“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.” What this African proverb means is that hidden in any adversity there is an opportunity. In the context of contemporary development, Africa stands out as a continent in adversity: When we talk of malnutrition and infant mortality, Africa – where 200 million people are undernourished and 50% of mothers are unable to feed their children so that they get to live beyond the age of five – represents a significant statistic. Africa once again stands out when we consider youth unemployment, with 60% of the youth being unemployed and 10 million young people joining the labour market to compete for a fraction of the 3 million jobs available.
This reality gives rise to the global phenomenon of illegal immigration, which sees Africa’s most sovereign resource, its youth, risk life, limb and dignity to cross the Mediterranean Ocean in search of greener pastures. Overshadowing all these challenges – and with a compounding effect – is climate change, as it threatens to shrink developing economies – most of which are in Africa – by a whopping 75%.
Turning adversity into opportunity
Hidden in Africa’s adversity is a jewel that presents an opportunity to accelerate socioeconomic transformation. For example, the lack of grid-connected electricity means that the continent is not locked into current environmentally unsustainable energy models. This means that it will cost Africa less to transition to the cleaner energy future that the entire globe is driving towards. If we combine this with Africa’s unassailable comparative advantage in clean energy resources, there is an opportunity for the continent to carve its niche as a global leader in sustainable industrialisation. Such sustainable industrialisation would create income opportunities while simultaneously mitigating carbon outputs and protecting ecosystems, to prevent it from making climate change any worse. This example underscores the continent’s opportunity in adversity. As the African proverb goes: “The worlds of the elders do not lock all the doors; they leave the right door open.”
Human capital – Africa’s open door
Africa’s human capital needs to be engaged in maximising the productivity of certain catalytic sectors of the economy. To achieve this goal, we need a paradigm shift that is premised on collectivism rather than individualism. This means that the skills, experiences, talents, networks, plans and ongoing initiatives of diverse complementary stakeholders – state and non-state; individual and institutional – should engage in mutual partnerships towards a common end-goal. This goal is the bridging of policy and operational gaps as we head towards industrialisation that is sustainable, led by EBA-driven agriculture and powered by clean energy. We know that development requires and engine to drive it – and Africa’s engine is nature-based agriculture. The important thing, however, is that all these actions must be connected. Connecting the dots along the entire continuum is the only way to ensure that all the gaps are bridged for the collective benefit of all. This will require a break from traditional approaches, which are based on the upfront financing of development projects in silo.
EBAFOSA – opening the “open door”
One of my favourite African proverbs is, “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” This is the kind of collective thinking that should drive transformational change through climate action – synergised, complementary action. For this to happen, we must connect the dots, and this can only happen in an inclusive framework that brings everyone together. This is the thinking that resulted in the establishment of the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA). EBAFOSA is erected on the premise of selflessness and anchored in collectivism. Each and every one of us has a part to play – individually and through the institutions we represent – towards the realisation of the desirable end where we all benefit directly. We call this process ‘innovative volunteerism’.
What counts most in innovative volunteerism is not who knows you. What counts is your passion and commitment to drive transformational change through industrialisation that is led by sustainable agriculture and powered by clean energy.
The spirit of innovative volunteerism while drive us to form inclusive and complementary partnerships. These partnerships must be targeted at certain foundational pillars. These pillars include the linking of clean energy to the processing of EBA-driven agricultural produce. This should form the basis of sustainable agro-industrialisation in Africa. This foundational pillar must then be complemented by key market enablers. These include EBAFOSA Compliance Standards, which must be applied across all EBAFOSA countries for quality and environmental compliance. This standard serves to consolidate a continental market of both fresh and processed produce that meet the requirements and standards of EBA-Driven Agriculture & Clean Energy.
Another enabler is innovative financing. This would include risk-sharing schemes and would help to unlock affordable, market-driven financing along the EBAFOSA continuum
The important role of ICT
The use of Information Communication Technology to allow for low-carbon, affordable and efficient linkages to markets and supply chains is another pillar. Mobile-EBAFOSA, abbreviated as M-eBAFOSA, is a one-stop-shop financing module. It can act as a doorway to link diverse actors to relevant product and service providers.
For example, by using ICT mobile apps, and power producers.
Operational pillars must be supported by policy
The above operational pillars are augmented by a policy pillar: Policy harmonisation task forces are policy organs at the ministerial level that work to synchronise policies from multiple relevant ministries. The result must be coherent and complementary policies that enable all the above pillars to function optimally.
As former US president Ronald Reagan once said, “The future does not belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.” This is the spirit that landed man on the moon and saw us journey to the planets beyond. Today, all of Africa is called to bravery and collective action as a matter of necessity. Without brave and collective action, the challenges of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, below-par productivity and climate change will not be resolved. We must act as one to secure Africa’s future and reshape the development of the African continent. We must kick-start the required change of mind-set and make that paradigm shift so that we will truly drive transformational change for ourselves and for those yet to be born. It is possible, and our collective efforts will make it so.
Dr Richard Munang is an Africa Climate Change and Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang