All the trade numbers for Africa are up and are virtually the highest they have ever been. The focus on aid as a means of development has drastically reduced and the rhetoric of a rising Africa is not wide off the mark even though there have been exaggerations in certain quarters. Africa does not need the exaggerations to look good just as it did not need the exaggerations of donor agencies to look bad in the past. The continent is far from where it ought to be based on its potentials but it is certainly in a much better place today. There are vast opportunities going forward but there are also dangers that lie ahead if we fail to focus on certain realities.
Africa would by 2040 have the world’s largest working population. This looks good for cheap labour, the sort that helped China’s provinces start the Chinese economic transformation. The numbers while obviously a potential investment incentive could easily become a continental disaster if not well harnessed. Harnessing them means training and equipping these young people who are the majority of the African population even today – 50 percent of the continent is under 20 years old, making African the youngest continent with respect to the age of its citizens. Only 28 per cent of the Chinese population is under 20 and with its ageing population, China is set to lose 10 million jobs over the next decade alone. Is Africa poised to attract these jobs and many others?
Individual African countries must start thinking of their economies beyond the commodities and natural resources. The most critical resource for the continent remains our treasures in human beings. We need to develop competent citizens who can stand the challenge of the global economy. The world has tasted the beauty and the opportunities of a global market and economic freedom can only become even freer. The days of locked economies are over. The battle of ideas that decided the current economic path of the world has been won and lost and the next battle will be about who is more prepared to evolve the benefits of the global free market into better living experiences for their countries.
As we may well already know, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growths are not enough, development is beyond the size of production within a state, it matters where the production takes place.
Commodities and oil exploration may bring wealth to individual nations but except such incomes are used in the development of policies and strategies for economic diversification, it would only be wealth in the hands of a few rather than wealth for the majority. There are costs to the disparities that could arise from this. Social inequality results in social strife that cuts across the fabric of the society and could be the undoing of governments and even the entire entity of individual states. The African youth bulge along with the continent’s new found opportunities in trade and investment must be seen as what they are; opportunities to expand the economies, train citizens and set development agendas that are all encompassing and comprehensive enough to address not just today’s challenges but those that will arise even tomorrow.
Africa is on a march, the blind can see and the deaf can hear it. Necessity and the scarcity of the past have borne the early pangs of prosperity. We cannot afford to get carried away, the vast majority of our people are still poor. Many Africans are still under repressive regimes and development remains a long dream for the majority of the continent. As we look at #TheFutureAfrica we must bask in the euphoria of where we are compared to where we used to be, but in basking let us always remember that there is a future ahead whose challenges are yet to be met and start meeting them even today.
Japheth Omojuwa is Editor AfricanLibert.org and lectures on African democracies and its challenges at the Free University in Berlin. He tweets from @omojuwa