The future belongs inexorably to the continent of Africa. By 2050, it will have the same population as China and India do now. There will be burgeoning consumer demand from a growing middle class, a population of nearly 2 billion people, of which around 800 million young people will be looking for meaningful and sustainable employment.
If we can harness this potential by aligning supply with demand, markets with customers, and skills with jobs, and keep most of these elements and links largely within Africa, then Africa will become an unstoppable economic force, capable of feeding itself and the rest of the world for good measure. That is the future scope for Africans to shape in their own interests and for their own economic ambitions.
But first we must light up and power Africa. We must turn on the lights, power and activate the continent. Very little business, education, healthcare or entertainment can be done without some form of power. Some 645 million people do not have access to electricity at all. Power is at the top of everyone’s To Do list, and African politicians are often made aware of the truth that power and electricity make for prosperous, settled and peaceful societies. They realize that if they want to stay in power then they must give power.
Agriculture contributes about 16% of the GDP of Africa and employs up to 60% of the population, but it lags far behind other sectors and other countries. It attracts little investment, but it holds the key to accelerated growth, diversification and job creation for African economies. The sector should be developed and modernized as a pre-requisite for the industrialization of the African economy, the strengthening of its infrastructure, and for the concerted domestic production of food, textiles and processed goods in order to conserve more value within the chain.
A more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector will create jobs, align outputs closer with industry, manufacturing and processing, stimulating more inclusive growth, additional domestic savings and balancing international trade. In short, the future of Africa depends on the modernization of agriculture.
Africa is also a patchwork continent of many small and largely disparate economies. It needs larger and deeper market integration to justify and promote the industrialization that is so important for its economic development. Africa should be trading more with itself, given that intra-regional trade in Africa accounts for only 15% of total trade compared to 70% in the European Union. Boosting regional trade will require greater investments in cross border infrastructure, especially transport links and ICT.
And to do so, Africa must unleash the power of the private sector. Governments should partner with it and incentivize it, deploying its full potential. Additional support and facilitation for the private sector also connects to the need for a realistic future for Africa’s youth through jobs, peace and stability. We cannot continue to let our young people flee our shores on perilous journeys to countries that have become less welcoming of migrants.
We must give our youth hope and confidence in Africa’s future. Our priority must be on building the right skills for tomorrow’s jobs, nurturing entrepreneurship and providing capital, equity and affordable credit to those who seek to make their fortunes.
And this is a great time to start. Africans are also increasingly in charge of their own development challenges.
Africa leads the world in mobile payments and the continent’s digital revolution is set to continue. By 2021, it is expected that the continent will have over one billion smartphones in regular use. Africa’s global lead in electronic payments is being rapidly supplemented by mobile based insurance, savings and micro-credit services. The innovation in payment systems is also enabling low income households to access electricity from the grid, or secure cheaper off-grid power systems for their home. The economic and social effects of a fully digital Africa will be tremendous
And this is the key to transformation – a legacy of growth coupled with the confidence of a new generation of young African entrepreneurs with new vision and ambition, incentivized and encouraged to invest and engage in building business and stimulating industry.
This is all fully recognized in the African Development Bank’s practices, its actions and in its strategic priorities, the High 5s: Lighting up and Powering Africa, Feeding Africa, Industrializing Africa, Integrating Africa and Improving the Quality of life of African people. The High 5s cover some 90% of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and provide the direction and the pathways to the transformation of Africa.
It is now up to Africa to shape its own destiny and develop according to its own needs.
Let’s start with a High 5 for Africa!
Dr. Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina is the President of the African Development Bank Group. He previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, during which he implemented bold policy reforms and created new agricultural investment programs to expand opportunities for the private sector. A distinguished development economist and agricultural development expert, he was Vice-President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Associate Director at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. He has received a number of global awards for his leadership and work in agriculture and economic development.