Written by Boaventura Mandlate
Translated by Francisco Chuquela
More than ever, there is a strong convergence in the debate on the need to accelerate the integration of Africa, promotion of intercontinental trade, development of infrastructure, generation of jobs and ownership of the continent in decision-making. For most of these challenges, African leaders already recognize the need for investment.
Today we are looking for an Africa where Africans, particularly young people and women, can prepare themselves for the challenges of the future development, in their own hands, with clear and correct strategies. Strategies that put man at the center of development. An Africa without borders, which facilitates trade and economic integration. An Africa that plays a fundamental role in the concert of nations. An Africa that needs to know where it is, to see where to go, so that the continent can make its future and place it in the hands of Africans.
The success of the continent over the coming decades has five premises: investment in agriculture to eradicate poverty which is affecting the majority of Africans, investment in human capital and technology to accelerate the growth and development of the African continent, construction of infrastructure, a sector that has been neglected in the last decades, proactive African states, which shouldn`t mean suffocation for the Private Sector and, finally, democratic and participatory governance, a favorable condition for realizing the vision of the Africans.
It is a positive sign that the African Union has finally stated openly that it doesn`t oppose the purchase of arable and fertile land by foreign investors. The continent has 60 percent uncultivated arable land. Africa must open itself up to foreign investors to value these lands and modernize its agriculture. The states of the continent must negotiate with foreign investors with rigor and prudence and preserve the interest of small agricultural producers. The problem isn’t of investors. The difficulty stems from the weakness of our States when negotiating mutually advantageous contracts.
African agriculture can become the main supplier of jobs to the continent’s youth, provided that it is possible to frame small farmers and direct better foreign direct investments. There can be no doubt, agriculture is the largest sector to be industrialized in Africa, which can guarantee opportunities for unemployed African youth.
In recent years, Africa has witnessed a foreign race for its arable land from foreign investors, mainly from the Gulf and Asian countries. At least 2.5 million hectares of land were purchased by foreign investors in Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan.
Africa can mobilize resources in considerable amounts. Only in reserves of central banks, the African continent has half a trillion USD. Equating capital markets also, Africa holds USD 1.3 billion, in addition to remittances of emigrants for USD 40 million, and the list goes on.
This is an impressive list, which in the meantime doesn`t have the financial instruments to guarantee the continent’s priorities. Measures are often taken and resource mobilization issues follow the usual path, much dependent on the discussion on development aid.
The African Union’s agenda for 2063 is, of course, visionary. It isn`t possible that a 50-year agenda can be practical, because from this point of view it is necessary to defend something much more concrete, but it can bring a different level of ambition to the discussions. Africa needs to change mindsets, for example, with managers focusing much more on own resources, which means negotiating contracts well with companies seeking natural resources on the continent.
Through the genda 2063 Africa can show that the continent of the next 50 years will be an urbanized Africa in more than 60 percent, with the world’s largest youth reserve, when the rest of the population will begin to get old. It will be fully connected and will be one of the major sources of renewable energies and certainly with greater reserves of uncultivated arable land and wide possibility of agricultural yield. At present, African productivity rates are the lowest in the world. This is an example of how, within a 50 year horizon, it can be shown that Africans’ level of ambition must be different.
Figures show today that investment from traditional partners is stable. This means that all growth is being promoted through investment from other parts of the planet. As a result, it is reducing the investment of traditional partners. It is known that traditional partners are the most attached to a particular form of development aid, and they are living their twilight.
This implies that Africans have to prepare themselves for a future in which development aid is becoming increasingly scarce. It is absolutely impossible for countries to continue to fight for less advanced status because they receive aid. It is necessary to change the mentality for those countries that want to be of intermediate economy and to begin the discussion of what this means: political and institutional stability, favorable conditions for investment, investment in education in a different way, etc.
However, it must be recognized that it is unrealistic for Africans to turn their economies in this direction so quickly. What is true and important to recognize is that even if you have a single unit, as in China or India, with a population equivalent to that of Africa, you don`t find the same level of development across the country. There are parts of the country that are locomotives to pull the rest, therapy that is also needed for Africa.
Just over 20 years ago, no one said that South Korea or Malaysia could reach the level of development they now boast. Both countries were at the same level of education as African countries are today. And why can`t African countries dream about the development of science and technology? With concrete plans, government capacity (created), with indicators lower than Africa has today, those countries have managed to overcome in less than two decades, the lack of control of science and technology. Vietnam is on the same train.
In fact, Kenya, a country on the African continent, is undergoing major innovation in the field of information technology. It is in Kenya that new bank transfers were invented. It is in Kenya that Africa now has half the world market for new banking transactions. However, there is a potential that hasn`t yet been fully explored.
In terms of world trade, Africa remains disadvantaged. Many of the continent’s border transactions are informal. There is, however, enormous potential for formalizing economies, and when that happens, there will indeed be intra-African trade. But it is very little compared to what is necessary to make a desired integration, that is, to formalize the transactions.
Africa today has enormous weaknesses from the point of view of investment in education (human capital), one of the ways to achieve the development and progress of the African peoples. The quality of public spending isn`t conducive to the transformations pursued by the African continent in human capital.
The continental Free Trade Zone is welcome. (x)