Perceptions, poverty in Africa can be overcome

 “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand”. This African proverb sends one fundamental message; to knowledge, always add wisdom, or better, knowledge in and of itself, is not enough.

The globe is at its most enlightened, with the rate of information exchange and explosion of new ideas at its highest. World changing innovations are occurring in Africa just as they do in other parts of the globe.

From the financial sector, with the world beating “Mpesa” mobile money innovation in Kenya, to medicine with innovations like the “biomedical jacket”, or the “touchscreen Cardio Pad” in Cameroon, naming but a few, Africa is leveraging and making use of the information age.

This shows that Africa is neither immune nor lacking in knowledge. But Africa’s current predicament as a third-tier player in the global economy raises many questions. How it is that a people with access to all the knowledge that there is, seem to come up way short?

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Yet another African proverb, “Do not look at where you fell but where you slipped”, calls upon Africans to undertake thorough soul searching aimed at establishing how, despite being the most resourced region of the globe, we end up last in this age of knowledge and information.

This is necessary because the devastating challenges that have become synonymous with Africa – extreme hunger, poverty, disease, ridiculously high levels of youth unemployment - exist alongside immense natural wealth.

Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, having not only the best weather but holding a huge proportion of the world’s resources, both renewable and non-renewable.

Africa also holds 65 per cent of the world’s arable land and the best solar resource on the planet. Africa has every resource necessary to win in the 21st century. But in reality, Africa takes last position.

Acute starvation

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But why does Africa retrogress where others progress? During the independence dispensation of the 60s, South Korea’s then backwater economy was neck deep in sickly agriculture. So bad was the situation that the Korean population faced acute starvation, prompting goodwill from nations – including from Africa where Kenya gave a $10,000 loan and relief food.

Fast-forward to today, South Korea, with no minerals and roughly five times smaller than many African countries, has an economy estimated at 15 times the combined size of Africa’s economies.

South Korea’s meteoric rise can be summed in one African proverb– that “he who has no pond should not breed crocodiles’. Africa needs to prioritise engaging its human capital towards converting its comparative advantage in agriculture and clean energy into a global competitive edge as the foundation for meaningful economic growth.

They lie

 “One whose seeds have not sprouted does not give up planting”. This African proverb admonishes us that considering the over 60 years of self-determined rule have not yielded much meaningful economic fruits, the sons and daughters of this continent must keep planting towards the blissful end of economic empowerment.

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Africa’s prioritization of material and financial resources over people, and the talents, skills, gifts they hold, of pricing how deep someone’s pockets are is wrong. We should never ever elevate money above using our ideas; logic, skills to devise solutions to challenges we face in our countries and continent.

“Where the mind goes, the man follows”. Africa’s solutions reside in the changed mindsets of its citizenry. They lie in applying the teachings and principles of diligence, dedication, inspiration, determination, hopefulness; a sense of responsibility towards self and country, humility, passion and readiness to continuously learn these critical, but largely overlooked qualities.

Africa needs tapping into the 720 million strong youthful population to build globally competitive enterprises drawn from its areas of comparative advantage.

As youth, what will make you relevant- what will make you stand out for the long-run in this highly competitive globe space is not how you look, but what you can do. It will be your skills.

The mockery of “African time” used as a joke in this continent must end. Each year accords each and every one of us 31.5 million seconds to start with.

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What distinguishes those who close the year with accomplishments over those who close it with stagnation, is how we invest our time.

Dr Munang is Africa Climate Change and Development Policy Expert.

Mr Mgendi is Adaptation Policy Expert

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