An exceptional forum by Mo Ibrahim, president of the eponymous foundation dedicated to good governance in Africa and famous for its “Ibrahim Index” and its award dedicated to heads of state agreeing to peacefully leave power in accordance with the constitution and in the spirit of democratic change.
It makes life better on the African continent today than in the past. The last two decades have been marked by constant improvement, so much so that today, a child born on the continent is more likely than ever to have a longer life expectancy, to escape the extreme poverty, to be enrolled in the primary cycle and to experience economic growth.
But all is not rosy either. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a massive impact on the continent, which has entered a recession for the first time in thirty years. While long-term growth prospects remain positive, all too often this growth lacks consistency, does not create jobs and does not share its benefits.
Too much inconsistency also in terms of governance, which is nevertheless an essential foundation for any sustainable progress. Without good governance – without transparent leadership, creator of trust and respect for democratic values - social and economic progress is wasted. A good year can quickly be followed by looking back.
To be sure, the past decade has been, by and large, a period of improvement. In 2019, just over 60% of the continent’s 1.3 billion citizens lived in a country where overall governance, as assessed by the Ibrahim Index of Governance in Africa, was better than in 2010.
I am clearly an optimist and there are good reasons to be. But you also have to know how to remain realistic.
While many countries, especially Europe and the United States, are already recovering from the pandemic, following vaccination campaigns that already cover 60 to 70% of their adult population, Africa is still waiting. African leaders were able to impose early containment measures that have surely helped to limit infections, but today they are fighting in vain to provide vaccines to their populations. As of early June 2021, only around 32 million doses had been distributed in Africa, for a population of over 1.3 billion. The hoarding of vaccines by rich countries is an important part of the problem, but the crisis has also exposed the current unsustainable lack of African vaccine production capacity.
It is too early to assess the full cost of the pandemic to the continent. But this year’s Ibrahim Forum report on the impact of COVID-19 in Africa highlights that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities and increase the burden on governments ill-equipped to cope with the shock. The result will be a reduction in resources, not only for health, but also for education, training and investment, at the risk of provoking frustration and anger, and thus an increased risk of social unrest and conflict.
In many African countries, children and young adults have been denied months of education and social contact. Locked in their homes, without distance learning tools, they suffered from malnutrition, missed essential health appointments, and were at increased risk of violence and abuse. The consequences for their mental health and well-being are significant, and these consequences persist.
It’s at times like these that governance really makes sense. The pandemic presents an unprecedented leadership challenge, which many African leaders have overcome. Many have acted more decisively than their counterparts in other parts of the world. But we are in the middle of the ford. Every day brings new, more difficult decisions that will shape the future of the generations that follow us.
How can Africa turn this crisis into a springboard for change? For me, the main thing, the only thing that really matters is creating opportunities for the youth. To do this, emphasis must be placed on education, training, investment and employment. These are not empty words. Evidence suggests that societies prosper when they invest in their youth, which produces intergenerational benefits for health, education and the economy.
We need investments that create jobs and build stronger societies. Investments are increasing in Africa – from governments, public and private companies, private equity funds and financial institutions – but they are still too short-term and vulnerable to sudden changes in risk assessment or risk. commodity prices.
There are, however, signs of change. Major global economies recognize the value and value of closer ties to the continent. They promote countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana or Kenya, which host tens or hundreds of millions of consumers, but also brilliant entrepreneurs. Trade relations between Africa and the rest of the world must be strengthened, but in a more balanced trade structure, and also by consolidating the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the development of trade networks. sub-continental.
By 2030, one fifth of the world’s population will be from Africa. Every year, tens of millions of young people on the continent enter the labor market. They need the skills and training that allow them to realize their potential. Young people are our continent’s greatest asset, but if we do not provide them with opportunities to learn, find jobs and be productive, we risk seeing them wanting to migrate to areas that can offer them what they need. ‘they are looking for, or attracted to, parallel networks.
The pandemic is a major and deep crisis for Africa, as it is for the rest of the world. But like any crisis, it opens up opportunities. With the right decisions, we can do better in education, investments, jobs, exchanges. Whether in the digital economy, ecological transition, resources, energy or infrastructure, Africans can play a role. Let us use this opportunity to build a stronger Africa.