Given the increasing flux state of the world because of technological revolution and climate change, it is paramount that we reflect on the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the continent’s socioeconomic transformation in the next 50 years. Where are we now, and where are we going?
It is a vision that aspires towards a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth, sustainable development and a continent at peace with itself.
Agenda 2063 is a product of an extensive African-driven consultative process, intending to seize the future and position Africa towards realising the pan-African vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”
Agenda 2063 is crucial not only for Africa but also for the geopolitical landscape of the world. When we consider any of the critical global challenges of today – whether it be climate change, migration, renewable energy or conflict – Africa is not only at the forefront of these challenges but is also a key and active player in developing the solutions.
Africa is increasingly making its presence felt on the global stage – from the UN to the reform of the global financial architecture – and will be an indispensable player in global geopolitics leading up to 2063.
Let us look at the numbers. Today’s demographic characteristics of Africa are marked by a rapidly growing population, a young age structure and a high fertility rate (4.2 births per woman in 2023).
Today, Africa is the second most populous continent in the world, after Asia. The continent’s population is estimated to be 1.3 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050. In 2023, the median age in Africa is 19.7 years, compared with 38.4 years in the world as a whole.
Therefore, we need quality education, good teachers and adequate infrastructure to turn this demographic challenge into a dividend. In the words of the African proverb, “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
It is, therefore, incumbent on us to prepare our youth – who are our tomorrow – today.
In addition to these demographic characteristics, Africa is characterised by a high level of diversity. The continent has 54 countries, each with its unique culture, language and religion. This diversity is a strength of Africa, but can also be challenging, making it difficult to develop effective technologies and policies for all countries.
For example, with the rapid technological changes: the introduction of ChatGPT and Bard, natural language processing software, where is Africa? Are our languages represented? With more than 2,000 languages, is it realistic to expect all of them to be digitally represented?
We have already seen that Africa has the potential to adopt new technology rapidly. For example, half of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to subscribe to mobile services by 2025, and the use of digital payments and mobile money systems such as M-Pesa has surpassed even much of the developed world, showing that Africa can be a world leader in technological innovation.
Another issue that we need to tackle is the issue of jobs.
The unemployment rate in Africa is high, and it varies significantly from country to country. According to the International Labour Organization, the average unemployment rate in Africa in 2022 was 7.1%, and 83% of Africa’s workforce is employed in the informal sector.
Several factors contribute to this situation, including, first, rapid population growth. Africa’s young and growing population strains the job market. Therefore, we need to intensify education and training in Africa, and universities should partner in this regard.
Second, many people in Africa live in poverty, making it difficult to find jobs. We need to change this because Africa is a wealthy continent, and many are enriching themselves using the resources of Africa.
Third, political instability can make it difficult for businesses to operate, leading to job losses.
Finally, lacking opportunities leads to migration as young people look for jobs elsewhere. Migration has emerged as a significant global geopolitical challenge in recent years and can only be resolved through deep cooperation and partnership between the African Union and its global partners.
The high unemployment rate in Africa is a significant challenge for the continent. It can lead to poverty, social unrest and political instability. However, several things can be done to address the problem of unemployment in Africa, including:
- Investing in education and skills training will help ensure that people have the skills needed for the available jobs.
- Creating a more stable political environment will make it easier for businesses to operate and create jobs. We must reaffirm our resolve to silence the guns once and for all.
- Promoting economic growth. This will create more jobs and opportunities for people.
Addressing the problem of unemployment in Africa is a complex challenge, but it is essential if the continent is to achieve sustainable development.
Africa has 60% of the unused arable land in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Africa has 450 million hectares of arable land, of which only 140 million hectares are currently cultivated.
Yet due to Africa’s size, the situation varies by region. In some countries, limited arable land is over-exploited, limiting agricultural productivity, yet fertile land remains unproductive in others. This means that Africa has the potential to increase its agricultural production by 200% by bringing more land into cultivation.
These are the main reasons arable land in Africa is not being used:
- Lack of investment: There is a lack of investment in agriculture in Africa. This is due to several factors, including a lack of access to credit.
- Lack of infrastructure: There is a lack of infrastructure in rural areas of Africa, such as roads, railways and irrigation systems. This makes it challenging to transport crops to markets and to bring water to farms.
- Lack of technology: There is a lack of technology in African agriculture. This means that farmers are using traditional methods of cultivation, which are often inefficient and low-yield. In addition, African land needs to be developed and commercialised by local stakeholders to benefit African countries. Too often, valuable fertile land is leased and sold to foreign stakeholders without considering the food security needs of African countries. As the need for African domestic food security becomes an increasingly crucial geopolitical issue, we can learn from the successes of other developing countries, particularly in Asia, in developing their agricultural potential.
Modernising African agriculture is good for Africa; it is good for business and it is good for the world. But we must bring technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) into agriculture in Africa. AI is being used in agriculture in Africa to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability. Here are some examples of how AI is being used in African agriculture:
- Precision agriculture: Precision agriculture uses AI to collect and analyse farm data to help farmers make better decisions about crop planting, fertiliser application and irrigation. This can lead to increased yields and reduced costs.
- Crop protection: AI is being used to develop new crop protection methods such as using drones to spray pesticides or AI to identify and control pests and diseases. This can help farmers to reduce their reliance on chemicals and to protect their crops from pests and diseases.
- Market access: AI is being used to help farmers access markets for their crops. This can be done by providing farmers with prices, demand and logistics information. This can help farmers to get a better price for their crops and to reach new markets.
- Climate change adaptation: AI is being used to help farmers adapt to climate change. This can be done by developing new crop varieties resistant to drought, heat and other climate change-related stressors. AI can also be used to help farmers manage water resources more efficiently.
Another fundamental pillar of Agenda 2063 is economic transformation and growth. But, unfortunately, Africa has an annual infrastructure funding gap of $100-billion.
To achieve this, we should focus on accelerating intra-African trade and improving infrastructure connectivity through initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, but it remains critical for African governments to increase spending on infrastructure substantially.
These initiatives aim to create a continental market of 1.3 billion people that can drive industrialisation, stimulate investment and create jobs.
Agenda 2063 also underscores the importance of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
We envision an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values, and ethics, where the potential of the people, particularly women and youth, is harnessed and their rights are protected.
However, as we strive towards realising this vision, we must also acknowledge our challenges. These include managing urbanisation, climate change, improving health systems and dealing with peace and security issues. While these challenges are significant, we are confident that we can overcome them with our collective will and shared commitment.
The continent is urbanising at a rate of 4.1% per year, which is faster than any other continent in the world. This means the urban population in Africa is expected to double in size by 2050.
Several factors are driving urbanisation in Africa. One is the high rate of population growth. Another factor driving urbanisation in Africa is the rural-to-urban migration. People are moving from rural areas to urban areas in search of better opportunities.
On the positive side, urbanisation can lead to economic growth, improved infrastructure, and better education and healthcare access. On the negative side, urbanisation can lead to overcrowding, pollution and crime.
Therefore, investing in infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals is essential. Improving the quality of life in rural areas is also important so that people have less incentive to move to urban areas.
Finally, it is essential to promote sustainable development so that urbanisation does not lead to environmental degradation.
Although Africa contributed the least to climate change, the continent is carrying the biggest burden. So, the issue of climate justice is paramount.
Africa is home to much of the world’s reserves of minerals that are key in the energy transition. One of many examples is that 92% of the world’s reserve of platinum, a critical ingredient in hydrogen fuel cells that reduces greenhouse emissions, is in southern Africa.
The African continent is critical to shaping the new global climate economy with abundant renewable energy resources, forests and land, which are critical in mitigating climate change and building a resilient global economy. We need to ensure that we get a just trade as far as these resources are concerned.
The lack of research capacity within Africa remains one of the critical constraints to solving these challenges. Africa contributes a mere 2% of world research outputs – accounting for only 1.3% of research spending and producing 0.1% of all patents. However, universities are well-placed to address some of these challenges and we should give them political and financial support to play this meaningful role.
In light of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as Agenda 2063, the African Union-United Nations Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security is a mechanism for African development to take a key position in geopolitics. Strong and deepening cooperation between the UN and the African Union is critical to prioritising African development globally.
The journey towards 2063 requires a shift in our mindset, a belief in our capabilities and an unyielding commitment to hard work. We must embrace innovation, be open to learning and be ready to adapt.
As Africans, we have proven time and time again that we are resilient and resourceful. I do not doubt that we will rise to the occasion and turn the vision of Agenda 2063 into reality.
To quote Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Let us, therefore, rise to this challenge, knowing that the task ahead might seem impossible, but with determination, commitment and unity, we can achieve our goal. Let us seize the future together and make Africa the continent of our dreams. DM
This is an edited version of Professor Marwala’s speech at the African Group Meeting of Permanent Representatives to the United Nations at its meeting on 18 May 2023.