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Africa’s future is a click away: new portal plots the...

Defend Truth

DAILY MAVERICK WEBINAR

A platform of hope: Creating compelling scenarios for the future of Africa

From left: CEO of AUDA-NEPAD Nardos Bekele-Thomas. (Photo: Supplied) | Head of African Futures and Innovation at the ISS, Dr Jakkie Cilliers. (Photo: Supplied) | Daily Maverick Associate Editor Ferial Haffajee. (Photo: Gallo Images / Destiny / Nick Boulton) | The director of the Frederick S Pardee Centre for International Futures at the University of Denver, Professor Jonathan Moyer. (Photo: Supplied)

Evidence-based policymaking, good governance and capacity building in Africa and measuring progress towards development goals – this is what the African Futures modelling platform is set to achieve, according to panellists at Daily Maverick’s launch of the platform.

‘We are not just addressing yesterday’s problems, we are addressing today’s problems and we are addressing tomorrow’s problems,” Nardos Bekele-Thomas, CEO of development agency AUDA-NEPAD, told Daily Maverick Associate Editor Ferial Haffajee during the webinar, which was co-hosted by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Bekele-Thomas and others had gathered for the exclusive Daily Maverick launch of African Futures, a portal that plots the future of Africa through data modelling.

She was joined by Dr Jakkie Cilliers, founder of the ISS where he is head of the African Futures and Innovation (AFI) Programme, and Professor Jonathan Moyer, director of the Frederick S Pardee Centre for International Futures at the University of Denver in the US. The centre builds data and tools to analyse long-term development in the world.  

African Futures is a product of the AFI Programme.

The launch of the quantitative and information-rich resource is timely, given that, within a year a new 10-year implementation plan working towards the Agenda 2063, a 50-year blueprint ambition to transform the African continent, must begin. 

The platform not only maps the potential progress of countries towards the Agenda 2063 goals, but will be a crucial resource for evidence-based policymaking, good governance and capacity building. 

 “You wonder sometimes how the world has been planning to implement programmes without information which is so vital,” said Bekele-Thomas. “Scattered information doesn’t give a reality check of what is there [nor an understanding of] the needs of people at all levels.”

African Futures creates compelling scenarios for the future of Africa using climate scenarios, development goals and security modelling, among other tools. It also looks back at the past, reviewing the development and progress of African countries.

“Africa has a bright future if Africans get behind good governance, take responsibilities for the continent’s development and seize opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a recorded address for the launch. “The African Futures website will help us to imagine and work towards that bright future.” 

The website covers a broad range of issues pivotal to Africa’s transformation – health, education, agriculture, technological innovation, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“We have to seize [this resource] because the [first] 10-year implementation plan of the Agenda 2063 is coming to an end in 2023,” Bekele-Thomas said.  

Moyer agreed: “Planning needs tools and resources to help us think about how the future is unfolding. We argue that it is very important to use quantitative tools as one resource in the planning process.” 

Looking into the future

The site is extensive and has taken several years to develop. According to Cilliers, it has about 4,500 charts, almost one million words and about 80 videos.

“It’s a massive amount of work and data,” Cilliers said, adding that the ISS and its partners plan on expanding their analysis. There is still a lot of work that can and should be done, he added.  

African Futures forecasts 11 scenarios for every African country, region, economic situation and community. 

Cilliers illustrated how the site could measure gross domestic product (GDP) for Africa and the rest of the world from the 1960s until today and then predict GDP 10 years from now. 

This forecast indicated that although GDP in Africa is slowly improving, the gap between the continent and the rest of the world is increasing. “The site really tries to say what needs to be done to stop that gap change – that growing divide,” Cilliers said. 

The platform could also look at Africa from a variety of thematic questions. For example, the future of better governments and more stability could be modelled from a structural perspective.  

“Current instability in the country is driven by Covid and the economic downturn, which means governments have less revenue to spend on providing services.”

The greatest trend towards greater democracy and better living is strong structural change, he said.

Moyer said the tool used to generate these scenarios and data is the International Futures model, which tries to integrate development across a broad range of interconnected issues. 

“Development happens in interconnected systems, where conflict matters for how the economy works, [where] youth matter for patterns of education and labour,” Moyer said. 

He added that all human development interacts with how the government works, and thinking about how policies affect human development is essential as well. “But that’s not the end of it either. Humans and societies interact within broader environments,” he said, adding that this interaction might, for example, lead to an environmental impact, whether these are local issues like water resources or climate change. 

Long-term horizons

Often headlines do not reflect the full picture of what Africa is, Bekele-Thomas said. The platform’s innovative way of making a long-term projection of African realities can provide a more holistic value in development strategies, she said. 

This approach was especially important in the education sector where “it is very important for our children to understand what Africa has to offer”. 

Cilliers told Haffajee that over all the long-term horizons generated by the platform, what makes the greatest impact for growth in Africa is the full implementation of African continental free trade.

“Without Africa entering into a market where we trade with ourselves, we won’t go up the manufacturing ladder, or transform our economies.” Only then would Africa be in a position to be a part of the global economy. 

The site also shows that Africa may need to leapfrog in some instances. 

“We don’t have a choice but to leapfrog and it is possible. Africa has shown that it is possible in the way that it has managed Covid-19,” Bekele-Thomas said. “Whenever there is a need  for us to get together and act with determination, we will do it because the resources are within our reach.”

Given that, she was 100% confident in Africa’s leapfrog capabilities. 

“We have also seen that if we have a private sector that is vibrant and a [growing] middle class, then we can really manage to reform governance.

“This kind of information and knowledge sharing will enable us to really engage citizens and make a difference that we need in terms of governance.” DM

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