Guest Column

Africa’s time to sparkle

Africa’s time  to sparkle
  • PublishedMarch 23, 2019

Africa is a resilient continent, developing and making giant strides, despite all the odds. By Akinwumi Adesina*

For way too long the continent has been known and defined by negative imageries, of wars and conflicts. The good stories of Africa get shelved on one side, but any misstep or challenge is made front-page news. 

The greatest asset of Africa is not its vast minerals, oil and gas. Africa’s greatest asset is its youthful population. Africa’s youth population, currently estimated at 250m, is expected to rise to 840m by 2050. That’ll make Africa the youngest continent in the world, as many parts of the world are witnessing rapidly ageing populations. 

What we do with that population of youth today will determine the future of work in the world. Africa must become the brimming workshop of the world – with a knowledgeable and highly skilled workforce that’s able to propel the continent into the fourth industrial revolution. 

Today, millions of these same young people have no jobs and many take enormous risks to cross the Mediterranean to seek a brighter future in Europe. I do not believe that the future of Africa’s youth lies in Europe; their future must lie in a thriving and more prosperous Africa. Our challenge is to ensure that Africa’s economies grow more rapidly and in ways that create quality jobs for its teeming youths.

That’s why the African Development Bank (AfDB) is pursuing a major ‘Jobs for Youth in Africa’ initiative, to help African countries create 25m jobs for its youth. 

But we’re not just focusing on the IT sector, the Bank is also supporting the growth of young agribusiness and commercial farmers for the continent. Africa has 65% of the arable land left to feed the world by 2050.

What Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world. But we must make agriculture exciting for the youth. That’s why the Bank has invested $300 million in programmes to support youths to take up agriculture as a business. 

I believe that the future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come out of agriculture, the wealth of Africa, waiting to be unlocked to shine. 

Africa’s shining light

To shine, Africa must have universal electricity. Africa cannot develop in the dark. Some 600m Africans do not have access to electricity. That’s why at the Bank we are investing rapidly to help light up and power Africa. We’re investing $12bn in power, to help leverage $45-50bn to accelerate access to electricity for millions of people. 

Africa is not hidden. Its shining light is seen in its people, their entrepreneurship, creativity and intellectual accomplishments. But you rarely hear these stories: stories of its gallant strides, surmounting obstacles, rising each day, with determination to lead, not just follow. Few people know that Africa has produced 26 Nobel Prize Winners, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.

Africa’s boundless hope can be felt by those who invest there. Africa today has six out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa is also the second destination in attracting foreign direct investment, second only to Asia. This year we project that GDP growth will rise to 4%, double what it was in 2016. And 45% of the countries will experience a growth rate of above 5%. That’s way above the global growth average of 3%.

In November 2018, the African Development Bank decided to take the story of Africa as an investment magnet to the rest of the world. We organised the first Africa Investment Forum. The Forum was a unique one, without speeches; the focus sharply placed on transactions to invest in projects that’ll help change the lives of people on the continent. The buzz went out globally and 2,000 participants showed up, with investors from 53 countries around the world. A total of $38.7bn of investment interest for projects was secured in less than 72 hours. 

What do these investors see? They of course know the challenges in Africa, but they see beyond challenges. They see opportunities. 

Digitally smart Africa

And more can be done, to build on Africa’s giant strides in mobile telephony. Today, Africa leads the world in the number of mobile phones. The mobile money transfer system that’s taking the world by storm started in Africa, with M-Pesa in Kenya, which now allows at least $23bn to be moved through mobile phones.

To power Africa’s drive into the fourth industrial revolution, we’re investing heavily in building ICT infrastructure across Africa. A digitally smart Africa will emerge, driven by technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

We still have a long way to go until we provide universal access to electricity; assure food security for the continent; integrate Africa; industrialise the continent; and improve the quality of life for Africans.

The Bank is engaged in discussions with its shareholders for a General Capital Increase for the Bank. This will allow us to do more for Africa, towards the Agenda 2063, “The Africa we want”.

Just think about what Africa will look like with a General Capital Increase paid in capital for the African Development Bank:

* 105m people will get access to electricity

* 137m people will benefit from access to improvements in agriculture 

* 22m people will benefit from private- sector investment projects

* 151m people will have improved access to transport

* 110m people will have access to new and improved water and sanitation.

What a shining Africa that would be!  NA  


*Akinwumi Adesina recently won the 2019 SunHak Peace Prize (with Waris Dirie). He has donated the entire $500,000 award to his World Hunger Fighters Foundation.

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