Who does Africa hold promise for?

In May 2013, an Africa-focused article described Africa’s youth as either a ticking time bomb or an opportunity. At the time, Senegal had just come off their general elections where the incumbent was defeated by an aspirant.

This move was precipitated in part by the youth, who felt that the new regime would put more effort into stemming the country’s 15 per cent joblessness.

On the flip side, in Senegal and other African countries, political violence and civil unrest have been fuelled by the youth.

As a continent, we seem to be straddling the delicate balance between youth being agents of change and agents of destruction. Over the next few years, how we tackle unemployment and the needs specific to African youth will either make or break the continent.

Unlike some parts of the world where the prospects for the youth are seen as few and far between, with policies agitating for a tightening of immigration laws as a solution to unemployment, our story on the continent is quite different.

Untapped potential, a wealth of resources and a region full of promise are terms often used to describe Africa. And up to that point, I completely agree.

My question though, is, who does our continent hold promise for?

Is it for the foreign creditors that we are mortgaging the future generations to as we amass massive debt in the name of ‘development’?

Or is it the foreign corporations that we are selling our land to, not realising that in a century or less these actions will come back and bite us where it hurts most?

Or don’t we care because by then, we will not be around to take responsibility for our actions, not that we are accountable even when we are present?I have nothing against foreign and government focused investment. In fact, I think that when structured properly between the agencies and the government, it creates a win-win situation for both the organisations and the country’s citizens.

However, my question revolves around whether we structure these agreements (or financial assistance) with the clear intention to drive self-sustainability in the near future.

Think of any industry where to fetch a premium price, value addition has to be added to the raw materials after harvesting. Why do we send raw product overseas for processing, then buy it back as premium goods and at a premium price?

After a couple of decades of this, should we not be in a position to have created enough infrastructures to complete the whole value chain, at the same time creating employment in the local economies?

With coffee for example, a major forex earner, drying and roasting, which are the most basic processes, are carried out in-country.

However, the industry like for most other raw materials, depends on overseas markets for processing, packaging and branding. Are these not the kinds of investments we should be considering if we are truly dedicated to creating employment and bolstering our economic standing?

The commodities industry worldwide is not only expanding, the palate for premium products is increasing. Why then do we keep harping on about creating jobs instead of capturing low hanging fruit?

This is the precise reason why I place emphasis on the fact that the potential and economic growth we keep talking about for the continent is unlikely to translate to gains for the citizens, much less the youth.

And this is only bad news for the youth, who we keep saying are our greatest resource. And it’s sad for the one continent that’s growing while the rest of the world is contracting from a population perspective. Last year, Kenya hosted the 2016 African Employers’ Summit.

I followed the conversation online, while watching other complimentary but separate discussions that addressed the same employment and opportunity concerns.

The continent is estimated to have about 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, which translates into about 600 million hectares. Clearly, the continent is very capable of feeding itself.

On the contrary though, while the rest of the world has seen a decline in the number of hungry people, those in Africa increased from 175 to 239 million from 2008 to 2012. It is no wonder, then, that the continent continues to be epitomised by the image of a hungry and malnourished populace.

This wealth extends to oil and other natural resources. It is estimated that the continent holds 30 per cent of the earth’s remaining mineral resources, including gold and copper.

Ideally, a growing youth population and unexplored wealth should be a winning combination. The next decade should be focused on skills enhancement to prepare the most energetic section of our population for the kind of attention Africa will undoubtedly receive.

But as we know, the ability to do something, the will to do it and how to realise a nation’s potential are far from mutually exclusive.

In fact, there’s nothing that suggests that we are cognisant of the wealth, both human and natural that we are in possession of. The big question is – will Africa’s unexplored wealth be a blessing or a curse?