Africa Day on 25 May 2018 is an opportunity to reinforce one of the most critical pillars of our continent; one of our roots as a people: continental unity. Envisioned by our founding fathers over half a decade ago, it was on this day in 1963 that the Organisation of African Unity, the forerunner to the AU, was founded. This was meant to be the embodiment of a united Africa, the vessel for delivering shared continental prosperity, achievable only through a united Africa.
One of my favourite African proverbs proclaims: “Cross the river in a crowd, and the crocodile won’t eat you.” Today, the river to an economically inclusive and prosperous Africa is filled with fierce crocodiles: mothers burying their 5-year-old children for lack of food; more than 240 million people going to bed hungry; up to 12 million young people joining the labour market each year to compete for just 3 million jobs – and the number projected to reach over 350 million in less than 17 years, competing for far fewer jobs, a situation that some are describing as a ticking time bomb; our youth – the embodiment of Africa’s sovereign capital, the tip of the spear, the change-makers of Africa socioeconomic transformation – currently wallowing in hopelessness and despair, risking all – life, limb and dignity – to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea in search of elusive greener pastures overseas. In the process, many are swallowed up by the Mediterranean. Others are held captive under inhumane conditions and sold in modern-day slave markets.
And then there is climate change – the elephant in the room – projected to shrink the economies of developing countries – most of which are in Africa – by a whopping 75%. And robbing the content of the little income it currently generates.
These crocodiles are fierce. The only way we can defeat them is by adopting a new paradigm; one premised on collectivism rather than individualism; on selflessness rather than selfishness; on commitment rather than treachery and disloyalty; on synergy and complementarity rather than silos; on leveraging human capital – the skills, talents, ongoing initiatives, passion, energy, commitment of our youth and the entire collective of our people – as the most critical ingredient of development, rather than putting money first. These are the essentials of what I call “innovative volunteerism”.
On 21 March 2018, African heads of state and government demonstrated commitment and collectivism to sign the ground-breaking Africa Continental Free Trade Area. This agreement is set to consolidate a 1,2 billion-strong market with a combined GDP of over US$2,3 trillion. It is projected to increase intra-Africa trade, currently at a mere 12%, the lowest of all continents globally, by a whopping 52% by 2022 – taking it to 70%.
This agreement puts at our disposal a 300 million-strong middle class representing a US$150 billion agro-market. Coupled with our abundant sunshine – free energy – this is fuel for the creation of clean energy-powered agro-value addition industries that can create up to 17 million diverse jobs – from agriculture, to ICT, finance, energy and transport/logistics, to name just a few. It can fuel the creation of a US$1 trillion agro-industrial sector on the continent in less than 12 years from today. It will totally vanquish the crocodiles of hunger, malnutrition, youth unemployment, poverty and climate vulnerability that are endlessly stalking the continent.
The agreement also contained a protocol on the free movement of people. The dream of an African passport – the epitome of our identity as Africans – is within reach.
But achieving this calls for a paradigm shift. A common excuse used to justify underdevelopment on the continent is that African countries are still “young nations”; “young civilizations”. Truth is, age does not matter. What really matters is the mind-set of the people. As citizens of this planet, we must always know that our skills, commitment, talent, ongoing initiatives and sense of responsibility are our greatest resources with which to transform countries and continent – not only upfront financing. We must know that we have what it takes and that we must start with what we have – and not only depend on the benevolence of others. Failing to take leadership and responsibility can never be substituted. This mind-set change is urgently needed in Africa today.
It is a change from individualism to collectivism; from silos to complementarity and synergy; from treasuring money to pricing human capital. Where the skills, experiences, talents, plans and ongoing initiatives of diverse complementary stakeholders – state and non-state; individual and institutional – are engaged in mutual partnerships towards the common end-goal of sustainably industrialising our agriculture, using clean energy. Agriculture is Africa’s catalytic area and the engine of development. This is a break from traditional approaches premised on upfront financing of silo development projects.
Thankfully, we are comforted by what we see happening across Africa, where, from the coastlines of west Africa to the highlands of east Africa to the savannahs of southern Africa and across all the regions of the continent, this mind-set change is gradually taking root. With it, transformative climate action is becoming visible. Many people are taking the initiative, demonstrating tangible leadership. They are doing it themselves through the inclusive policy framework called the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA). They are doing it not because they have money but because of passion and a commitment to a cause bigger than themselves. This is a remarkable moment. We must not wish it away but build on this moment to drive truly great transformational climate action for ourselves and those yet to be born. Through EBAFOSA Innovative Volunteerism many are finding connections and common cause – across languages, cultures and borders. This is so because our destinies are all inextricably linked and there is more that unites us than divides us. We must join hands to drive transformational change for people and planet, because that is the only way we can ensure no one is left behind.
So, let Africa Day 2018 energise us to leverage the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and beat the fierce crocodiles of hunger, malnutrition, youth unemployment, poverty and climate vulnerability.
As we celebrate Africa Day 2018, let this be the start of accelerated progress in building the shining city on the hill, which is the Africa we deserve. It starts with you. It starts with knowing what you can do with the skills, talents, ongoing initiatives and networks you have.
For a copy of Dr Munang’s book, Making Africa work through the power of innovative volunteerism, follow this link:
Dr Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which he is affiliated.