There is a problem in central Africa. Depending on which side you look at it from, you can see an insurmountable obstacle or a huge opportunity. To launch the continent on an economic trajectory of growth and prosperity equal to population growth, Africa needs to create about 1 million new jobs a month. Currently, only 3 million are produced annually. Is this a shortage of 9 million – an obstacle or an opportunity?
Add to the equation another number: 18. This is the average age of Africans. On the contrary, the average age in Europe is more than twice 42 years. In North America it is 35 years, and for our closest continent in age there is equality: the average age in Asia and South America is 31 years. the world. Another way is to think that Africa has more than a 10-year advantage over our nearest continental competitor. What can everyone do in these 10 years?
Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The type of new jobs that need to be created and the caliber of skills to fill them should have some advantage. Many jobs, perhaps most, will need to be created by entrepreneurs and small businesses; that the rate of job creation will not come from the steady growth of established large enterprises.
And not just any entrepreneurs. The key part of entrepreneurship – the core that makes it work and that makes it so powerful – is innovation. New businesses, and hence new jobs, will have to emerge to serve new ones and old challenges and a new generation of skilled Africans need to take a step forward to drive the process.
To achieve all this, a shift in thinking is needed, both in the way we think about the continent and in the current production models of job seekers, on what creates work.
Back to basics: 3 priorities to stop the marginalization of Africa
Innovation in our modern, complex world requires, above all, two things: technology – the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes – and quality education.
In a recent interview hosted by the African Dunning Center at Henley Business School Africa, Dr. Frank Aswani, Director General of the African Venture Philanthropic Alliance and former Vice President of the African Leadership Academy (ALA), stressed the importance of education in shaping Africa’s future. .
He noted that we rarely ask the question “So what?” education. “Frankly,” he said, “education produces food; are we preparing them for what the world wants? ” In other words, our education is in Africa relevant for our needs? Until we resolutely answer this question with a resounding “yes,” the world will rush forward and leave us behind.
Education improves the quality and value of human capital. It is a stimulant that unleashes the potential of the people of Africa. Dr. Aswani saw for himself that he could invest in Africa’s human capital – about 77% of ALA graduates now run businesses across the continent. This is an example of what time, money and effort can do. Leaders need to understand that every penny of investment in human capital has the potential to pay off exponentially. It’s just investments that make sense other than social good.
Investments, however, need to be mobilized at the local level, not entirely by international means. Borrowing money from abroad is expensive, with forex costs and high interest rates. Of course, the role of foreign investment is not diminishing, especially where they are a catalyst for networking with domestic entrepreneurs and acting as a channel for attracting knowledge and experience. But in the end, Africa needs to invest in Africa – business motivation is there, we need to believe in its potential.
The key to this will be effective engagement with the private sector. We need to stop depending on governments in everything. Investment will not and perhaps should not come only from governments. Cooperation and a new generation of public-private partnerships are needed to harness the strength and expertise of both stakeholders. If we both win, we all win.
Finally, neither investment capital nor the new model of education can provide the sustainable growth we need without facing the problem of infrastructure. Much of Africa is in dire need of quality infrastructure, and businesses have to bear the cost of investing in providing their own public goods.
This makes African companies uncompetitive compared to their global counterparts. In many parts of Nigeria, for example, banks close before 1pm to avoid excessive costs for diesel generators in the afternoon to maintain light.
“If banks are struggling with electricity costs,” said Muhammad Sani Abdullah, a former chief of staff to the governor of Kaduna in Nigeria, during a conversation with Henley, “what does this mean for the manufacturing sector that has launched our economic growth engine?”
The same is true for businesses across South Africa, where falling loads are going to be regular rather than rare. Stable electricity supply, good water use, public transport, and safe and secure public places are needed. Africa must take responsibility for ensuring that these foundations are right if we are to move forward with any momentum.
As Ebun Jackson-Adecola, CEO of Marsh Africa, controversially but eloquently asked, “Is Africa marginalized, or have we marginalized ourselves?”
An obstacle or an opportunity? You decide
Without minimizing the work that is needed to overcome these challenges, one can clearly see the enormous potential. Much of the difference between these opposing views of the same reality depends on how you choose to perceive them. We need to change our thinking to reconsider problems and bring about positive change.
Alaisius Newenham-Kahindi, an associate member of the Danning Center of Africa in Henley, expressed the issue during the discussion. Reflecting on his work with young people, he said: “they don’t want to talk about colonialism and the past, they want to think about the future and see action!”
The revolution in Africa begins in your mind – where to do you do you want to take
Rajnish Narula is the director of the African Danning Center, and John Foster Padley is the dean and director of the Henley Business School in Africa. They recently spoke at a webinar on marginalization in Africa as part of a series of webinars by the African Dunning Center. To join future conversations, click here.