Two decades into a century that we all hope will herald Africa’s coming of age, the need for critical governance has never been more urgent. In a changing world of deepening globalisation, Africa should focus on the practical rather than the ideological. We must build African institutions that will enable us to hold our own and cope with the challenges of globalisation.
Social rights, human rights and environmental issues are at the forefront of economic discussions when advanced countries meet. They discuss energy efficiency, the green economy, energy-saving issues and climate change. And now, as the world battles against Covid, delivering efficient health care systems is a hot topic.
In the UK, for instance, the authorities had to rethink their initial response to the pandemic. They ultimately decided to prioritise the health of the people and the national health system over shorter-term economic considerations. Fortunately, the UK is able to afford the cost of a mass vaccination programme and can expect an eventual return to economic normality. But this is at a cost to its international aid budget – meaning less money to give out in terms of aid.
Ever since independence, Africa has been locked in a cycle of sourcing money from bilateral and multilateral donors, of agreeing to structural adjustment programmes and strategic development goals imposed by lenders and international agencies. African governments seem to love aid, to be happy to live in debt to foreign institutions and to rely on bartering the continent’s natural resources for infrastructure loans.
It is time for Africa to re-examine itself and its skills policies. Africans certainly have world-class skills. People of African heritage succeed and increasingly occupy positions of power and influence in the global community. Several members of the new Biden cabinet are of Nigerian heritage and the UK government has had many cabinet-level people of African descent. And people of African heritage have long excelled in sport, the arts and the corporate world. Sadly, African countries and economies do not fare well and are not globally competitive.
African leaders must learn to better manage their human resources. Its people are Africa’s greatest asset and they must be encouraged and supported in their entrepreneurship and innovations.
Our leaders have three main issues to address:
• How will our largely youthful population be gainfully employed?
• How shall we deal with the shortage of skills? and
• How can we reverse the brain drain?
The world has seen significant economic progress and growth over the past 60 years. Those countries that grew and were able to compete globally did so by using science and technologies to deliver efficiencies and to produce quality goods and services. Most governments would agree that “our youth are the future” but effective initiatives are needed to convert this potential into success. African leaders need to examine ways in which they can work with entrepreneurs to create jobs for the youth. And to consider kick-starting the process through subsidies, as well as looking at ways to incentivise businesspeople to participate.
Tackling Africa’s skills deficit is critical. Our educational standards are falling as we struggle to maintain the infrastructure of education. We need to reconfigure our curriculum and align our educational standards with the rest of the world. We must move away from learning by rote and provide a more practical and fully rounded education for our people – one which teaches academic and vocational skills and includes extra-curricular activities. More career counselling, along with work experience and internship opportunities are also key to improving the skills of our population. Education should be ongoing, with training opportunities made available to people of all ages so that mobility between vocations and professions is available for all.
Africa loses far too much of its human resources to more developed countries. We send our youth overseas as “primary products” but when they are “processed” in the academic institutions of excellence, the brightest ones are too often retained by the host countries who offer them positions. For those Africans that chose to live and work abroad, the issue is not always about a remuneration package, it is as much about working in a supportive professional environment that allows them to thrive and collaborate with their peers.
The issues Africa faces are as deep as they are wide. If we are to make our continent more productive, we must align and tackle our issues on a pan African basis. We should collectively devise strategies that will ensure that Africans from the continent and the diaspora can be the resource that uplifts the continent and makes us competitive and able to deal with the onslaught of globalisation. It is important that the African Union steps in and turns its attention to human resources as well as trade. We cannot allow our African human resources to enrich other nations whilst we struggle to develop.
‘’Ade Sawyerr is a management consultant at Equinox Consulting who works on enterprise, employment and community development
issues within the inner city and black and minority communities in Britain. He comments on social, economic and political issues and
can be contacted at www.equinoxconsulting.net or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AFRICA BRIEFING JANUARY – FEBRUARY 2021