Investing in Africa’s future

The African continent needs to invest more in shaping its future; otherwise we shall end up with leaders more concerned with other people’s interests rather than those of their communities.
Awel Uwihanganye
Awel Uwihanganye

The African continent needs to invest more in shaping its future; otherwise we shall end up with leaders more concerned with other people’s interests rather than those of their communities.

US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa following China’s Xi Jinping’s, arguably set the stage for an apparent second scramble for Africa, spearheaded by the two leading economic giants.

As the common saying goes, when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. The two competing super powers are aggressively deploying different radical strategies to advance their interests on the continent.

Among the different narratives by economists, political watchers, and media following the two Presidents’ visit, the African voice articulating core interests, and position on key issues was somewhat mute in the discussions that ensued.

Not even the voice of the host Presidents Kikwete of Tanzania or Zuma of South Africa was heard above the set agenda of the “loud” visitors.

This should be worrisome for Africa. During this era that promises placing Africa at an economic vantage point, the narrative is once again being owned and shaped by outside interests.

In its Africa policy, China has chosen a pragmatic approach, directly working with current leaders promising massive investment in infrastructure, and extending development financing in form of grants with no strings attached.

This approach is widely hailed and welcomed by today’s leaders, given the many pre-conditions they were subjected to inprevious engagements with the West.

However it is worth noting that increasingly, in some of the China-Africa engagements, quality does not appear to be anywhere close to the main priorities.

The projects are also shrouded in claims of corruption, of substandard and shoddy works, dumping of labour and goods, among other negative aspects attributed to the China approach.

By and large, in the China-Africa relations, the ‘young’generation has been left out of the conversation; yet they are the ones who face the brunt of the Chinese labour that is dumped in Africa while the small start-ups subscribe to unfair competition with Chinese businesses, which have joined retail trade in most of African urban centres.

This is in addition to the fact that future generations will be expected to honour obligations associated with the grants, and infrastructure investments being undertaken today.

On the other hand, it is the same young generation in Africa that have become the centre of President Obama’s foreign policy, and his choice for investment in future Africa-US relations.

Even before announcing the robust agenda for Africa’s emerging leaders during his South African leg of his Africa tour, American diplomats had been heavily involved in supporting activities and programmes that empower the African youth.

Given President Obama’s stature as an inspiring figure, whose personal story projects possibility against the odds, he presents a powerful reference to inspire new thought and aspirations of struggling Africa’s emerging generation.

This reality increases chances of this strategy succeeding by producing future leaders who are pro-American.

This is against a backdrop of the fact that inter-generational dialogue has not been a priority for most African leaders of today.

In the midst of an increasingly inter-connected world, somehow it has not been part of the main agenda to orient and shape the next generation of African leadership outlook.

However, with fear of sounding xenophobic, I ask the question whether it is appropriate for the American President to outline such a bold and aggressive, strategy like he did, to shape, develop, and orient value systems of future and emerging leaders on the continent.

Is he taking away the right of African political leaders to do just that, or is it an indictment against them, that they have failed in this regard? Why did African leaders let this go on unchallenged?

Like I have argued before, most African leaders are yet to recognise that in a part of the world where over 70% are youth; their voice is just as important as national security, and infrastructure development.

With “Africa Rising” becoming more of a reality than a myth, preparing and equipping the young generation with the mindset, abilities, and capacity to own the economic opportunity Africa presents today, the responsibility of shaping the youth is a major task.

Failure in this regard would be equated to our fore-fathers’ failure to protect, and safeguard Africa from slave traders and colonialists.

Therefore, whereas the plan announced by President Obama is a welcome initiative, it should acknowledge that, first and foremost, local value systems should form the basis of which leadership principles of emerging leaders in Africa are based.

This calls for African business and political leaders, to, themselves, invest in mentoring and shaping these young leaders.

Indications, especially in East Africa, are that the youth are not sitting hands folded; youth entrepreneurship is on the rise and social and media activism is led by the young generation.

Awel Uwihanganye is the Co-Founder & CEO LéO Africa Forum

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