Foresight Africa: Top priorities for Africa in 2016


Photo: Mutua Matheka Photography

Africa is at a tipping point in 2016. Despite all the success the continent has achieved in recent years, new and old dangers—economic, political, and security-related—threaten to derail its progress. With sound policymaking, effective leadership, and enough foresight, however—Africa can meet and defeat these challenges as well as the many more to come.

In this year’s Foresight Africa, the Africa Growth Initiative and its colleagues discuss six overarching themes that place Africa at this tipping point and give their view on what they perceive to be key areas for intervention to keep Africa on its current rising trajectory. This year’s format is different from years past, encompassing viewpoints from high-level policymakers, academics, and practitioners, as well as utilizing visuals to better illustrate the paths behind and now in front of Africa.

 Explore the full report »
Managing Economic Shocks: African Prospects in the Evolving External Environment

In this chapter, Amadou Sy explores the recent external economic shocks to African economies—including the economic slowdown in China, declines in commodity prices, and the likely continued U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hikes—that have affected and will continue to affect growth trajectories in the region. With growth slowing across the continent in 2016, policymakers must take this opportunity to discuss and enact economic policy reform for both the short and long terms.

 Read chapter 1 »
Sustaining Domestic Growth: Structural Transformation Depends on Jobs, Industry, and SMEs

Growth in Asia and elsewhere has shown that industrialization is crucial to job creation, a value that is enshrined in the new Sustainable Development Goals. In this chapter, John Page provides recommendations on how African governments and their international partners can revitalize the region’s stagnating industrial development and spur structural transformation.

 Read chapter 2 »
Supporting Human Development: Triumphs and Challenges on the Continent

The region has witnessed remarkable improvements in poverty reduction in recent years, but persistent challenges in inequality, education, health, and violence, among others, still plague it. As the first year of the Sustainable Development Goals, 2016 provides the opportunity to be a jumping-off point for strong policies and efforts to accomplish these goals. In this chapter, Kathleen G. Beegle and Luc Christiaensen cover the assortment of opportunities 2016 provides for supporting human development efforts and argues for the central role that better data plays in addressing them.

 Read chapter 3 »
Capitalizing on Urbanization: The Importance of Planning, Infrastructure, and Finance for Africa's Growing Cities

With Habitat III in 2016, Jérôme Chenal takes the opportunity in this chapter to explore the consequences of Africa’s rapid urbanization. Africa is the second-fastest urbanizing region in the world, which historically has facilitated other regions’ transition from a reliance on agriculture to industry and jobs. However, without strong policies to deliver services, finance and build infrastructure, and support the urban poor, Africa’s rapidly growing megacities and intermediate cities cannot deliver on their potential.

 Read chapter 4 »
Maintaining Governance Gains: The National and Regional Agendas

2016 sees a number of governance milestones and obstacles, including elections across the continent (particularly in Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and for the African Union chairperson), as well as increasing regional integration and a seemingly stalled march towards good governance. In this chapter, Richard Joseph reflects on the region’s growth-governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes necessary to move from economic growth to economic transformation.

 Read chapter 5 »
Expanding African Trade: Creating a Comparative Advantage and Strengthening Regional Partnerships

In this chapter, Joshua P. Meltzer explores the impacts on Africa of the changing global trade environment. In particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement will transform global trade architecture, likely to the disadvantage of Africa. However, our viewpoint contributors believe that, if African countries can successfully leverage regional integration and better utilize the African Growth and Opportunity Act, they might be able to maintain global competitiveness.

 Read chapter 6 »

Article Source: Brookings Africa Growth Initiative

About Foresight Africa

The Foresight Africa project is a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. Since 2011, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative has used the occasion of the new year to assess Africa’s top priorities for the year.



The poor lack sleep due to lack of basic amenities; the rich lack sleep because the poor are awake

Currently attending the 25th session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). To begin with, the Governing Council is an intergovernmental decision making body of UN-Habitat; a programme within the United Nations that promotes integral and comprehensive approach to human settlements; assists countries and regions with human settlements problems; and strengthens co-operation and co-participation in all countries on human settlement issues.

The Theme of the 25th Governing Council (GC25) is: “UN-Habitat’s Contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda in Order to Promote Sustainable Urban Development and Human Settlements”

As I sat to join an acquintance for coffee over one of the breaks, I posed a couple of questions that were ringing in my mind. For purposes of this blog post let’s call the person X. “X do you think the world realizes how wide and rapid the income inequality gap is growing?”

“Do you believe in distributive justice while enhancing economic growth?”

” Do you mean giving my hard earned money to the poor through taxation and stuff?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’ll make more money and hire more guards,” he replied.

Urbanization is today one of the most important global trends of the 21st century. It is a transformative force that can be harnessed to enhance economic growth and productivity as well as wealth and state building. Are the opportunities and challenges arising from this trend being harnessed/addressed properly? In my opinion, Yes and No.

Urbanization has been reported to reduce poverty and be beneficial in various development sectors. More than 50% of the world’s population is now urban and this number is expected to rise to 60% by 2030. 90% of the world’s urban population growth during this period will take place in the cities of developing countries particularly those in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, urban population growth will add to the 863 million people who currently reside in informal settlements where access to basic amenities is lacking, and where tenure arrangements are precarious.

At the heart of the United Nations is the principle of leaving no one behind, a principle that is perceived by many as idealistic/ altruistic; in fact the majority find it unrealistic. However the fact of the matter is, no amount of money can save you from the repercussions of a growing desperately poor populace.

Here’s why: Most cities across the globe are witnessing increasing levels of violent conflicts and crises, unprecedented levels of crime and other types of violence. Switch on the telly and watch the daily news, this reality is staring at you square in the face.

The good news is that urbanization can be realized as the transformative force that it is. The growing inequality gap can be mitigated if done well however urbanization in of itself is not the magic bullet. In my opinion this transformation may occur through legitimizing prioritization of the interests of the most marginalized in society and their participation in the process, in this case the poor. Do the poor have access to quality basic services both in the rural and urban areas? Where this is not the case in the rural areas we are seeing continuous migration of people from the rural to the urban areas creating all manner of pressures in the city accompanied with pockets of poverty and crime waves.

Are the poor partcipating freely and actively in addressing these issues such as access to quality housing? Giving an example in Kenya, the goverment began the slum upgrading project which is anticipated to address the challenge of poor housing facilities in the slums. Though from visiting one of the projects one may get perplexed from seeing the number of uninhabited houses or from ‘other tenants’ renting the houses. It soon dawned on me that the people there were renting out these houses or just simply not inhabiting them. The lack of inclusion and engagement in dialogue on adequate housing is evident. Questions on the mapping process arise. Did the goverment inquire succinctly the number of people in the informal settlements? Did they inquire the resources that they have? What the peoples’ desires were? What kind of housing they envisioned?

I however do laud Kenya for institutionalizing these rights. Everyone in Kenya is entitled to decent housing and other basic rights as stipulated in the Constitution and this indeed is the right foundation when addressing this challenge.

My take home from the discussions is that we cannot respond to a select elite few whilst only accomodating the poor when it comes to development. This isn’t something new, we all know this. However the valour and time that we are dedicating to shift this ‘ideology’ from wishful thinking to practical reality is the ringing alarm.

A Word On Innovation From The World Economic Forum 2015

The movie ‘The Last Samurai’ comes to mind. The armies of the forefathers were far more equipped strategically to deal with matters of war and this certainly did not rest on the battalion numbers and equipment. One of the lessons from that movie. . .be careful who you think you can govern. Heritage takes precedence over everything.

Turn on CNN and you’ll find the news as it is….sometimes exaggerated; there’s very little good news at the moment. The current state of the world is at a point of strained cadence. Globally and geographically the world may have seemed flat, but economies are overwrought. This is accentuated by the fact that companies and governments alike seek sustainable solutions to “do more with less.” Certain natural resources are no longer plentiful for various reasons, food is simply scarce because most of it is wasted. Populations and urbanization continue to rise due to employment centralization and the snail’s pace of infrastructure development to accelerate economic activities in stagnant areas.This is a resident nuance in Africa.

Today however, the world is looking to emerging markets, particularly Africa. They have their eyes set on us. Let us remember that while CEO’s at the WEF 2015 stated that technology is great for learning in Africa, who of them reported this as part of their annual results linked to profit margins? Technology companies are profit driven and invest in profit driven growth.

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In droves they come, setting up shop as multinational companies. Included in their suitcases are an array of experiences and skills that have been tried and tested in developed economies. Soon enough they realize that more challenges and risks exist rather than opportunities – if not managed well.

“Innovation for us is coming from emerging markets… All the great ideas are coming from the outside” – Coca cola CEO

If these investors do not have a ‘pack’ case full of effective methods and behavioral studies that satisfy the needs of local markets that liquesce into local communities, environments and cultures, they will not achieve success.

German engineer Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered automobile without knowing that he had not just created an engine with wheels but stirred a revolution of inventions. For generations to come, he set the chain-ring in motion for an industry that revolutionized the way in which society was structured, and it has evolved ever since. Similarly, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee had not just built the world’s first Web site, he became Alexander the Great because of what we now know today as the World Wide Web. As with many inventors they unselfishly and not through ignorance, ignored the impact of that which we enjoy today.

There are four critical elements to note that will guide us when it comes to innovation in Africa going forward.

The first is ethical compass: the world is riding a wave of super waves from economic growth in places such as Africa.

Frankly speaking,we still have a large uneducated population who seek the ability to “consumerise” and not make financial decisions that would impact sustainable livelihoods. This is the continued theme of the Africa Progress Panel; to slow and ultimately halt corruption being channeled through illicit outflows. We have the multinational CEO’s who use these opportunities to take advantage. This is how it plays out. Corruption is pointedly carried out in sovereign countries by their respective officials and it is then that money that is shifted to tax havens by multinationals. This subsequently stunts innovation. How? Through lack of investments in local economies and research for African solutions; Africa is losing out as a continent.

Innovation must have a moral compass. Innovation must initially rectify and advance life in Africa and then serve as an economic export. The CEO of Coca-Cola recognizes this, he reiterates that if it is African then Africa must reap the financial rewards and hold the intellectual property rights.

Secondly, sustainable innovation: according to the WEF 2015 report; Most consumers in emerging markets desire and prefer products which are cost effective and that enhance innovative functionalities. Therefore, finding the optimal balance between innovation and cost is one of the most significant elements of driving sustainable innovation.This is also an essential dynamic to gain customers and achieve sustainable growth in emerging markets.

Nonetheless, there is some level of disagreement here. Innovation functionality must solve a problem from the perspective of the African consumer. No longer based on the notion of limited resources, can we invest only in consumerism? Innovation resources must have a source. If this source is in Africa, what are the sustainable impacts given the lagging stages of development on the continent? We have to think much deeper.

Thirdly, speed to market via infrastructure: at an average growth rate of over 5 percent in most African countries, sustainability is an acute question. If we measure the cost to benefit ratio of a smartphone to the majority of consumers in Africa, cost will top actual productive use and household affordability.

“If we can extend [the internet] to more people, we increase voice… we increase economic opportunity… and we increase equality.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA

If we investigate the number of internet users from the 400 million smartphone users, can we honestly say that there is an impact on improved quality of life? Again, this may be creating room for understanding or misunderstanding the playing field in new markets. Despite an increase in growth, there can be the possible dangerous misconception of linking investment and population poverty to economic mainstream conversion and migration alike.

In the current form, speed of delivery of innovation must meet speed of infrastructure innovation. Plug the annual $40 billion infrastructure funding gap and let’s get the ball rolling.

Fourth, Meet the Local Partner: ideally there should be qualified local partners who can meet the expectations of handling major investments. This is ideal to enable investors to integrate well into local geographies as well as provide the know-how on navigating local markets.

If we go back to the history of the industrial revolution, specifically the depictions of economic progress, we find that there existed many economic models that tested negative.

Thus, the stories being put forward on innovation in Africa are to some extent ignoring the fundamental narratives of the African people, history and status quo.

I have browsed most quotes on innovation from the the internet and from the WEF 2015, a body and gathering that I hold in high regard; I find that there is a deficit in research, particularly on Africa and emerging markets; the research is more steered to making innovation of European and US based technologies available to African consumers.

In a world where the US and Europe are lagging in growth and emerging markets continue to receive the bottom of the shoe coverage irrespective of the fact that their markets have the greatest growth and prospects for investment, one wonders who to listen to.

We need change and the Chair of the WEF ought to take cognizance that African CEO’s who have built billion dollar companies across the continent should be the ones steering thought leadership.Or maybe, just maybe, innovation should start with sufficient and quality media coverage which showcases African’s skills and talent; a people with a history of storytelling well.

Article originally posted on Ventures Africa

Story by Elton

(Edited here)

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