Africa is one of the most populous and largest continent in the world, second to Asia, with the population of about 1.1 billion as of 2013 and a total land area of about 30.2 km2 which constitute about six percent of the earth total surface area (World population data sheet, 2013).
Africa is the richest continent in the world blessed with abundant natural resources, yet it is considered as one of the world’ most poorest and underdeveloped continent stricken by war, diseases, poverty, high level illiteracy and corruption. Africa is a very diverse continent with a lot of cultures, with more than a 1000 different languages spoken on the continent, which makes Africa the most multilingual continent in the world. Various religions are practiced in Africa, but Christianity and Islam are considered to be the largest religions been practiced in Africa.
This article highlight the challenges facing the African continent, from economical challenges to socio political challenges. Moreover, the article provides recommendations of how Africa can re-strategize, thus help reposition herself and overcome abject poverty.
In her article title “Africa Youth, Innovation and the changing society” Njideka U. Hary stated that Africa has the youngest population among all continents of the world, about 50% of the population are younger than 25. This statistics clearly tell us that the future of Africa is in the hands of the young people, who make up majority of the population of the African continent.
Africa 2025 is more likely to become very prosperous, economically diverse and industrialized continent, should African countries and leaders start doing more to empower the youth, reduce poverty and provide equal economic opportunities. Critical aspects regarding governance, democracy, economic are likely to be driven by African ideas and initiatives. Economic growth in African countries has increased over the last two decades. Economies of some African countries still continue to grow at a higher rate compared to some developed countries, natural resources such as oil, uranium, diamonds etc. has been a major contributing factor to this growth. Because growth in Africa is driven by the high demand of its natural resources, the growth didn’t create enough jobs and neither did it reduce/eradicate poverty. Yes, this growth is temporary sustaining governments but not a long term solution to sustain growth in Africa. Africa cannot continue to depend on exporting its resources as raw materials, hence the need for African governments to diversify their economies and begin to invest in manufacturing and agriculture.
The economic crisis of 2008 which led to food insecurity has shown us that although the richest continent in the world, Africa is still hugely dependent on America, Europe and other continents for food and other basic essentials. A study led by Professor Calestous Juma presented that by transforming (changing) from importer to self-sufficiency, Africa can produce enough food to feed itself and the world. Dr Juma also stated that “We have come to the end of a century of policies that favoured Africa’s export of raw materials and importation of food”. With its vast fertile land, wetlands and abundant natural resources, Africa can become a producer of various commodities from food to manufacturing of diamond jewellery, vehicles and other products.
The major challenge preventing Africa from becoming the great continent it ought to be is the greediness of politicians, lack of an African economic model, high corruption, lack of trade among African countries and foreign interference in the African agenda. Resources or income generated from African resources is not equally distributed/shared among inhabitants but used to enrich a few elite. Another major setback for growth and sustainable development in Africa has been the adoption/usage of wrong policies and power vested in the wrong people. Agricultural innovation such aqua-culture, irrigation scheme are becoming the focus of most governments in Africa and it is seen as the new driver for regional trade and economic prosperity. The embracement of ICT (Information Communication and Technology) in some African countries continue to inspire education, innovation and learning in Africa. The mobile revolution in Africa continue to inspire solutions that solves challenges facing people in Africa especially the poor, this clearly show us that Africa is ready to take up its rightful place among the continents of the world.
The growth in most African countries is not sustainable because most African countries relies on donor funding, loans to fund government programmes and are unable to provide basic needs to majority if their people. The Economic Report on Africa 2013 it stated that “African countries have a real opportunity, individually and collectively, to promote economic transformation and to address poverty, inequality and youth unemployment. They can capitalize on their resource endowments and high international commodity prices as well as changes in how global production processes are organized”.
Failure to transform has been the main reason why most African countries still remain fragile to external shocks and high sustainable growth seem impossible to achieve. Transformation will require these countries to diversify and industrialize their economies, which can be looked at in terms of employment, commodities produced, commodities sold to foreign countries. According to Africa-BRICS cooperation report on Implications for Growth, Employment and structural Transformation in Africa, “Countries blessed with resource endowments have a duty to themselves and to other African countries to embark on an industrial strategy aimed at maximizing backward and forward processing linkages from the commodity sectors.”
Rural-urban migration is another major challenge facing Africa, hence African countries need to decentralize development, create more jobs in rural areas, encourage and integrate rural communities in the economy without having to migrate. Africa should invest in initiatives such solar energy, wind energy as alternatives to provide cheaper, clean and more accessible energy to its people. African countries should share their resources with each, e.g. dry countries such as Namibia, Botswana etc. should be able to pump water from the huge water reserve in and around central Africa (DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville) to use for farming and drinking.
African countries should take charge (become their own masters) and should come up with African ideas and initiatives to address African problems and challenges with minimal outside interference in the African agenda. This doesn’t imply that Africa will not require international (outside) assistance, but suggest that African development will highly depend on Africans developing their own solutions. Social and political challenges African countries which enjoy peace, political stability and where freedom is freely expressed has shown constant economic growth and stability compared to countries where there is no peace and political stability. Conflicts, political instability and social differences (way of living, better opportunities) in Africa compared to western countries has been a major cause of large number of qualified African professionals in diaspora, which has created professional backlog and affected growth in Africa. Over the last decade, trade has been attributed to most growth in Africa but this growth has not been inclusive due to political instability, conflicts, high corruption, high youth unemployment rate and other factors in some African countries.
Informal economic activities are very common and is considered to be the source of income for millions of families in most African countries especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The main causes of informal sector are lack of sufficient opportunities created by the formal sector, high unemployment rate which is caused by economic, political instability, crisis and conflicts. The informal sector is posed by many challenges such as lack of decent working conditions, informal workers’ rights are often violated, and workers are poorly protected and fluctuating income. The informal sector create employment opportunities and is the only source of income for millions of women and young people in Africa. Therefore any transformation to formality should ensure that revenue is not lost for informal workers.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) state that the difference between formality and informality has often been attributed to more than one meaning/interpretation, and that formalisation is a step by step process and can take a very long time to be realised. Moving out of informality will require societies/communities and all who operate in it to become formal, which doesn’t happen overnight. So society with the help of goodwill organisations (NGOs, charitable organisations etc.) can build a bridge between formality and informality. Bridging the gap between formality and informality will also require a change in perception in the society/community, some people tend to go into informal business as a way of evading tax and administration hustles in the formal sector.
According to ILO, Social economy refers to organisations such as cooperatives, NGOs, which produce goods, provide services and knowledge while satisfying both economic and social objectives. Social economy has been identified as key to bridge the gap between informal and formal sectors of the economy, thus increasing income, profits, productivity and competition. This can be achieved by combining social objectives with economic growth sustainability, to create opportunities, empower, protect and increase the bargaining power of informal workers.
Therefore, in order to ensure the success of social economy, governments and social organisations should form partnerships, whereby governments come up with policies that protect, provide a conducive environment for informal workers to prosper and social organisations come up with initiatives to educate, encourage community projects in agriculture, manufacturing, commerce etc. and to empower social workers with knowledge. Governments and social partners need to fully recognise the potential of social economy in bridging the gap between informal and formal economies.
No doubt, African countries can engineer transformation based on effective policies that will diversify economies, create more jobs for the youth, reduce poverty, and speed up sustainable growth. This transformations should make growth more inclusive, improve social development to create equitable wealth. Additionally, countries should start looking at social economy as real alternative to compliment sustainable development and growth. Sustainable development and growth will be impossible/unachievable should high rate of unemployment among the youth continue to exists.
Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude), MSc. Computer Science & PhD Candidate