European colonizers like to think they brought the beacon of ‘civilization’ to the barbarians of Africa but the fact is that some Africans countries had already developed magnificent and complex urban commercial empires long before their arrival. A casing point of this were the Golden Kingdoms of Ghana and Mali that lasted more than 800 years. Organized systems of governance and Is- lamic centres of scholarship flourished with the most famous being Timbuktu in West Africa.
Their wealth was founded on the mining of gold and salt from the Saharan mines. Historians estimate that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to 1500 was 3,500 tons- worth more than US$30 billion in to- day’s market. Camels would car- ry these natural resources across the desert to cities in North Africa and the Middle East; returning laden with manufac- tured goods that contributed to a vast surplus of wealth.
The Ma- lian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 – 5 times larger than mediaeval London. This year, the African Union (AU) held its 28th Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at its headquarters running from 22nd-31st January. Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad was elected as the new chairperson of the Afri- can Union Commission (AUC).
Five months into the job, the AUC chairperson has his work cut out for him in giving Africa a blue-print for harnessing its vast resources to create wealth reminiscent of a fond time. Call it what you may but I choose to call it the African renaissance.
A piped dream?
Some critics have naively criti- cized the African renaissance as being a pipe-dream. This could not be far from the truth. The vi- sion of the African Renaissance seeks to inspire Africa into a col-lective creative process that dis- cusses the necessary conditions for this rebirth. The African Union development thus far is a testament to this reality. Central to Mbeki’s African Renaissance is the right of African people to determine their own futures.
It calls for a cancellation of African foreign debt, better balance of trade, an expansion of develop- ment assistance and trade pro- tocols that guarantee better ac- cess for African goods in foreign markets. Beyond this, it urges African nations to embrace the positive aspects of globalisation through attracting capital and investment with which they could develop their countries.
This last clarion call has especial- ly been taken in stride through the increased Sino-African and Indo-Africa investments on the continent. These emerging part- nerships will fuel the expansion of many sub-Saharan countries.
Harnessing the youth bulge for wealth creation
As it stands, the AU countries agree it is a priority to invest in the youth capital as the young people are the bedrock of Af- rica’s economic potential. This means more youth entering the labor market. The WB estimates that by harnessing the youth bulge- Africa is capable of gen- erating a growth of 11-15% GDP between 2011 and 2030.
Because of this, African heads of state agreed to initiate the 2009–2018 Decade of Youth Ac- tion Plan at the African Union 2011 Summit held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. These delib- erative actions emanated from the reality that the Sub-Saharan region is the next probable hot- bed for political uprisings.
As already shown, this is due to the aforementioned factors coupled with a lack of political agency and corruption in many Afri- can countries which makes the youth a ticking demographic bomb. Resultantly, several youth- focused goals were generated to this effect. Firstly, to reduce youth unemployment by 2% per year between 2009 and 2018. Secondly, elaborate on a Tech- nical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) framework.
The TVET framework will be im- portant for helping African poli- cymakers determine what skills their young people need to gain employment and become better entrepreneurs. Lastly, provide adequate funding to advance the youth agenda. To this effect, countries like Ghana created the national youth service and empowerment initiatives to equip college grad- uates with requisite skills and help them find jobs.
Mauritius developed a plan to encourage technical and vocational educa- tion for young people. Zambia introduced a national youth pol- icy and enterprise fund to stimu- late job creation in their market. Also, the Nigerian government introduced a skills acquisition and enterprise development pro- gramme as a component of the existing national youth service corps. While these initiatives are laudable- there has been criti- cism that they have been ridden with mismanagement and are antiquated.
The focus for the African Union should be in creating enabling conditions in non- wage sectors by developing value-chains in agriculture and expanding opportunities for self- employment. Over the last fifty years very little attention has been paid to both the agro-allied and entrepreneurship sectors that transform farm inputs into final products.
Tony Njoroge is a Researcher on International Relations. firstname.lastname@example.org