Taking Africa Forward
Africa Day on May 25 was the conclusion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union. Africa used the opportunity of these celebrations to reflect on the past 50 years, the current state of the continent, but most importantly, to have a conversation on the future we want in the next 50 years. These conversations find expression in Agenda 2063, a vision for the continent for the next 50 years.
Africa today has turned the corner, and is now home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and with progress on a number of social indicators. Maternal mortality is going down, more people have access to basic services, and we have more children, including girls and young women in school and in higher education. Most Africans today live in countries where security, democracy and governance have improved, and the push for gender equality is gaining momentum.
The continent also has a growing and youthful population and still has vast natural resources including land, water, minerals, oil and gas, forests, biodiversity and oceanic resources. By 2025 a quarter of the world’s young people will be African and by 2050 our population will cross the two billion mark.
The challenge facing our generations is to tackle the persistent challenges of underdevelopment, poverty and inequality, and to turn these opportunities, into a roadmap that will transform Africa into an integrated, peaceful and prosperous continent, in the shortest possible time. This is the rationale for Agenda 2063, as a long-term, comprehensive continental framework that builds on the foundations of the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja Treaty, Nepad, as well as various sectoral policy frameworks of the African Union.
Agenda 2063 allows us to imagine an Africa that is transformed, with vibrant and inclusive economies, free from the burden of poverty, hunger, conflict and disease, and that is integrated and connected through transport networks (including a Pan African High Speed train that connects all our capitals and commercial centres), connected through ICT and with free movement of people and goods.
It is for this reason that the African agenda sets milestones for the priority areas that will make this vision a reality. These priorities include firstly the investments in the African people, as our most precious resources: their health, nutrition, access to shelter, sanitation and water, as well as expanding quality education, and strengthening science, technology, innovation and research.
In a similar vein, the empowerment of women and young people, as drivers of continental development is a critical precondition for Africa’s prosperity and renaissance. It is for this reason that the outrage of the kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls affect all Africans, and we must mobilise across the length and the breadth of the continent and as peace-loving humanity, to demand their safe return. Africa’s girls and young people should be in school and in education, and should be given opportunities to reach their full potential.
Although the growth experienced by the continent over the last decade marks an important turning point, it can only be sustained if we also transform our economies and societies, and create employment. We must do this by diversifying economies, by beneficiating our mineral resources, by expanding manufacturing and services including tourism, build the blue and green economies and by increasing intra-African trade.
Africa is home to over 60 percent of the world’s unused arable land, and yet it is a net importer of food. We must therefore continue to grow the agricultural and agro-processing sectors to ensure collective food security and to become a net exporter of food.
All this will not be possible without infrastructure – energy, transport, ICT, irrigation and storage facilities. This is therefore a further key priority for the continent, with South Africa having been tasked by the continent to act as a champion for the AU infrastructure programme.
In the final analysis, the integration of the continent is a key precondition to the above: from large-scale energy projects to our collective food security and responses to climate change, Africa gains more through integration, than by acting as 55 fragmented countries and economies.
Professor ZK Matthews, a former principal of Fort Hare University in 1961 spoke about the role of universities when he said, that the problems of emergent Africa should be tackled with resolute action, research and wisdom… and that universities, by tradition the institutions entrusted with the pursuit of truth, were obvious bodies to meet the challenge of Africa today. This is still very much true today.
Universities have a critical role to play not only in ensuring that we train the technocrats, the lawyers, scientists, teachers, engineers, the town planners, the researchers and agronomists to implement Agenda 2063, but also to contribute to the skills revolution that Africa so desperately need.
African universities must ensure that their academic staff conscientise the future generations to a new mindset that does not accept second best, but a belief that they have the tenacity and ideas to compete with the best in the world. Africa’s young people and students should provide the creativity, the energy and the innovation to ensure that the continental agenda for prosperity and integration are moved forward.
As we therefore develop Agenda 2063, we must build values that speak of ‘ubuntu’ rather than ‘enlightened self-interest.’
Values that speak of harmony with the environment, rather than relentless consumption with disregard for the harm caused to the planet.
Values that regard all professions, especially teaching, law, medicine, engineering, and the public service as a means to make a difference and serve the community, rather than just a means to accumulate wealth.
The university sector also has to play a critical role in African integration, by ensuring that it cooperates with other African universities and build networks of research and scientific cooperation. We must be part of the critical project to harmonise training and professional qualifications on the continent, so that students and professionals can study, work and cooperate with each other across the continent.
In conclusion, none of these initiatives and priorities will be successful, unless Africa also mobilises its own resources to drive its development.
• Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.