Yesterday, Trade Out of Poverty was privileged to host Dr Mo Ibrahim in parliament to hear his views on African economic development following his role as co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa last month. The event was co-hosted by CARE International UK and we were also joined by Lanre Akinola, Editor of the FT publication ‘This is Africa’ and Henriette Kolb, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation.
Mo began by saying that a major barrier to African development is their respect for tradition and their elders – whilst this may seem a surprising assertion, Africa’s young population is a game-changing factor and their needs and aspirations must be given priority. Youth employment and an education sector that begins to correlate to the needs of businesses are essential if Africa is to continue to produce the positive statistics we have seen over the last 10 years. At the 2012 Olympics, the oldest competitor was a Japanese man of over 70, while the youngest was a 14 year old African – this perfectly demonstrates the demographics of the future. With an ageing Asian population, Africa must put the systems and processes in place to maximise the potential of its youthful population – the leaders of tomorrow.
As well as improving mainstream education, Africa must also dispel the notion that agriculture is an antiquated and second-rate sector – 70% of people in Africa live off the land, so where are all the agricultural colleges? Educational and infrastructural investment must be targeted at the sector to improve knowledge of drought-resistant crops and encourage more official ‘ownership’ of land. Lanre Akinola also highlighted this dearth of skills, saying only 6% of Africans make it through to tertiary education – removing the stigma attached to vocational training would help boost this figure dramatically. In Mo’s words: “literature is a wonderful thing, but if we all sit around quoting Shakespeare to each other, who will make the dinner?”
Moving from education to business – Mo said that the private sector must be closely scrutinised; corruption in business feeds corruption in government. Bribery can no longer be put down as business expenses! The French government criminalised bribery several years ago, but seems reluctant to make any actual prosecutions – governments must recognise corruption at home and abroad as a genuine criminal act. As it stands companies simply do not pay taxes in Africa, with illicit flows out of the continent almost double the amount of aid going in.
Lanre Akinola then emphasised that while the numbers are positive, they are not enough and nor do they tell the full story. With 10-12 million young people across the continent, Africa must provide jobs and opportunities that will convert the current growth statistics into sustainable development. While there has been a lot of progress, Lanre warned that we mustn’t get carried away with the success stories – Nigeria has seen great economic growth in recent years, but has the most out of school in the world. Shockingly 60% of Africans still live on less than $2 a day, and 80% still live on less than £4 a day – more urgency is required in the fight to turn this around. The entrepreneurial spirit of Africa is often touted as one of its key assets, but in reality this is mostly subsistence – leaders across Africa must supply the jobs their people and their economies need for growth.
This issue of women in Africa’s development was then highlighted by Henriette, who said we must work to ensure that women benefit from growth sectors as much as men. Most household income is managed by women, so there is an urgent need to break down cultural barriers in order to provide connectivity and financial access for those who are actually keeping the accounts. Mobile connectivity is a vital tool for improving access to finance, healthcare, education and business tools across the continent.
The underlying theme of the discussion was emphasised by TOP co-chair Lord Hastings – without proper governance and policy training, Africa will continue to suffer a leadership deficit, capacity building must be done ‘onsite’ rather than abroad. Mo focussed on the role of the private sector in filling this vital gap – investment must be made in leadership training across government and industry as deficiencies in healthcare, education through to corruption and infrastructure are all a matter of policy.
“Only with honest and constructive criticism can we move Africa forward”, said Mo. “Bad governance can no longer be blamed on colonialism – the USA was once a colony – Africans are responsible for their own fate.” Ending on a more positive note, Mo said: “I am optimistic because of the vibrant civil society that is now developing and driving policies across Africa – I think Africa will deliver on it’s promise.”
Dr Mo Ibrahim: “you can’t have a good dinner if your neighbour is hungry.”