Time to shape our African future – through education

 

We are living at a time of significance that will shape Africa’s future. This makes it important to take stock of the things that make our continent great – and to consider how to build on these positives, specifically through education and life-long learning. Our Fundi Education Forum has been designed to create a platform to do just that: to find solutions that will positively inform and influence education policies and practices across the Africa so that we may continue on the encouraging path ahead. 


Theme 1: Economic growth (current and future)

 

Africa’s growth over the past 25 years has been remarkable by historical standards (source: African Development Bank). In roughly two-thirds of the countries analysed by the bank, per capita income rose for eight consecutive years at a minimum rate of 3.5% between 1950 and 2016. Worth noting is that in certain African countries this growth was as a result of increases in total factor productivity and not accumulation of capital. This goes against the “middle-income trap” view often expressed by economists.

 

Deep-diving further into these statistics, between 2004 and 2014, sub-Saharan Africa growth measured approximately 6% year-on-year. Despite the global decline we’re currently seeing (based on various shocks to the world markets), the World Bank projects a steady recovery for sub-Saharan Africa with an average growth rate of 3.6% forecast for 2019 – 20. Solid growth, supported by infrastructural investment, is also expected to continue in the West African Economic and Monetary Union. Growth prospects have also improved in East Africa, with widespread agricultural recovery after long periods of drought. The recent upturn in private sector credit growth in the region is further supporting growth rates.

 

We’re also expecting non-resource intensive African countries to continue to see robust activity in the short-term. Growth in non-hydrocarbon-dependent economies (energy importers and agricultural exporters) is also likely to remain stable.

 

Linked to the above, Africa’s population is set to increase to over 1.8 billion in 2035. As our population ages, the ratio between workers and dependants will improve. This stands to boost productivity and economic growth – speaking to projections that Africa’s overall economy will expand.

 

Critically, up to 80% of Africans channel their energy into the informal economy, with 93% of all job growth in Africa in the 1990s in the informal sector.  As positive disrupters and influencers, this is where our focus should lie – our impact will be significant. Wherever the informal sector can be progressively formalised, Africa will receive an immense growth dividend.

 

 

Theme 2: Our youthful population

 

While African governments are moving to address unemployment in many various ways, so too are entrepreneurs (small and large scale) and communities acting independently for themselves, specifically via the informal sector.

 

The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy organisation, notes that over 70% of youth in countries such as the DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Senegal, Uganda and Rwanda are either self-employed or contributing to family work. Access to quality education (including global teaching materials via edu-tech) has the power to continue positively impacting this trend; specifically with a view to improvements being seen between generations.

 

At governmental level, notable examples of positive interventions include:

  • Ghana, which has created a national youth service and empowerment programme to help place graduates;
  • Mauritius, which has developed a plan to support technical and vocational training for youth; and
  • Zambia, where government has introduced a national youth policy and a youth enterprise fund for job creation.

 

The World Bank has also proposed a jobs strategy for Africa, focusing on rural development and agricultural investment, whilst being sensitive to youth migrating to urban areas and integrating into the economy. Finding “bridges” to support meaningful integration and transition is critical given that urbanisation in Africa is at the fastest rate the world has seen. (We will soon have 80 cities on the continent with over one million inhabitants each, and several megacities with populations exceeding 10 million.)

 

Our priorities as Africans must be labour-absorbing growth paths. These must include modernising agriculture, which already employs most of the continent’s population and will ensure greater food (and potentially water) security; as well as continued investment in entrepreneurial growth and development among our young people – giving them the skills they need to transition to higher-productivity sectors over time. Serious investment in these initiatives is already taking place, with the Ibrahim Foundation noting how Africa is gradually becoming a hub for various start-ups and innovators, who are already making significant contributions to business and technology.

 

The 2016 Africa Economic Outlook identified Africa as the second fastest growing global economy. With the right investment, opportunities and education resources, Africa’s growing young population can be channelled into an economic boom. This is all the more possible given that over 40% of our working-age population are between the ages of 15 and 24: a large working age population potentially translates into more income, in turn leading to better support for citizens and communities, and further infrastructure development.

 

 

Theme 3: Growth in innovation

 

Our current generation of African innovators are increasingly challenge-driven, responding to and overcoming real-life challenges found in their local communities. As such, many have a socio-economic link – with a means of positively disrupting the current status quo.

 

These innovators and inventors are using communications technologies. Tech-enabled start-ups are operating on a global scale from the outset with outcomes challenging perceptions of the role and potential of the informal economy. Kenya’s M-Pesa is an example of the potential of African innovation, bringing banking services to millions of previously unbanked consumers using their cellphones.

 

Cellphones – owned by almost every person on the continent – stand to be the most likely platform for game-changing developments, including education. Apps allow access to resources, whilst ensuring affordability. As such, they create a more inclusive economy. Already apps like Ongair in Kenya and SynCommerce in Ghana are working as business-enablers – helping companies serve their customers better whilst simultaneously increasing their reach. Platforms like the Nigerian-based Hotels.ng are not only useful for consumers but have brought increased business to local hotels and attractions, increasing employment.

 

Tech-based innovation and educational development programmes are – and will continue – shaping the future of the African economy. Examples of these can be seen across the continent:

  • The Stutern programme in Nigeria is addressing youth unemployment by equipping graduates with in-demand IT design and back-end development skills, placing them in higher-paying jobs;
  • AkiraChix is similarly teaching young women how to code – empowering them to move directly into the formal economy;
  • Agro-Hub in Cameroon is bringing offline farmers into the online space; and
  • Local NPO WeThinkCode_ has developed a model of democratic, accessible learning around peer-to-peer learning where students solve for real-life problems – preparing them for employment or entrepreneurship.

 

Beyond improving economic conditions, technology is already improving quality of life across Africa. A prime example of this is Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye’s creation of a biomedical smart jacket that can diagnose pneumonia four times faster than a doctor. The jacket analyses a child’s chest and sends the collected data via Bluetooth to a smartphone app: enabling prompt diagnosis. In a country where pneumonia is responsible for 16% of deaths of children under five and is traditionally exacerbated by slow diagnosis, this invention is a game-changer and life-saver.

 

 

Theme 4: Democracy and peace and stability on the continent

 

Democracy has clear developmental benefits over other regime types in the long-term – something the continent continues to experience and act upon. Popular support for democracy is forecast to remain strong across the continent, driven and protected to a large extent by our youth. The Ibrahim Foundation notes that young people in particular are becoming more politically conscious and are demanding accountability and good governance. (This is extremely positive given the growing young population of our continent.)

 

Findings of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are equally worth noting, specifically that democracy in Africa has made significant progress despite the absence of many of the supposed “pre-conditions for democratic consolidation” including a single national identity, a developed and autonomous civil society or a developed economy.

 

Similarly, Freedom House, a US-based think-tank, recorded that in 1988 only 17 of 50 analysed African countries could be classified as “free” or “partly free”. By 2015, 31 out of 54 countries analysed by the same institution were categorised as “free” or “partly free”, indicative of the significant change seen across the continent.

 

The above research is further supported by the AU’s data – the number of African countries holding free and fair elections is increasing, with political pluralism now being the norm. Robust civil society interactions around governance and the democratic process are on the increase and, critically, are found to be “unsuppressed” across various AU member states. The continent has also seen a decline in violent conflict in recent years.

 

In a time where women’s rights are being amplified across the world, the AU has also found that the number of African women participating politically within decision-making processes is second only to that found in developed countries and Latin America.

 

At a continental level various instruments and processes have been developed and are being implemented to promote democracy and good governance.

 

 

Theme 5: The Continental Free Trade Agreement

 

Over 50 African states recently signed the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.

 

The agreement will benefit the continent by enhancing intra-African trade – which currently stands at only 10%. This figure is set to treble within the next decade as a direct result of the agreement; creating jobs and stimulating development.

 

The impact of what it means for all of us on the continent cannot be underestimated. Covering a market of 1.2 billion people and a GDP of $2.5 trillion across all 55 member-states of the AU, the agreement has created the world’s largest free-trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation. It will reduce trading tariffs, literally opening up the continent – within the continent – like never before.

 

While the agreement has been signed, it will take time to translate the policy into effective trade. This delay, however, stands to benefit African entrepreneurs as they have time to not only plan and develop appropriate mechanisms to extend the reach of the services and goods they provide, but also put new services in place to meet the needs resulting from the agreement.

 

Learning and IP – creating new benchmarks for global standards – will be a direct outcome of this agreement; positioning Africa firmly on the global stage.

 

As Fundi, we see each of the above as cause to celebrate – and become active contributors and positive disruptors on our continent.

 

Because our focus is on education and democratising education through technology, we are in step with the technology-driven changes driving and influencing many of these trends and shifts.  We invite you to join with us to build on Africa’s successes, unlock her potential and continue innovating to uplift and meaningfully change the lives of our people.