In just a few years on either side of 1960, a wave of struggles for independence was sweeping across Africa. It is during that period that many African countries declared independence and freed themselves from their former colonial masters.
Because of internal conflicts, wars and repressive regimes that characterised the post-colonial period, the continent somehow became a donor recipient with the international community extending their support.
This was observed at the inaugural ‘Kusi Ideas Festival’ in Kigali, a conference that focused on examining the continent’s journey since the colonial era and what needs to be done to position the continent in the next 60 years.
Sylvia Mulinge, the Chief Customer Officer at Safaricom, observed there is a lot of opportunities in Africa today than 60 years ago, most of which lies in the economic growth potential that could result from shifts in the population’s age structure.
“When we look at the demographic dividend and the changing leadership contexts, there is a lot of opportunities. One of the biggest things we see in Africa in terms of the asset is not only the land but the people and their intellectual capacity,” she said.
That opportunity, she added, will be unlocked by embracing technology.
Mulinge believes there is a bigger opportunity for Africa to create digital jobs, but that environments that provide for freedoms of companies to thrive should be in place – the exact environment that enabled M-Pesa to take shape and become a global product.
M-Pesa, a product of Safaricom, is Africa’s most successful mobile money service.
“The intellect is there, the resources are there. We just need to leverage that to create the highways through which we will be able to do trade and commerce in the continent,” she said.
According to Carlos Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, the continent is experiencing a demographic transition that no other region in the world has witnessed before.
“You have a situation where the youthfulness of Africa is like a global public good, because the rest of the world is ageing extremely fast,” he said, adding that in the next 60 years, the population in Europe is going to have an average age surpassing 55.
He highlighted a case of Japan, saying that there are currently more than 100,000 Japanese that are 100 years or older.
If the majority of young people are going to be in Africa, Lopes says, it is going to be an opportunity for the continent to have a large consumer market.
Lopes who’s also a professor at Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, highlighted that technology and other scientific innovations are completely changing the way the systems of production work.
However, he said, because countries are so fixed on innovation, they tend to forget that innovation only adds value when it is transformed into consumption.
For innovations to work, Lopes said they have to give productive gains to the larger majority.
Somehow, Kamau Gachigi, the Chief Executive Officer at Gearbox, indicated that the continent currently has no national innovation systems, systems that are able to create the right kind of talents through proper education systems.
“You may have strength in electronics but if you plan carefully you can have strength,” he noted.
The last 60 years have seen the continent make a lot of progress, especially when it comes to building economic progress.
Lopes said there is a time Africa was receiving $50 billion worth of aid at the beginning of the century.
“Our combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than doubled. Remittances have gone from $7 billion to $80 billion during the same period. Tax collection has gone from $163 billion to now about $600 billion,” he said.
On the contrary, there has been debate that the continent’s public sovereign debt has been increasing, posing concerns and critics from different experts.
This idea is however dismissed by people like Donald Kaberuka, the Chairperson of the Global Fund board.
“The idea that Africa is going to drown in debts in nonsensical. It is not supported by numbers. At the moment I can think of seven countries that need help than the rest.”
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Eritrea, Gambia, Mozambique, Congo Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan and Zimbabwe are in debt distress, while others like Ethiopia, Ghana and Cameroon are at high risk of debt distress.
Debt to GDP ratio in Africa is about 50 per cent, while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average is 125 per cent.
Lopes also said those who are dismissed the idea that Africa’s debt is growing. “People are invaded by this narrative about Africa’s growing debt, but can you imagine that the totality of African debt is equivalent to the debt of Belgium and the Netherlands combined.”
Kaberuka suggested that in the next 60 years, Africa should has to invest in inclusive politics and inclusive economics, saying it is what will enable these young people to flourish.
If we can improve on domestic resource mobilization, public finance and debt management and improve on debt management capabilities, Africa can grow.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu