a couple of years back, this one declared that there was hope for the hopeless continent. TIME Magazine of November 2012 also agreed with the Economist that Africa is the “world’s next economic powerhouse’.
There is now wide expectation, undergirded of course by the likes of the Economist, that growth will continue unabated going forward. The “Africa rising” narrative suggests that the continent is now well on its way to self-sustaining growth. There is the belief that Africa’s economic performance has signs of improved resilience to shocks and economic challenges. This is the kind of growth that the East Asian “tigers” and the countries known as the West experienced during the times they were rising – the kind of growth that has led to massive reduction in poverty in China within a generation.
African Development Bank Group’s 2015 Tracking Africa’s Progress in Figures confirms that African economies have sustained unprecedented rates of growth, driven mainly by strong domestic demand, improved macroeconomic management, a growing middle class, and increased political stability.
The Report further shows that Secondary-school enrolment grew by 48% between 2000 and 2008. Over the past decade deaths from malaria in some countries have declined by 30% and HIV infections by up to 74%. Life expectancy across Africa has also increased by about 10%.
Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth rose to 4.5% in 2015 and is expected to rise to 5% in 2016 after the subdued expansion of 2013 (3.5%) and 2014 (3.9%). The 2014 growth was about one percentage point lower than predicted in the2015 African Economic Outlook (AEO), as the global economy remained weaker and some African countries saw severe domestic problems of various natures. Despite the current global economic challenge, and if the AEO 2015 predictions are right, Africa will soon be closing in on the impressive growth levels seen before the 2008/09 global economic crisis.
It would be recalled that at the end of the cold war only three African countries out of 53 at the time had democracies; since then the number has raised to 25, with many more countries holding imperfect but worthwhile elections, 22 in 2012 alone! Only four out of now 55 countries—Eritrea, Swaziland, Libya and Somalia—lack a multi-party constitution. Armies mostly stay in their barracks and big-man leaders are becoming rarer, although some authoritarian states still exists.
Despite these, Africans should not allow the rhetoric of “Africa Rising” to give us a false sense of comfort thereby distracting us from the real work that we need to make happen.
UNIQUE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES
In 2015, The United Nations pronounced that demographically, Africa is a continent with up to forty percent of its population aged between 15 and 24 and more than two thirds below thirty years. The United Nations stated that the youth population in Africa is large (about 200 million, which is 20 percent of its population of more than 1 billion). According to the United Nations, Africa’s 2011 population was estimated at 1.05 billion and is expected to double by 2050.
Turning this huge demographic dividend into a development advantage for Africans is the herculean challenge facing government and policy makers in Africa. Africa is on a different developmental path from the rest of the world. Our challenges are vastly different and the way we approach these problems will define our trajectory, and ultimately our destiny as a continent.
It is my view that Africa as a continent should provide the opportunity for a unique type of leadership – the one that recognizes the inherent potentials of the continent’s youthfulness. Our youth are being exposed to the outside world more and more and are learning about other cultures other than their own, in and outside the continent. This new knowledge is shaping the way Africans think about the world and their responsibility to our continent.
This continent cannot afford to have youth second guessing themselves and their position in the world as people. The African leader has the unique challenge of keeping the African agenda a top priority in the minds of African youth. African leaders should therefore utilize mass orientation as a vital force to spearhead this change of heart within Africa and inspire the youth to believe in themselves.
In broad terms, the lack of opportunity for many of Africa’s youth is manifested in three ways: Unemployment: Africa’s transformative agenda is threatened by high level of unemployment, particularly among the youth. The situation is compounded by an increasing mismatch between the skills workers offer and those demanded by the labour market.
Migration: The recent horrifying incidents of mass drowning of young Africans in the Mediterranean Sea is a vivid testimony of their loss of confidence in the ability of the continent to deliver for them. In 2000, about 13% of international migrants, 22.8 million people, originated from Africa. In 2013, the numbers had increased by more than 60% to 16.2% and 37.5 million people. The main reason for migrating out of Africa is the search for opportunities and a brighter future.
Radicalization: Religious-inspired extremism has claimed the lives of more than 18,000 Africans in the last 4 years alone, according to the Global Terrorism Database. A recent report by a UN Panel of Experts stated that worldwide recruitment to extremism increased by 71% between January 2014 and March 2015 alone. The lack of opportunity among the youth is a key driver of radicalization that leads to violent extremism.
Migration and radicalization in Africa have a common socio-economic and political root with marginalization of youth being the common denominator. It is therefore imperative for Africa’s leaders to proactively take urgent steps to address the manifestations of youth marginalization while also dealing with its root causes.
LEVERAGING THE POWER OF A YOUNGER GENERATION
Politically, it is expedient to widen political and economic space for African youths. Young people have largely been left out of the recent economic growth in Africa, and they are not faring better in the political sphere.
Having a lot of young adults is good for any country or continent if its economy is thriving, but if jobs are in short supply it can lead to frustration and violence. Whether Africa’s demography brings a dividend or disaster is largely up to its leaders. With no obvious signs of population decline, Africa can tap into the immense talent and energy of its youths to create wholesome development and prosperity.
Culture is the way of life of a people. A nation that promotes and lives its culture is more likely to breed youths that are creative and that can readily proffer solutions to the multifaceted problems plaguing the society. Colonialism has eroded the African culture; and this has put the average African in a double-bind.
Re-orienting the general psyche of Africa’s young people towards embracing the values of the African culture, our indigenous languages, music, and literature will invariably help to foster originality in creative thinking thereby improving the fortunes of Africa as a whole.
It is a reality that investments in human capital are the most effective panacea for poverty alleviation of the individual and a catalyst for long term socio-economic development. The East and South-east Asian economies adopted this template with remarkable success. Levels of education in Africa are comparatively low creating a considerable skills gap among youth at working age. According to the African Development Bank, 25% of African youths are still illiterate and despite a rise in primary school enrolment from 60% in 2000 to 77% in 2011, the issue of low skills levels in the workforce continues to be a problem.
It is also a paradox that young people today are better educated than their parents, but this has not lifted their prospects of finding a job. Youth remain almost twice as likely to be unemployed than their elders. This is partly because of a mismatch between their skills and what is required for available employment opportunities.
The positive economic impact of the internet is well known. Mobile and internet platforms have increased access to improved agriculture, education, health, and governance services. Beyond these, Information Communication Technology (ICT) can also generate transformative growth that creates sustainable pathways to African youths.
All over Africa, there is a growing recognition that the digital economy can have net positive impact on jobs and income generation for young people. The current reality is that there are higher potential youths entering the workforce each year than there are new digital jobs being created.
Our Health reform agenda is designed to bring qualitative health care to the people, bring about equity in access to health care and also reduce or eliminate inequality in our healthcare delivery system.
It is a known fact that women represents 50% of our population and must be given serious attention. This constitutes about 40-50% workforce in Africa and they are needed to bring Africa out of the woods. Across Africa, women face an array of barriers to achieving their full potentials from restrictive cultural practices to discriminatory laws and highly segmented labour market. Eliminating gender inequalities and empowering women could raise the productive potential of one billion Africans delivering a huge boost to the continental development potential.
In the last two decades, African economies have recorded phenomenally positive structural transformation as a result of improved macroeconomic management, a growing middle class, rapidly changing food system, and increased domestic demand. Its agricultural commodities, coupled with natural resources have accounted for about 35% of the growth since 2000 (Africa Economic Outlook, 2013). It is a paradox that with these positive indices, Africa is still plagued with high levels of poverty, food insecurity and inequalities which have continued to hamper continental growth.
Forty per cent of globally arable land is located in Africa, yet less than 10% is cultivated. No priority is therefore, more important for African Government than utilizing agribusiness incubation programmes to create economic opportunities and alleviate poverty among young men and women.
A major challenge in the empowerment of African youths for entrepreneurship development is lack of access to small and medium business financing. Research by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that up to 84% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are either un-served or underserved, representing a value gap in credit financing of US$140- to $170 billion.
Capital in Africa is still a serious concern and majority of the entrepreneurs (76%) source of financing are personal and banks are not willing to provide loans simply because their loans are not tailored for business start-ups. This poses a herculean challenge to African leaders.
A veritable way of leveraging the dynamism of African young population is to create opportunities for them to be job creators as against job seekers. Economic policies must be recalibrated to provide a pool of investible funds for young entrepreneurs with fundable plans. Additionally, African leaders should consider the setting-up of “Special Fund for Entrepreneurship Development & SMEs” with the objective of catalysing the productive capacity of African youths and consequently enhancing their livelihoods.
The fact that Nigeria now produces more movies than America does is incontrovertible. Nollywood has become a 3 Billion dollar industry, bigger than Hollywood by volume and also Nigeria’s largest employer of labour after Agriculture. The youth-dominated film-makers, novelists, designers, musicians and artists now thrive in a new climate of hope.
African Youths have taken the centre stage in Film, Fashion and Fun!
Nollywood generates an impressive $590 million annually and have more than 1 million people, especially the youth. I am impressed at how our young people have used their entrepreneurial and acute sense of creativity to put Nigerian and African music, film and arts culture on a global scale. Government must invest directly in the creative industry, create an enabling environment and invest in security measures and innovative technologies to banish piracy.
Ultimately, Africa must invest and encourage intra-African Tourism to promote the people, their unique creativity and the economy. This is imperative considering the World Tourism Organisation statistics that “global tourism amounts to $3 Billion per day out of which Africa has just 5.2%”
The fact that Africa is industrially backward is incontestable. While it keeps expecting technology transfer from the North, the simple fact is that the technologically advanced countries are racing, unperturbed. Africa must invest in her youths in the realm of technology especially computer technology and communications. Concerted intra-African collaborative efforts must be made on Infrastructure, Power, Rail and access to capital. A clear industrial policy is long overdue for Africa.
The 21st Century and beyond will definitely bring about great challenges that might transcend human comprehension. It is therefore imperative for African Youths to be the focal point of technological and industrial investment in our own interest.
Sport has an important contribution to make in creating a prosperous continental economy. Sport can contribute to the economy by providing direct employment and contributing to economic output and incomes through sport businesses and services and the manufacture of sport goods.
In the United States, a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation shows the important role the active-outdoor-recreation industry plays in the nation’s economy. Figures from the study indicate the industry (i.e. bicycling, camping, fishing, hunting, paddling, snow sports, trail and wildlife viewing) pumps an astonishing $730 billion into the U.S economy annually; generates $289 billion annually just in retail sales and services across the U.S; supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across the U.S. (i.e. one in every 20 Americans); generates $88 billion in annual state and national tax revenue and touches over 8 percent of America’s personal consumption expenditures which equals more than $1 in every $12 circulating in the economy.
Africa must intensify efforts to change the laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. This may be government-initiated or government-backed, especially agricultural land. Aggressive Land Reforms is our best option as this will create access to credit, expand the means of doing business and encourage formalization of the informal sector so as to protect and to enforce land holder’s rights and land tenure security for all citizens without any discrimination.
It is evident that the vision of African Renaissance can only be fully realized if we take practical steps at leveraging our demographic advantage – large population of youth. In other words, African youths must be mobilized and equipped to help drive Africa’s integration, peace and development agenda.
The youths belong to a key segment of the population and are an essential pillar without which no meaningful development can be achieved. Their great potentials, dynamism, resourcefulness, resilience, and aspirations are invaluable social capital that the continent must not only harness but which must be invested in and channeled towards a more sustainable future for Africa.
The way to go for Africa to rise from the development back waters is to leverage on the capacity and potentials of the youth for breakthrough. My take is that this option must be aggressively pursued to salvage the continent from growth and development reversal
Africa has a peripheral economy having been heavily dependent on the North for survival. The continent is thereby controlled by the core capitalists especially in the areas of needs and raw materials. The 21st Century and beyond will witness an even more aggressive scramble than hitherto for the domination of international trade by the developed world through the transnational conglomerates.
The resource flow from the poor countries of the South, Africa inclusive, to the developed countries of the North is not likely going to abate, at least, not very soon. Regrettably, the current global economic challenge is already reducing the quantum of Foreign Direct Investment while some currencies like the Naira is falling steeply with no solution in sight. Africa therefore needs serious thinking on what it wants to do with her economy not only in the long run but most importantly, in the short run.
Africa must set priorities. Despite the present unfavourable economic climate, African Countries must do everything possible to build infrastructures that would ultimately serve as the foundations for whatever exploits the youths will perform. Africa needs to industrialize for it to really rise and the entire associated industrial infrastructure viz energy, roads, communications, transportation must be made strong and durable.
Also, democratic and governance institutions must be strengthened to checkmate possible democratic reversals across the Continent. Despite the fact that most African states practices governmental models that are far from being truly democratic in content and character, the future of the youths are still better safeguarded within the ambits of the Ballot Box. Every hand must therefore be on deck to ensure that transparency and accountability reign supreme in Africa. Much as we need strong institutions, we still cannot rule out intellectually strong men to drive Africa out of the woods.
We must as a matter of urgency, re-jig our development trajectory towards industrialization; encourage intra-African trade; share technology; protect our intellectual property and have a common position on World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements. Every African leader must appreciate that conflict has been built into our geography by the colonialists so we must avoid what Paul Collier has famously referred to as “conflict trap”
Finally, African Countries must in their own interests build the people, especially the youths. Africa’s greatest potential is its people. They are the tools needed by the continent to grow and develop. The mistakes of the past must be corrected. This era is rooted in a powerful truth, Africa’s most valuable resource is not its soil, its diamonds nor its oil; it is the talent and creativity of its people. Africa must leverage on the powers of the younger generation to rise.
-Mimiko, the Ondo State Governor, delivered this abridged address at the Africa Business Conference, 2016 of the Lagos Business School (Pan Atlantic University) on Thursday, March 3, 2016