“We have to be impatient in moving Africa forward”, noted Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), and 2017 World Food Prize, during the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa, held in 2016.
Why the need for haste? Because it cannot longer be business as usual in Africa.
For years – in fact for centuries, development in Africa has failed to equal the continent’s greatness: as the cradle of humankind and the second largest continent in the world.
As of 2019, Africa still ranks as the continent with the lowest GDP and hosts 10 of the poorest countries in the world. About 427 million people (>34% of the population) live below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change are more perceptible on the continent with floods, drought outbreak of pests and diseases severely constraining food production. Conversely, Africa has millions of people to feed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition is on the rise, with one in five people in Africa at risk.
Furthermore, many countries in Africa are constantly on the verge of political instability. The health, education, communication, and transport sectors lack adequate resources (policy, economic, human, and infrastructural), to enable them support the improvement of life on the continent.
Starting transformation at the root
Africa has a very young and growing population. About 41% of the people in the continent are below 15 years old while another 19% are youth between 15 and 24 years old. This young population constitutes great potential, if well equipped, for the transformation of the continent. Therefore, if transformation is to happen, it must start with the youth.
And yet, one in five children, adolescents and youth, are out of school in Africa, minimizing their chances to improve their own lives or contribute to development. African governments must make education a development priority; aim to institute policies and build systems that will enable all children to be enrolled in, to stay and to thrive in school. This process could benefit from successes of other countries, for example Singapore where the government invests heavily in education and enforces high academic standards, so that all children have equal access to quality education. The education system in Africa should also meet requirements of the job-market. This has already started with the initiatives like the World Bank Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence project.
During the fifth PASET forum, participants observed that, the 4IR will only be possible in Africa, if a new generation is empowered to develop smart technologies for developmental challenges. Therefore, capacity building in science, technology and engineering should be at the heart of Africa’s development agenda. In this regard, PASET-RSIF stands as a unique example of Africa led initiatives towards this goal. Indeed, participants emphasised the need for effective participation of all Africans governments in initiatives promoting 4IR on the continent. More effort is also needed from stakeholders to accelerate actions, and to stimulate innovations in all sectors.