Thursday, December 5, 2019

Africa has a bright future; but remains trapped in a labyrinth of war and disease

Estimates already put Africa’s population to over a billion, almost the equivalent of India.

The demographic is set to double by 2050.

That population is mostly young, with a median of 20 years it is almost half that of Europe.

Not only is that population the youngest in the world, it is also the fastest growing.

To put the cherry on top, a majority of young Africans are educated, trainable and vastly employable.

Technologically, they are extremely savvy.

The continent is a huge market – an envy of the world, with some countries that are global players already eyeing the continent, not as a source of raw materials but a pool of skills and human resource.

Economists are saying this century belongs to Africa.

Sadly for many young Africans that sounds and looks like a pie in the sky.

For a majority of these young Africans, a most of their countries have economies that are not growing fast enough to immediately absorb them or uplift them from poverty.

A vague promise of a brighter tomorrow is not something these young inquisitive Africans are unwilling to wait for.

To make matters worse, some of the countries are still trapped in the twin evils of war and disease.

As a result already many of the young Africans are on the move. They simply are too impatient to wait for a mirage-like promise of a good life that nobody knows for sure when it will arrive.

Already young Africans are risking their lives as they try to surf the high waters of the Mediterranean and cross their way into Europe.

It is a journey fraught with many dangers that have so far claimed thousands of them.

Africa needs to break with the past if it is to retain these young people, on whose shoulders the future of the continent rests.

Africa also has to break with the past.

That means fighting perceptions, but also realities.

Africa still worships arbitrary borders created by colonialists before independence.

Trade between countries, though growing remains low mainly on account of unreasonable barriers that include man made tariffs.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa just cutting African tariffs to zero on 90% of the goods would grow trade in the continent (inter and intra) by 50% in four years.

That is a massive growth currently under arrest by man.

For Africa, growth in trade provides the biggest break potential for a continent that has experienced deindustrialization, in some instances since the 1960s.

There are also as many legal jurisdictions in Africa as there are borders.

These will have to be brought down, or at the very least be harmonised before an effective trading can happen between countries.

Soft barriers are not the only hindrance.

There also are physical barriers. Compared to other places, infrastructure in Africa is non-existent.

Africa needs to build infrastructure to get African countries connected to one another.

Rail, roads, bridges and electricity grids are all in acute short supply across Africa.

Internet, through digitalisation too provides a huge potential for Africa.

This is in light of the fact that large parts of the continent are still not connected, digitally.

Across the continent digital transformation is set to grow in an upward trajectory until 2050, thereby spurring the economy, especially employment creation to hitherto unseen heights.

Of course, as in many other things in Africa there is a down side to it.

The price of mobile data remains a concern for many countries. Data is prohibitively expensive.

This is because for most of Africa internet is still treated as a luxury. This excludes too many people from the digital economy.

Solution lies on more investments by governments, especially in rural Africa and also in liberalising the number of internet carriers.

For some countries internet remains an exclusive purview of government as liberalization is viewed as a security risk.

Where it exists, internet is too slow and also unreliable.

As it is, not a single African country has been found to meet the minimum internet speed set as an international threshold needed by consumers for there to be good quality trade.

For Africa to rise, the continent has to be able to compete.

Conditions need to be brought up to speed before business can start to flourish.

In short there is a lot of hop. But also a lot of work.

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