Making rich Africa work for poor Africans

Making rich Africa work for poor Africans
Photo Credit To Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa World Economic Forum

by Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa World Economic Forum


At the age of 20 I aspired to be President and at the age of 30 I was appointed to the Presidency of my country. A decade on I developed a healthy respect and deep sense of humility about what it takes to successfully lead and fulfil expectations of all citizens in a poor developing African State. With 70 percent of Africans under the age of 30, mostly poor unemployed and unemployable, I believe there is a dire need for a heightened sense of urgency in the face of growing global and regional political uncertainty.

Centuries ago, Africans were caught off guard by the advent of the First Industrial revolution that manifested itself in superior fighting and transport technology. Centuries later past the Scramble for Africa, wars of independence from colonialism, and half a century struggle to attain economic independence, the continent is confronted with the rising challenge of the Fourth Industrial revolution. While the first revolution was dominated by land ownership and stretched over hundreds of years, the fourth revolution is primarily about knowledge ownership and is moving at the speed of light. This new challenge comes at a time when leaders are grappling with the reality of the failure of past growth to create jobs and reduce poverty and inequality.

The overarching theme of the forthcoming World Economic Forum on Africa that will be held in Durban, South Africa in May 2017 is Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership. Building on global oriented conversations at our Annual Meeting in Davos this year on Responsive and Responsible Leadership we hope to expand the conversation on identifying new mechanisms to deliver inclusive growth and development with regional and global leaders.

Source: Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017, World Economic Forum

Source: Inclusive Development Index 2017, World Economic Forum

Leaders around the continent are facing myriad challenges, ranging from investment downgrades, to droughts exacerbated by climate change, illegal migration and civil protests. More worryingly, the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance highlighted that among others the rule of law has declined in over 30 countries since 2006. Accordingly, below are three areas in which the continent’s leaders will explore how to grapple with these new challenges while addressing the inclusivity challenge by embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

One, mobility related technology is connecting the continent in unparalleled ways under land, overland and above land. Over 70 percent of Africans now have unprecedented access to mobile technology. This digital infrastructure offers new opportunities  for the majority of poor Africans in rural and informal economies.

In 2017, Africa is expected to launch the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). The key objectives of the CFTA are to boost intra-Africa trade and investment by easing the movement of goods and people on the continent and to improve Africa’s competitiveness and economic growth by reducing the cost of doing business. Intra-Africa trade stands at about 15% of total volume, compared to 60% of intercontinental trade in the European Union, 53% in East Asia, 41% in North America and 20% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Africa’s High-speed railway network is becoming a reality beginning with the launch of the Ethiopia-Djibouti train last October.  Transnet is also leading the way by launching the first locally “designed, engineered and manufactured” train named the Trans African Locomotive in April 2017.

Source: Rexparry sydney, CC BY-SA 3.0


Also, after Zipline’s successful launch of drone-delivered blood supplies in Rwanda last year, it is increasingly evident that drones are revolutionising the small cargo delivery supply chain.

Two, disruptions to manufacturing technology such as the internet of things and 3D printing are liberalising access to technology and decentralising production. At Gearbox in Kenya, makers from the informal industry including jua kali artisans without formal engineering skills are using 3D printing to manufacture quality products faster cheaply. Elsewhere technologists like David Sengeh inspired by the plight of amputees in Sierra Leone are harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop the next generation of prosthetic devices.

These developments notwithstanding, Africa still lags significantly behind the rest of the world in terms of manufacturing. According to the African Development Bank, the continent’s manufacturing exports doubled between 2005 and 2014 to more than $100 billion, with the share of intra-African trade rising from 20% to 34% over the same period. However, Africa’s share of global manufacturing exports remains less than 1%, compared with over 16% for East Asia.

Three, emerging African inventors are reimagining solutions suited to the African context. It is estimated that by 2040 700 million new housing units will be needed. This implies a radical rethink of what kinds of shelter to construct. Elijah Djan from South Africa is ahead of the curve with his invention of bricks made out of paper essentially creating a sharing economy by finding new use for waste. In order for African innovators to thrive though, policy makers need to provide a conducive intellectual property regime and make it easier to do business competitively.


In order for the continent to fully leverage opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial revolution, dramatic investments need to be made in order to ensure that Africans are equipped with the right skills for the future of jobs. For example, the overall shortage of engineers is estimated at 1 million. In addition, more efforts are required to reverse the widening gender digital divide.



When all is said and done, successful implementation will depend on Africans shared values and identity. True integration is a bottom up cultural process not a top down political or technical process. Moreover, we cannot assume that we can work together if we do not deliberately build bridges across languages and borders, as well as actively prepare for transitions between intergenerational leaders. In Durban, home to the largest tribe in South Africa and largest diaspora of Indians outside of India, we will explore how to build a shared understanding and nurture collective responsibility to navigate the transition from Africa 1.0 to Africa 4.0 while strengthening our united socio-cultural heritage.

As we look back to see forward, it is equally important to stop bad traditional practices too. Madam Graca Machel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been long term advocates for Girls Not Brides, a global initiative to end child marriages. Recently Global Shaper Rebecca Gyumi made history in Tanzania by managing to pass a landmark court ruling against child marriage. Leading change under 30 is possible.

Call to Action: Countries like Estonia have shown that it is possible to craft a national digital social order that delivers for all. How are you leading change for the 70% under 30 years? Please join the #ShapingAfrica conversation and put your issue on the agenda in Durban.



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