“We face neither East nor West; We face forward.” So said continental giant Kwame Nkrumah when describing the future of Africa more than 60 years ago in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. Having led Ghana to become the first liberated country on the continent just three years prior, Nkrumah’s words served as not only a visionary clarion call, but a cautionary warning to leaders both then and now to become self-sufficient and not become dependent on world powers — whether from the East or the West.
As millions of Africans across the continent as well as in the diaspora celebrate Africa Day and Africa Month, it is perhaps the most appropriate time to reflect on these words and call for the nurturing of the best gift that the continent has to offer the world: the people of Africa. I for one believe that the greatest chapter in Africa’s story is yet to be written.
Indeed, only once we achieve full independence and liberation — from an economic, infrastructure, and technology point of view — will Africa become the roaring continent it has promised to be for decades.
In 2020 the United Nations projected that the global population would move closer to crossing 10 billion people by the year 2050. While over 90% of this growth is being projected to take place in middle- to low-income countries, it is also projected that the African continent will account for 55% of this growth, or roughly 1.2 billion people.
These projections are of particular interest because they mention that the population of sub-Saharan Africa will double while the continent remains the youngest in terms of median population age, with almost 60% of the continent’s population being under the age of 25.
By contrast, the median age of Africa’s 10 oldest presidents was 80 in 2019. With leaders who are almost four times older than the populations that they make decisions on behalf of, it is high time to consider the nurturing of Africa’s young population and call for their inclusion at all of the decision-making tables. We must go back to the drawing board and attempt to find innovative ways to keep Africa on a forward-looking path whereby the youth of Africa take on more responsibility in directing economic and social policy. The world has changed since most African countries gained their independence from European colonial powers and it continues to change at an incredibly fast pace. Leaders need to be agile — to evolve and adapt. Generations of African leaders have worked very hard to move the continent away from its history of exploitation and there is a generation of new leaders in waiting who are ready to take over and build on the foundations of Nkrumah, Sisulu, Lumumba, Maxeke and Tlali.
We can do this by reimagining the African Agenda for the next generation, focused on three key areas; advancing intra-Africa trade between countries, developing competitive and independent infrastructure and ICT, and working to eradicate xenophobia, homophobia and sexism in both law and society. It is time to consider merit- and human rights-based systems with mechanisms to address structural disadvantages within African economies and societies. South Africa needs to take seriously its Constitution and be clearer in advocating human rights across the continent.
When I was in Kenya recently, the sentiment towards South Africa was that people are disappointed in our government’s quiet diplomacy approach. South Africa as a leader on the continent must step up the game and be the champion of social justice and human rights. The African Union should be strengthened in order to make sure that it can intervene appropriately in cases of human rights abuses, and that it plays a larger role in supporting nations to institutionalise democratic institutions that will help fend off threats to upholding democracy and the rights of all to live peacefully and have opportunities for better lives.
An important step in the African Agenda is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and projects for educational exchange programmes. These would revitalise regional trade and development relations similar to the Association of East Asian Nations (Asean) development partnership model. This would support and ensure growth and development throughout the region and therefore promote stability throughout the continent.
To make further strides in the advancement of the African Agenda the creation of a regional energy policy is an idea that should be explored further. Such a policy would see the construction of a regional power grid that can incorporate natural resources of gas in Malawi and Mozambique, solar in South Africa’s Northern Cape and hydropower in Zambia.
Additionally, quicker visa decisions can create better partnerships within the SADC region, support the building of a dynamic trade area and venture capital fund similar to that of Asean.
This can be achieved by pursuing the electronic issuing of visas to all visitors that come into South Africa. This is key, as a corrupt and poor border control has proven an ineffective way of dealing with immigration.
To secure the rights of all citizens, South Africa must make it easier to qualify for visas in order to facilitate the movement of people between borders. Movement of goods is essential for Africa to prosper and it cannot be right that it is easier and quicker to move a container from Mombasa to China than from Kigali to Mombasa.
This can be achieved by the investment and development of competitive and independent infrastructure and ICT. This investment includes the push for lower data costs and increased access to online resources for young people. This investment has long-reaching outcomes because it will result in positive outcomes in different areas of concern and interest such as education in Africa becoming competitive globally, and innovators being able to innovate and conduct business with ease and support.
The celebration of Africa Day 2021 is the most opportune time to call for a reimagining of the path that the continent takes — 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic showed the importance of regional cooperation and the hoarding of vaccines by wealthier nations continues to make a case for strengthening the continent’s collective bargaining power.
As we celebrate, let us also louden the call for Africa to seize the moment and collectively work towards empowering the youth, strengthening democratic institutions and securing economic and social mobility towards collectively prosperous, shared and peaceful futures. DM