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Forecast is not destiny; Africa is on the path to prosperity, By Mohamed Ghazouani

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Across the Global South, young people are yearning for opportunity and a better life. But while 1.2 billion people in developing countries are projected to reach working age over the next decade, only an estimated 420 million jobs will be available to them, leaving nearly 800 million people without a clear path to employment. Even though some of this cohort will continue their education, that would only delay, and possibly prolong, the crisis.

The challenge of insufficient job opportunities will be felt acutely in Africa, where nearly one-third of this generation lives. But forecasts are not destiny. That is why the continent’s future was a central topic at this week’s G7 summit in Apulia, Italy.

The need to focus on Africa’s future is obvious because a world free of poverty on a livable planet will remain an elusive target if the continent cannot harness its abundant potential and create sufficient employment and economic growth. And it is equally clear that a successful strategy for Africa would benefit from the International Development Association, which wields a powerful development tool: affordable financing.

The task is immense because Africa’s challenges are great. Nearly 500 million Africans live in poverty, while conflict, climate change, unsustainable debt burdens, and other crises cast a shadow over the continent’s economic outlook.

But the good news is that there is a path to progress, as evidenced by other countries that have prospered by using IDA’s grants and low-interest loans, embracing good governance, investing in their people, and fostering a business-friendly investment climate. Africa could take a similar path, but it will need the help of organisations like the G7 and others.

We believe a focused strategy that generates jobs while providing the foundational ingredients for development is essential to that journey. In our view, this plan should be anchored in five pillars.

First, we must improve access to electricity, which is a fundamental human right and essential to development. The World Bank Group is working with the African Development Bank to provide electricity to half of the 600 million Africans lacking access to power by 2030, an effort that will require the support of development partners, governments, and private-sector investors to succeed. Fortunately, we are well on our way to building that coalition.

Second, building efficient, high-quality infrastructure is crucial for trade. Moving goods between African countries can be a lengthy and expensive process, because road and rail networks are insufficient, maritime transport is modest, and border wait times are prohibitively long. In a region where 470 million people don’t have reliable year-round transport, investing in physical and digital infrastructure – including cross-border payment systems – will create job opportunities by increasing trade, integration, and financial inclusion.

Third, investment in agribusiness must increase. Only 6% of Africa’s farmland is irrigated, compared to 37% in Asia, and the continent has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use in the world, leading to yields that are one-third of the global average. With the right fertilizer for the right soil and improved irrigation, Africa’s farmers could boost production, labour demand, and incomes, which could then be used for food, school supplies, and medicine.

For example, an IDA-financed initiative in Mauritania and its neighbouring Sahel countries is helping 390,000 farmers— almost half of them women — irrigate their farmland using affordable technologies.

Fourth, healthcare systems must be strengthened. The World Bank Group aims to help low- and middle-income countries provide healthcare services to 1.5 billion people by 2030 – which would demand skilled jobs. But we must think even bigger because strengthening health infrastructure and pandemic preparedness is essential to development.

Lastly, promoting tourism would create jobs for women, who make up the majority of the sector’s workforce, and accelerate economic growth. But this will depend on improved infrastructure and access to electricity and health care. Moreover, like the other four areas, it also requires a commitment to education and skills development to succeed, built with a digital foundation.

IDA is an essential partner and knowledge source in advancing this agenda. It is the largest provider of financing and the main source of liquidity for many African countries. Last year alone, 75 percent of IDA’s commitments – more than $25 billion — were to Africa, a 24 percent increase over five years. Its financial model turns every donor dollar into nearly four dollars in new resources. And, if successful, proposed measures to simplify IDA would improve access and help countries focus more on developing real solutions for their people.

Simply put, IDA is the best deal in development, as 19 African heads of state recently recognised. It’s also a reminder of what we can accomplish when we join together as partners in progress. With IDA’s support, we can target jobs — and growth-producing sectors, engage the private sector, and help Africa secure the prosperous future it deserves.

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is the President of Mauritania and Chairperson of the African Union; Ajay Banga is President of the World Bank Group.

Strictly Personal

The post-budget crisis in Kenya might be good for Africa, after all, By Joachim Buwembo

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The surging crisis that is being witnessed in Kenya could end up being a good thing for Africa if the regional leaders could step back and examine the situation clinically with cool-headed interest. Maybe there is a hand of God in the whole affair. For, how do explain the flare not having started in harder-pressed countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana?

As fate would have it, it happened in East Africa, the region that is supposed to provide the next leadership of the African Union Commission, in a process that is about to start. And, what is the most serious crisis looming on Africa’s horizon? It is Debt of course.

Even the UN has warned the entire world that Africa’s debt situation is now a crisis. As at now, three or four countries are not facing debt trouble — and that is only for now.

There is one country, though, that is virtually debt-free, having just been freed from debt due to circumstances: Somalia. And it is the newest member of the East African Community. Somalia has recently had virtually all its foreign debt written off in recognition of the challenges it has been facing in nearly four decades.

Why is this important? Because debt is the choicest weapon of neocolonialists. There is no sweeter way to steal wealth than to have its owners deliver it to you, begging you, on all fours, to take it away from them, as you quietly thank the devil, who has impaired their judgement to think that you are their saviour.

So?

So, the economic integration Africa has embarked on will, over the next five or so years, go through are a make-or-break stage, and it must be led by a member that is debt-free. For, there is no surer weapon to subjugate and control a society than through debt.

A government or a country’s political leadership can talk tough and big until their creditor whispers something then the lion suddenly becomes a sheep. Positions agreed on earlier with comrades are sheepishly abandoned. Scheduled official trips get inexplicably cancelled.

Debt is that bad. In African capitals, presidents have received calls from Washington, Paris or London to cancel trips and they did, so because of debt vulnerability.

In our villages, men have lost wives to guys they hate most because of debt. At the state level, governments have lost command over their own institutions because of debt. The management of Africa’s economic transition, as may be agreed upon jointly by the continental leaders, needs to be implemented by a member without crippling foreign debt so they do not get instructions from elsewhere.

The other related threat to African states is armed conflict, often internal and not interstate. Somalia has been going through this for decades and it is to the credit of African intervention that statehood was restored to the country.

This is the biggest prize Africa has won since it defeated colonialism in (mostly) the 1960s decade. The product is the new Somalia and, to restore all other countries’ hope, the newly restored state should play a lead role in spreading stability and confidence across Africa.

One day, South Sudan, too, should qualify to play a lead role on the continent.

What has been happening in Kenya can happen in any other African country. And it can be worse. We have seen once promising countries with strong economies and armies, such as Libya, being ravaged into near-Stone Age in a very short time. Angry, youthful energy can be destructive, and opportunistic neocolonialists can make it inadvertently facilitate their intentions.

Containing prolonged or repetitive civil uprisings can be economically draining, both directly in deploying security forces and also by paralysing economic activity.

African countries also need to become one another’s economic insurance. By jointly managing trade routes with their transport infrastructure, energy sources and electricity distribution grids, and generally pursuing coordinated industrialisation strategies in observance of regional and national comparative advantages, they will sooner than later reduce insecurity, even as the borders remain porous.

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‘Slow burner’ Tanzania is at it again, but she needs to learn to make more noise, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Tanzania has been up to its tricks again. The Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Abdallah Ulega said Monday that the country’s meat exports have risen dramatically, jumping from 1,774.3 tonnes in 2022 to 14,701.2 tonnes in 2023.

That is a growth of a head-turning 729 per cent, the type that blows socks off. He attributed the growth, not surprisingly, to “the government’s efforts to revitalise the livestock sector,” including a substantial increase in budget allocation for the sector.

That budget allocation, he said, rose from Tsh32.1 billion ($12.2 million) in the 2021/2022 fiscal year to Tsh112 billion ($42.6 million) in the 2023/2024 fiscal year.

You can’t scoff; that is a 249.18 percent increase. It is not often that African governments increase spending at that level in productive sectors. They do so for MPs to buy cars and travel abroad, for State House so the president can feed his patronage machine, or for dubious “classified expenditure,” not livestock or beef.

Of course, the Tanzania government doesn’t own cattle in any significant number, so the beef is ultimately the product of farmers’ enterprise. These farmers have given Tanzania 36.6 million head of cattle, the second-largest cattle population in Africa, after Ethiopia.

This news will be surprising to many people outside Tanzania. Few would associate Tanzania with leadership in anything to do with cattle or beef. We never hear noises and see photographs of long-horned Ankole cattle or read claims about how Tanzanian beef is the meat of the gods. Tanzanians don’t even seem to know how to polish cattle horns, adorn them with beads, or compose cow poetry. Or so it would seem.

But they know their cattle. They just don’t make noise about it. In East Africa, this is known as the “silent Tanzanian approach,” and the country is dabbed the “slow burner”. The only Tanzanian we know in the rest of the world who brags about his wealth and gifts is the phenomenally successful musician and dancer Diamond Platnumz, easily East Africa’s most blinged artiste.

Tanzanian Mohammed Dewji is a dollar billionaire and one of the wealthiest people in Africa. He is the youngest, wealthiest person on the continent. Although he is handsome too, he does not flood the media with stories of his fortunes and expensive lifestyle. In fact, a few years ago, some goons — or even possibly shadowy state operatives — kidnapped him, and days later released him in a maize garden or something like that. Shameless lack of respect for money.

I can count on my hands the countries in this fair world where Dewji would own the president, and the army and police chiefs. And, in many places, he would be the last thing you see before you go to bed and the first thing you see when you wake up.

Tanzania recently launched East Africa’s first electric train running on a standard gauge railway. After a few mentions in the media, that the project is underway.

Elsewhere, it would have been after 10 years of daily bragging, and by the time it comes to reality, it would have been mentioned 10,000 times. The launch event would be loud; with drums, dancers, the police band, and the president would show up to cut the tape with 100 hangers-on in tow. He would declare that the train is part of the country’s unstoppable journey to be one of the world’s top 10 economies in five years.

We leave it to Tanzanians to explain to us what kind of madness this is; being shy to proclaim your small, medium, and big achievements from the top of Mountain Kilimanjaro. They are wasting the highest mountain in Africa, leaving it mostly to foreigners to climb. Kinjikitile “Bokero” Ngwale, that great man who led the Maji Maji Rebellion against colonial rule in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) must be writhing in his grave.

We are being jocular here. More seriously, slow-burner Tanzania represents a distinct tradition in the East African narrative of development. It shines a light on how local politics and geopolitics shape how people speak about progress.

A part of it goes back to founding Father Julius Nyerere, a modest and studious man who lived an embarrassingly simple life. Nyerere would today be too unglamorous to be a State House gardener in a couple of African presidential palaces. His ways, though, rubbed off strongly on political culture. Some years ago in London, I went to an event where President Ben Mkapa was speaking.

He mingled with the rest of us hoi polloi during the coffee break. I went over to where a couple of people were talking to him, his security standing off in the distance. There he was standing, talking away, with what must have been his favourite beaten briefcase, clasped between his legs.

It would seem that the slow-burner thing is also what happens when a long-ruling party like CCM derives its legitimacy not primarily from providing bread and butter, but more philosophical and intangible goods like “unity,” creating a “tribeless society” and being an African liberation vanguard.

Geopolitics also influences whether one will proclaim from the rooftop or not. Countries which exist in a hostile international environment, where foreign forces assail the state’s or government’s legitimacy and record on the global stage, need a megaphone to shout back their defence, and to display their record on a high billboard.

Tanzania hardly has enemies these days. It doesn’t have to make noise.

Many African countries could use such good fortune.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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