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From ‘hopeless continent’ to Africa rising: What does the future hold?

Digital map of Africa continent
  • February 25
  • Tags Our News; Development Finance

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*This article was written by MBA students as part of a group assignment for the module Perspectives on African Frontiers. They are BTN Ramoshaba, GR Slabbert, GJ White, K Muthu, PW van Lill, and D Roostee.

Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, senior lecturer in Managerial Economics and Statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), recently hosted a panel discussion as part of the Perspectives on African Frontiers module on USB’s MBA, with four of Africa’s brightest minds. Her simple, poignant opening question was: Is Africa’s glass half full or half empty? A robust debate around topics like aid, education, corruption, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) transformation suggested optimism about Africa’s future.

“We need to develop our own brands and value-added products.”
Andrew Mwenda

Dr Moleko questioned whether copious foreign aid had curbed Africa’s development trajectory. Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist and activist, stated the importance of understanding each African country’s idiosyncrasies and cautioned against characterising aid as good or bad. He questioned whether development could stem from foreign direct investment or aid and suggested developing human capital, especially in transforming raw materials into value-added products. Uganda exports cotton, which France uses to make luxury handbags, but only a fraction of the profit reaches raw material producers. Mwenda argued that “for Africa to prosper, we need to get past the overreliance on commodity exports. We need to develop our own brands and value-added products”.

“Education is key to unlocking the potential of our youth bulge.”
Jasmine Abrahams

This requires educational policies that grow Africa’s human capital instead of importing skills. UNESCO estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa requires 2.5 million new engineers to reach its Sustainable Development Goals. Jasmine Abrahams, sustainability manager at Ivanhoe Mines, argued that mismatched skills in the African workforce can be rectified through education, which is “the key to unlocking the potential of our youth bulge”.

Jabulani Sigege, creative consultant at Thing Three, identified that education and re-education could reduce the incidence of brutality and violence against women and children in Africa.

Related to the transformative power of education, Dr Moleko steered the discussion towards ICT transformation. Sigege stated that “technology is like a knife, a tool which can be used for good or bad – the onus will always lie on the users”. Mwenda added that Uganda has transformed into a cashless society through mobile money (27 million accounts), which has been “the revolution in the communications industry”. However, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, highlighted the need to be vigilant regarding data privacy issues.

Contrary to the ICT sector’s vibrancy and optimism, the discussion on State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and corruption was more critical. Dr Moleko stated that illicit private financial outflows from Africa total $1.2 trillion. According to South Africa’s custodian of SOEs, Minister Gordhan, the last decade amounted to “sheer greed and corruption” of individuals attempting to capture SOEs. Appointing capable CEOs and Boards is no panacea, and the required cultural shift is mostly met with resistance.

“If you want businesspeople who care for society, and not only about profits – become one.”
Minister Pravin Gordhan

Regarding Africa’s potential, Minister Gordhan emphasised that we are the purveyors of our own truth: “You are the hope for the future. If you want honest politicians in the future – become one. If you want businesspeople who care for society, and not only about profits – become one. And if you want society to look different from where it is today, 10 or 15 years from now, and give hope to people, then generate that in yourself, and you will see some of that happen.”

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