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Friday, February 23, 2024
BRUSSELS, Jun 30 2011 (IPS) - On an unusually hot Belgian afternoon, Thoko Kaime, leans back in his chair and explains how ‘township’ actually means ‘slum’ in his home country of Malawi.
“When you’re growing in the midst of poverty, it’s quite hard to be inspired because there is nothing really to inspire you,” says Kaime. “The first thing as a child is that you don’t notice the poverty, you just get on with life as it were. But young people need that inspiration, and for me my saving grace was a library that was about a mile away. I walked to that library every Thursday so that I could imagine a world beyond my township.”
Kaime, who is a senior teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, highlighted the critical need for progress in education. This was one of main points of discussion at the ‘Africa: Building on Growth’ summit held by the think-tank Friends of Europe in Brussels this week.
The former journalist had earlier discussed how the tone in discussing Africa’s challenges had changed dramatically since previous years. “The striking thing about this year’s conference is that it is much more upbeat than in the past,” says Giles Merritt, secretary general of Friends of Europe.
Responding to Economic Growth
Bernd Eisenblätter, chair of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, cited a United Nations report when discussing Africa’s economic growth at the summit. The report found that a five percent growth is expected in Africa’s economy this year and another 5.7 percent in 2012.
“The growth in Africa did not come by accident,” says Obasanjo. “By the millennium, we had developed the Millennium Development Goals and these goals are meant for our part of the world.” The former president went on to say that when the goals began to be implemented, Africa began to truly prosper.
However, economic prosperity doesn’t necessarily mean a higher quality of life for the continent as a whole.
“When you put the growth in GDP terms it looks good, but if you look at poverty reduction we are still very poor,” says Obasanjo.
One solution to improve the still poor but growing economy of Africa is through making the continent more attractive to foreign investment in the private sector.
“To sustain this growth we have achieved, we have to improve our economic infrastructure,” says Mohamed Ibn Chambas, secretary general of the General Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.
The challenge of having the private sector invest sufficiently in Africa, a panel at the summit agreed, was separating Africa the continent into smaller, interconnected and interacting markets through regional trade integration.
David O’Sullivan, chief executive officer of the European External Action Service, discussed how African businessmen see Africa as one large place, and by creating smaller, more specific markets, investment would increase.
“The idea of this [regional trade integration] is to create a real partnership across multiple areas,” said O’Sullivan. “There is not the investment going into Africa that it needs.”
Another issue discussed in improving Africa’s economy in the long-term was furthering education. With the majority of students in Africa attending primary school, according to Chambas, the need for skills-based training is a must to further opportunities for enterprise building and innovation within Africa.
“We need to address the issue of skills training, beyond basic training,” says Chambas. “Ninety percent of graduating students received a degree in the liberal arts or social sciences,” says Chambas. The secretary general hopes that with a skills-based education, students will be creating jobs instead of seeking them out after graduation.
However, the issue of facilitating those degrees Chambas admits is a challenge. “There is a huge gap in providing facilities for skills training,” Chambas says. The programmes would be alternative in nature, and would have to offer options for students who work during the day he continued.
The overall quality of education in Africa was key to its success, Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, stressed during his presentation at the summit. “The education of our children today impacts our economy tomorrow,” said Mbassi.
Partners, Not Donors Needed
Participants of each panel discussed how Africa is looking for partnerships with not only Europe, but also every market in the world, to further its sustainable economic growth.
“What’s crucial in this panel is that no one is saying Europe should help us,” says Merritt. “We speak of it as a partner but not as a donor. Are we ready to look at Africa as an actor in its own social challenges, rather than it waiting for Europe to come by and solve its problems? Africa is taking its own problems into its own hands.”
Assane Diop, executive director for social protection of the International Labour Organisation, agrees that solving Africa’s problems internally – without aid but through partnership – only makes it stronger.
“Imagine an Africa where the population is strong, active and formidable,” says Diop. “That would be a force.”
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