Opinionista Ayo Ajayi 4 June 2015

Africa: Making the next 15 years count

Africa faces two key challenges to achieve its full potential. The remarkable economic progress of the last 15 years must be sustained. And this progress must be broadened to include the many millions of people who have yet to benefit from the continent’s rising prosperity. 

The good news for Africa is that we have learnt a great deal over the past decade about what works. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) showed how ambitious health and development objectives are effective provided they include measurable and time-bound targets to tackle poverty, hunger and disease.

Proven, cost-effective interventions such as vaccines, better seeds for farmers, voluntary family planning services, and insecticide-treated bed nets are reducing child mortality, improving health, and expanding opportunities to create a better life.

We have seen the impact of innovative global partnerships such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. They have proved what can be achieved when donor and developing countries, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector are all pulling from the same end of the rope.

But past success is no guarantee of future progress. Africa has, at times, moved forward only for progress to founder or be reversed. So the task, as regional and global leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector meet for the World Economic Forum on Africa 2015, is to make sure we build on existing momentum.

It will require African leaders to resist the temptation to spread efforts too thinly. There will be twice as many Sustainable Development Goals as there are MDGs. So, it will be vital to prioritise the targets which promise the greatest impact, and create strong in-country implementation plans backed by adequate domestic financing.

It is an approach at the heart of the work of the Gates Foundation. We invest in solutions that we believe have the greatest socioeconomic benefit. They include maternal and child health, gender equity, and increasing agricultural productivity, all with an eye toward bringing greater equity for women and girls.

Second, the net for new investment must be cast wider. While African leaders, governments, and citizens led the way in delivering progress on the MDGs, their efforts were underpinned by support from wealthy countries in the form of development aid, trade, and technology transfer.

Aid from donor countries will continue to be important. But as Africa’s economic progress continues, it will be expected to identify new sources of financing. This includes increased income from natural resources. 

Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Kenya are among the countries that have recently discovered deposits of oil, minerals, and gas. They must use the revenues from these resources to improve health, education, and social services. Similarly, it is important for countries with established natural resource wealth to explore new and better ways to use their natural wealth for the benefit of all citizens. 

Third, new partnerships must be built with the private sector and new ways found to attract private finance. By strengthening the capacity of the local financial industry and creating investment opportunities tailored to the needs of domestic and international investors, new inflows of capital can be created. Developing domestic bond markets to make available funds in local currency will help reduce risk.

All of this is easier said than done. But our continent can take huge pride in what has been achieved since the turn of the century. It was not long ago that Africa was seen as beyond hope. That’s certainly no longer the global view. By focusing on initiatives with the greatest potential impact, embracing new partnerships, and continuing to demonstrate strong leadership, Africa will look back on the first years of the 21st century as the launch-pad for a better future for all who live on our continent. DM

Dr. Ayo Ajayi is director of the Africa team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He leads the foundation’s work on policy, advocacy, and government relations across the continent, as well as the foundation’s offices in Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria. You can connect with Ayo via his Twitter profile @DrAAjayi.

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