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The crossroads of prosperity and peril: unlocking Africa’s potential

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Author: Raymond Mugisha. PHOTO/FILE

Africa is a blessed land. It boasts of vast resources such as minerals, extensive arable land and a vibrant youthful population. The continent’s untapped potential is as wide as it is high. With an immense potential for socioeconomic transformation, the continent also carries a significant load of threats which, if not addressed, may not only block the path to prosperity but also create significant self-destruction. These threats position the continent at a crossroads of total emancipation and condemnation to perpetual poverty. They include:

Failing to upgrade and avail education and skills development to match present needs

A number of voices have expressed that today’s education system and offering for Africa is obsolete. It ticks the box. It does not address the continent’s evolving needs. The continent has a huge task therefore to ensure that the education system gets transformed so as to create a well-educated workforce that can compete on the global scene and contribute tangibly to the economic development agenda. If this is not addressed, the continent’s exploding young population will continue to lag behind. We shall have recurrent poverty, and it may escalate from generation to generation.

Insufficient infrastructure development

According to the African Development Bank, Africa needs about USD130billion to USD170billion per year to address the continent’s infrastructure gaps, which are currently huge. Poor roads, railways, energy systems as well as weak and thin digital connectivity weaken the continent’s backbone of socioeconomic emancipation. It is therefore critical for African leaders and all African people to continue to prioritize infrastructure development so as to motivate investment, facilitate intra-continental trade, create employment opportunities and thus accelerate utilization of the continent’s potential.

Neglecting Agriculture and rural development

Food self-sufficiency is a critical need for the exploding population of Africa. This is besides the fact that the Agriculture sector still employs about half of the working population in Sub-Saharan Africa. The continent, currently a net food importer, has the lowest agricultural productivity in the world, while it holds 60 percent of global arable land. With agriculture providing livelihoods for a huge African population, and the danger of starvation always knocking, and even opening some doors in various countries on the continent, it is evident that we must address challenges of limited access to farm inputs, poor farming practices and technologies and relevant weak infrastructure. Without addressing these issues, majority of the African population must remain poor, migration into cities will escalate against already constrained city infrastructure, and food insecurity will assault us.

Failing to harness technology and innovation

Related to the need to transform education and skilling for the young masses, is this lurking danger – that we, as a continent, may fail to properly harness technology and innovation. If our education is not properly aligned to trends in technology, this is highly likely to happen. It would spell deep condemnation of our young people, in today’s digital era where technology and innovation reign supreme. Our populations would be relatively non-productive and disadvantaged against their peers in the rest of the world. As such, we must aggressively invest in digital infrastructure, research and development, capacity building and training, so that our massive and youthful population can ably throw its weight against the economic challenges of the present time and the future.

Failing to address environmental degradation and adapt to climate change

Due to financial incapacity, Africa is least prepared to adapt to climate change. Our best bet would be on preventive measures against climate change – as far as the damage is concerned. That is as well costly, and the continent may not easily meet the growing financial need for it. However, this is a challenge that must be addressed to avert threats to livelihood, food security and other related dangers. Environmental degradation drives these misfortunes. Failing to address climate change and protect natural resources jeopardizes Africa's potential for socioeconomic transformation and will lead to increased poverty and catalyze conflict and instability.

Neglecting healthcare and social service needs

It is estimated that about half of Africa’s population has no access to health care needs. Infant mortality rate is highest in Africa. Life expectancy is lowest in Africa. Health care expenditure is lowest in Africa. Africa accounts for over 90 percent of malaria cases and deaths worldwide. Access to education, social protection, and other social services remains a significant challenge on the continent. Health care and social services are critical drivers of socioeconomic transformation. If we do not breakthrough in investments in health and social infrastructure, our potential for socioeconomic transformation may stay untapped.

Today, Africa stands at a peak point. To one side is a steep slope to the bottom of which are vast opportunities of potentially glorious proportions. To the other side is another slope. Its bottom is filled with catastrophe, misfortune, frustration, strife, conflict, instability, hunger and many other things we do not wish on our children and their children. We have work to do to set our society on the former slope. The time for action is now.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant