The Future in Africa

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    The Future is not just in Africa - The future IS Africa

    By 2030 one in five people will be African. Combine the continent’s soaring population with technology, improvements in infrastructure, health and education, and Africa could be the next century’s economic growth powerhouse.

    Africa will account for more than half (54%) of the 2.4 billion global population growth in coming decades. The United Nations predicts that between 2015 and 2050, Africa will add 1.3 billion people, more than doubling its current population of 1.2 billion.

    The 21st century will see an unprecedented situation: one where every continent will face large-scale aging and slowing demographic growth. Every continent, that is, except one: Africa (or, to be more specific, sub-Saharan Africa). Africa is young whereas the rest of the world is graying, and any strategic thinking about the 21st century must take this into account.

    Add to this Africa's steadily improving situation with regard to governance (there are still many problems, but steadily less war, steadily more free elections, and so on), and a technological landscape and future that will allow Africa to leapfrog many aspects of the rich life that the rich world takes for granted. Africa having 70% of the world's resources is just the icing on the cake.

    China's drive into Africa is mainly motivated by natural resources. But this is merely the catalyst of a broader phenomenon, which is really driven by the frustration of so many Chinese with the unbearably stifling and corrupt Chinese system. From a slow-growth West myopically hypnotized by China's largely meaningless growth figures (and a bizarre envy of authoritarianism), we don't actually see China for what it is, which is a very unhealthy society. The restrictions on how many offspring they can have. The harsh and inflexible education system, which now no longer provides the jobs it promised. The ever present corruption and inflation. The choking pollution. No wonder everyone who can, is running for the door.

    For Chinese who cannot find advancement or fulfillment in a tottering system, Africa is actually enticing, and in Africa they can find a world where opportunities are more available for the taking by the driven and hard-working, who are shut-out of the best networks in China. And, of course, we cannot discount the fact that most of the Chinese doing business in Africa are men coming from a country with an increasing shortage of women to a continent where there is no shortage.

    It is this social phenomenon which is driving China's scramble for Africa, more than "neo-colonialism" or a mere geopolitical grab for oil and maize fields. And underlying it is an understanding that the West ignores at its future peril: Africa is where the future is.

    Some commentators are of the opinion that China is in the process of industrializing Africa. This is largely a fantasy, and an unhealthy one, because it makes space for magical thinking about the continent’s problems and thereby avoids serious focus on the daunting challenges at hand. Through no real fault of its own, China is mostly an obstacle to African industrialization. That’s because China industrialized decades ago and now dominates with overwhelming advantages of scale most of the sectors that newly industrialized economies, like those in Africa, seek to enter.

    African economies trying to follow China’s lead, therefore, face historically uncommon challenges. Coupled with another challenge that Africa faces— with its 54 separate small states. Many of the states being further handicapped by being landlocked. The prospects of deep or widespread industrialization become even more unlikely.

    The practical solutions for Africa are threefold:- First, agriculture, not industry, is the key to providing work for the hundreds of millions of Africans to come. In many African countries, more than 50 percent of the labor force already works in agriculture; in some states, like Burundi and Burkina Faso, it is more than 80 percent. Yet Africa has the least productive agriculture of any continent, according to the World Economic Forum, and at the same time has the most unexploited productive land.

    Every bit of this equation has to change, with the help of every major foreign partner. Agriculture can become a dramatically larger source of wealth for the continent and its peoples, one that gives them hope and reasons for sticking around.

    The second pillar is education. Here again, every African partner should be redoubling its investments, in good measure for reasons of self-interest. Better education on the continent, from universal literacy and schooling for girls, to vocational training and higher education, will help the continent modernize, raise incomes and encourage people to remain in their places of origin by increasing their wealth.

    But since vastly greater emigration is inevitable, education will also help raise the capacities of those who leave the continent, and make them better able to contribute wherever they go. Already in the United States, it is an underrecognized fact that African immigrants have a higher level of education than both the immigrant population as a whole and the U.S.-born population.*

    Finally, Africa and its foreign partners must greatly accelerate ways to remove barriers that still hinder the movement of people, goods and capital between the continent’s many small and divided markets. There has been some encouraging news on this front lately with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, an agreement that aims to create a common market starting next year.

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