Africa is experiencing a never-before-seen economic and political transformation. Five of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located here.
While there are many reasons to celebrate the improved economic performance, daunting challenges remain. Foremost among them are widening economic and social inequalities that have resulted from non-inclusive growth. Africa’s poverty rates are still the highest in the world.
Since the end of the colonial era, the African Development Bank (AfDB) — which is essentially our continental equivalent to the World Bank — has led the charge in taking Africa forward. It is the AfDB’s job to help African economies grow as an integrated economic bloc. Beyond this, though, the AfDB also has a responsibility to achieve real and sustainable development that benefits all Africans, to create opportunities for Africa’s rapidly growing youth population, and to lift people out of poverty.
The AfDB must focus on building an equitable and inclusive model for growth in Africa to eliminate poverty and deliver prosperity for all, rather than for the lucky few.
To accomplish that, we cannot continue with business as usual. The AfDB must lead the way.
We need to reduce inequalities in economic prosperity among countries in the region. The AfDB should work to integrate our region. Landlocked countries need to be connected to coastal ports through investment in transnational infrastructure, especially highways, trans-boundary water basins, and railway, maritime, and air transport systems. We must deliver integrated infrastructure and eliminate barriers — this will expand the size of the regional markets and reduce the cost of movement of goods, services and people, creating a more open Africa.
The AfDB also needs to refigure its approach to agriculture. Africa has 65% of all the arable land left to feed the nine billion people in the world by 2050. Transforming the agriculture sector will have the largest impact on inclusive growth on the continent, given that 70-80% of the labor force is engaged in the sector but are locked into poverty. We must provide innovative financing instruments and direct private equity funds toward agribusiness investment. Boosting the agriculture sector in the region, especially in fragile states, will strongly benefit women, who account for more than 50% of Africa’s farmers.
We need to diversify the economies in African countries that are rich in natural resources, to shield them from over-exposure to volatilities in global markets (as we saw recently with falling oil prices). Focusing on unlocking agriculture’s potential will go a long way toward diversification and building “soil wealth” rather than relying on oil and mineral wealth. We also need to improve management of those natural resources — transparency and accountability must be enforced.
The AfDB should put more resources toward strengthening the private sector, empowering it to drive industrialization and wealth creation for Africa. We must prioritize the growth of SMEs and support the emergence of African global multinational corporations. To ensure that companies get access to finance, the AfDB should strengthen financial intermediaries and develop the financial market infrastructure.
The AfDB can and should deliver “power-for-all” — universal access to electricity. Nothing is more important to African economic success than access to power, and yet Africa has 50% of the world’s renewable energy resources, but it remains largely untapped. Developing the energy infrastructure will drive rapid economic and social development. We should target investment toward renewable energy — solar, hydropower, geothermal, wind — and support a combination of large, transformative regional power projects.
The AfDB needs to accelerate investment in developing regional ICT infrastructure, which will drive innovation and integration, reduce costs, build platforms for enhancing educational systems, and improve health service delivery systems.
We need to build strong pan-African partnerships. This will demand engagement and commitment from African governments, the African Union, financial institutions, and the private sector, with the AfDB as the central, driving force.
We need to do whatever it takes to build a continent with shared prosperity and sustainable, inclusive growth. We need to chart a new course to a better, more equal Africa.
With the right kind leadership and a united pan-African effort, this peaceful, stable and globally competitive Africa is within reach.