I’m often asked often what I think are the primary needs of humanity, especially young children in Africa.
I believe it is the ability to love and be loved, the right to safety and shelter and the right to food, education and health that develops the full potential of every individual in our global village.
So what are our prospects in Africa? The UNICEF-sponsored Generation 2030 project presents some fascinating insights.
We know that by 2050 there will be two billion people in Africa. A billion will be children, nearly half of the world’s population of children.
This is our potential youth dividend and comparative advantage. We will have the youngest population when many of the industrialised countries populations are aging.
With our mineral wealth and natural resources we can become the hub of the global economy pursuing a trajectory that prioritises the needs of our people and respects our environmental and planetary boundaries.
With close to 60% of the remaining arable land in the world, covering a fifth of the land surface and forests and oceans that count amongst the richest fish resources, we should be feeding all our people and the world.
So why is Africa the epicentre of global malnutrition with nearly a third of the world’s hungry?
Why does our continent account for half of child deaths which are predicted to rise to 70% by mid-century?
Why do half our people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.25 per day?
Why do close to a third of our people, especially children, live in a fragile and conflict-ridden communities?
Our core challenge has to be governance and leadership.
Most of our leaders are clinging to power are out of touch with our young population. They govern our countries like medieval rulers expecting obeisance from citizens.
In addition they govern in a way that Africa remains 54 individual countries, while the rest of the world is far down the road of regional economic integration that allows the free flow of goods, services and people.
We ask where our vision is and we are told about Africa 2063 by our continental organisation, the African Union. It is a bold vision that remains on paper with very little political will to implement. We struggle to even pay the bills to keep our continental organisation afloat.
We can change that trajectory.
Our freedom across our beautiful continent was won because our people organised and built a tsunami of mass struggle to defeat a seemingly invincible enemy of corrupt colonialism and racism. Our mantra was “the People shall Govern.”
How should we do this?
Our youth population is a powerful constituency. The most fundamental social and political transformations in the world are driven by young people. The current youth generation are the most connected in the history of humanity. They are a catalytic change agent of the current reality.
The Internet revolution has built the platform of a powerful interactive platform to build voice for greater accountability and transparency. The organised youth are our primary motive force for building pathways of hope and opportunity for our future generations.
Our choices are stark:
Almost 2 billion babies will be born in the next 35 years. Investing in improving health care, education, protection and participation will break the cycle of poverty and exclusion.
70% of our food in Africa is produced by women subsistence farmers. Agriculture generates 57% of all jobs Africa and is the main source of income for 90% of the rural populations. If we remove the barriers facing women farmers such as legal title to the land, financial support to build seed banks, irrigation and access to power we would be able feed the world. And all empirical evidence points to the improved incomes that women receive are invested in health, education and nutrition of their children.
Investing in empowering girls and young women, including ending child marriage and prioritising girls’ education.
Climate change holds serious risks of rising sea levels, drought, extreme weather and food scarcity. Six of the most vulnerable countries including Nigeria, DRC and Ethiopia are home to a third of Africa’s children. The Africa Progress Panel estimates close to 600,000 deaths a year due to climate change. We have a huge opportunity to go from energy deficits to energy security via a renewables trajectory that invests in solar, hydro and wind rather than in fossil fuels, which will become stranded and wasted assets as we enforce regulation to stop a 4 degree rise in temperature by 2050.
The precedent is the fact the revolution in mobile telephony that has seen Africa become one the fastest telecom markets in the world with over a billion mobile phones.
Investment in building resilience through peacekeeping, social nets and integrating humanitarian and development work. Tacking transparency in resources exploitation and closing the loopholes for illicit tax evasion, that the Mbeki Report shows loses our continent close to $50 billion per year, would plug the gaps in our funding needs for development.
Ultimately our commitment to good governance is what will make the difference. Democracy is non-negotiable. Increasingly civic and political space is closing, especially in countries that have embraced a “war on terror” lexicon. The right of our people to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom to protest are the pillars of democracy.
The recent spate of coups, threatening violence by parties that lose elections and attempts by standing presidents to unconstitutionally extend their terms in office must be strongly resisted.
Unless the AU Summit of our Heads of State address these core challenges, our “youth bulge” will not be a dividend. It will become a time bomb that incinerates our most profound hopes we hold deeply in our hearts. DM