For a long time now, the international narrative about Africa has focused on how outside entities can help the people of that continent. This is changing.
To an increasing degree, Africa is taking control of its own destiny. Across the continent, countries are creating innovative solutions to their own biggest challenges.
This represents both an unprecedented opportunity and a reason for genuine confidence in Africa’s future. Yet we must always bear in mind that this is an incredibly diverse continent, and its progress is far from uniform.
Even between nations of similar resources, we see huge differences in performance and outcomes. But by learning from each other, the nations of Africa are raising living standards for their own people.
This does not mean that I believe the rest of the world – whether governments, international aid organisations or non-profit foundations – can turn their back on Africa. Outside assistance remains crucial.
But the real fuel for development is now the resources of African nations themselves – whether government funding, private-sector investment or simply human creativity at all levels of society.
The nations that are in the best position for lasting growth are directing those resources into two areas that too often get overlooked: health and agricultural development. Health and agriculture may not always be the sectors that get the most attention, but the evidence shows that they are the drivers of lasting economic and social progress. Long-term prosperity depends on providing health and nutrition for all, including the poorest.
We need look no further than Ethiopia, where I am writing these words, to see evidence of this link. It is a country with huge challenges. But by focusing on improving health and agricultural productivity, incomes per capita have been nearly tripled, providing the springboard for lasting growth.
On health, Ethiopia recognised the importance of access to primary care for everyone. Through its Health Extension Programme, geographical gaps in health coverage in this large, rural country were identified and filled by deploying 38,000 – largely female – health workers.
This increase in capacity has been matched by a willingness to innovate, the courage to measure results, and the honesty to admit what’s not worked.
There is a great deal more to do. Maternal mortality rates, for example, remain among the highest in Africa. But overall, the programme has been an impressive success. Under-five mortality fell by 67 per cent from 1990 to 2012. We have seen similar progress in health elsewhere in Africa.
Since 1994, Rwanda has seen the steepest drop in child mortality ever recorded. The chance of a young child dying in Tanzania has fallen from one in six in 1990 to one in 20.
Ghana has led the way in vaccinating its children against diarrhea and pneumonia – two of the most prolific killers of Africa’s children.
Thanks to Ghana’s national model – and the work of some outstanding nonprofit partners like the GAVI Alliance – these vaccines will be saving lives in almost every African country by the end of this decade.
In agriculture as well, there have been remarkable advances. Agriculture remains the bedrock of the continent’s economy. It supports the livelihood of two-thirds of the workforce, mainly on small farms.