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Africa rising – fallacy or fact?

“Africa Rising”, a narrative that portrays Africa as a continent of opportunity, has received much attention over recent years. Yet, are we on a path to realise or relinquish this potential?

Dr Pali Lehohla, former South African statistician general, expresses that this is an “exaggerated narrative” and that Covid-19 has revealed “how feeble the Africa Rising narrative has been”. The continent continuously faces a barrage of challenges, but initiatives such as the newly signed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement bring hope and have the real promise of unleashing Africa’s potential, says Lehohla.

Hosted by Dr Nthabiseng Moleko, senior lecturer in Managerial Economics and Statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, a panel of experts were brought together to share their perspectives on Africa with a cohort of MBA students. A key conclusion from a cautiously optimistic panel is that focused changes are needed if the continent wants to fully benefit from the potential opportunities created by the AfCFTA.

Firstly, the role of Multilateral Agencies (MLA) was debated. Musa Kalenga, CEO of BridgeLabs, expressed that MLA’s have been “regressing as opposed to advancing the continent, doing more of an extraction job than a development job”. While Lehohla questioned whether projects by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Bank have had a destructive effect on education and wealth in Africa, Andre Kruger, CEO of PPP Training Online, contended that MLA’s have a significant role to play in social development projects. However, he warned that MLA’s “should not push out private sector financiers”.

Next, the influence of China’s development model was scrutinised. Besides the growing presence of Chinese firms, imports from China into Africa already exceed the African continent’s collective export to China. The Chinese compete intensely with local producers, and panel experts jointly shared concern about its consequences.

Kalenga contended that Chinese investment is “not translating into the wholesale development of Africa”, arguing that through expensive debt and unethical lending, it is unclear whether there is an earnest intention to develop the continent. He raised concern that African countries focus too much on short-term relief, taking an eye off the long-term damage to the continent. Lehohla added that, without a common strategy, Africa might eventually become “the product being consumed”.

Is Africa geared to build its economies?

Moleko stated that comparing to Brazil with an engineer-to-population ratio of 1:227, some African countries face a severe shortage of skills reflected in a ratio of 1:6000 or worse. According to Kalenga, the education system must be fundamentally redesigned to increase the supply of much-needed skills across the continent and to prepare Africa for a digital future. Lehohla expressed that “education is a right for everyone and must be paid by taxpayers as an investment in society”.

So, is Africa rising?

According to Kruger, the key to economic rebound post-Covid-19 is an investment in trade corridors, infrastructure development and commercially oriented projects, while Lehohla asserts that intervention is required at a policy level for such projects to be successful. Combined with a redesign of education, prioritised focus on these aspects might just be the catalysts needed to help Africa rise.

This article was written by USB MBA students as part of a group assignment for the module Perspectives on African Frontiers: Lauren Arendse-Trantaal, Alicia Dean, Tanya Dramat, Moritz Fuerst, Nerita Singh, Zubeida Rajie, and Deon van der Westhuizen.

Useful resources:
University of Stellenbosch Business School
The internationally accredited University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) offers MBA, Master’s, MPhil and PhD programmes as well as executive education programmes – all focused on the development of business leadership.
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