Africa’s future hinges on modernizing agriculture and improving education
The evolution of the African population and the development of its economies will affect almost all regions of the world. The continent’s growth will depend on modernizing agriculture, improving education, and removing barriers to the movement of goods, people and capital.
If climate change is the most important common concern in the world, what comes second? Maybe nothing close. But to me, the usual questions looming – over the fate of US power and influence, Brexit, the related viability of the European Union, and the many uncertainties surrounding China’s rise – seem almost parochial. compared to one that is becoming infinitely less international attention: the future of employment in Africa, where unprecedented demographic transitions are underway.
It is both a subject that lends itself to much fear and racism as well as disinterest and neglect, which the world cannot afford. This is because the evolution of the African population and the development of the economies of the continent will affect almost everything that people near and far think about their lives today.
Europe, more deeply linked by history to Africa than most Europeans realize, and located just outside the continent, will be the most affected. But as a new African diaspora grows, virtually every region of the world will too. Think of Israel, which tried to pay thousands of African migrants to leave the country, offering them plane tickets and $ 3,500. Think of Latin America, which has become a surprising migratory route for Africans hoping to reach the United States. Think of distant China, where an African community by the hundreds of thousands – estimated to be the largest in Asia – is centered in the city of Guangzhou. Think of the United States itself, which is already home to one of the largest African diasporas in the world, due to its history of slavery, as well as through more recent migrations. All will see much larger populations of African immigrants seeking to build a new life for themselves, possibly orders of magnitude larger.
Africa’s huge population growth will surely lead to alarmist calls from outsiders on how to limit this population boom. Yet Africans should not and will not submit to the proposition that they are a bigger problem than the people of any other part of the world, especially given the history of the slave trade which, for centuries emptied the continent of millions of its most capable. bodily people to serve the needs of other countries. Africans are as much a resource as humans anywhere. Europe today is already facing its own demographic challenges, but they are precisely the opposite of those of Africa. Europe’s crisis is one of falling birth rates, among the lowest in the world, and an aging population. This demographic decline is already causing shortages in the European labor market and other economic tensions.
Against the current wave of xenophobic populism, European leaders must find the courage to embrace African immigration much more actively. Since African migrants will come to Europe in one way or another, the smarter approach is a form of enlightened self-interest that gradually increases immigration levels and strives to welcome more in addition to African workforce and talent in the European workforce. To be successful, governments and civil society will need to strive to educate Europeans on what is at stake for them, and not make integration seem simply inevitable, but positive.
But it all comes down to jobs, and for good reason. Employment in Europe, North America and even beyond will not be enough to meet the needs of Africa’s growing population. Employment in Africa is the most pressing challenge, but one that much of the world ignores. Instead, observers and policymakers in Europe and the United States get annoyed over reports of China’s economic progress across Africa, or more recently – and even more ridiculously, considering the size of its economy – Russia.
The evolution of the African population and the development of the economies of the continent will affect almost everything that people near and far think of their life today.
Some commentators also claim that China is industrializing Africa. This is largely a fantasy, and unhealthy, as it leaves room for magical reflection on the continent’s problems and thus avoids focusing seriously on the daunting challenges ahead. Without real fault, China is above all an obstacle to African industrialization. This is because China industrialized decades ago and now dominates with overwhelming advantages of scale most of the sectors that newly industrialized economies, like those in Africa, seek to enter. African economies trying to follow China’s lead therefore face historically unusual challenges. Coupled with another challenge facing Africa – its severe balkanization into 54 mostly small states, many of which are further hampered by isolation – the prospects for deep or widespread industrialization become even more unlikely.
The practical solutions for Africa are threefold. First, agriculture, not industry, is the key to providing work for the hundreds of millions of Africans to come. In many African countries, more than 50 percent of the workforce already works in agriculture; in some states, such as Burundi and Burkina Faso, it exceeds 80%. Yet Africa has the least productive agriculture of any continent, according to the World Economic Forum, and at the same time the most untapped productive land.
Every part of this equation must change, with the help of every major foreign partner. Agriculture can become a considerably more important source of wealth for the continent and its people, a source of hope and reasons to stay. “The continent’s best bet is agriculture – the modernization of agriculture,” W. Gyude Moore, former Liberian Minister of Public Works and now a member of the Center for Global Development, told me. “A robust agricultural sector that begins to trade with other sectors of the economy will be the basis for a sustainable path to industrialization. It will ensure food security and improve the balance of payments, as food imports decline. “
The second pillar is education. Again, each African partner who describes themselves should redouble their investments, to a large extent for reasons of self-interest. Better education on the continent, from literacy and universal enrollment of girls to vocational training and higher education, will help the continent to modernize, increase income and encourage people to stay in their place. of origin by increasing their wealth. But since much greater emigration is inevitable, education will also help to increase the capacities of those who leave the continent and make them better able to contribute where they go. Already in the United States, it is an underestimated fact that African immigrants have a higher level of education than the immigrant population as a whole and the population born in the United States. *
Finally, Africa and its foreign partners must dramatically accelerate the means to remove the barriers that still hamper the movement of people, goods and capital among the continent’s many small, divided markets. There has been encouraging news on this front lately with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, an agreement that aims to create a common market from next year. Its promise, however, is already being challenged by the reluctance of some of Africa’s largest economies, like Nigeria, to abide by the terms of the deal.
Europe, which drew the arbitrary lines that divided much of Africa during the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, should take the lead in helping the continent to accelerate and deepen this type of reform. economic. Its own experience in expanding continent-wide trade and economic ties, culminating with the European Union, makes it a particularly suitable partner.
Europe’s political imagination and economic will to forge new relations with Africa, based on the belief in their common destiny, has faltered since the Cold War. If Europe fails to help the continent engage in much more transformative ways now, before the demographic dynamics become overwhelming, it will itself be to blame.
*Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that African immigrants have the highest level of education of any immigrant group. WPR regrets the error.
Howard W. French is a career foreign correspondent and global affairs writer, and the author of four books, the most recent of which is “Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shapes China’s Push for Global Power.” »You can follow him on Twitter @hofrench. His WPR column appears every other Wednesday.