In the year 2050, according to a Generation 2030 Africa report published by UNICEF in August this year, 37 per cent of under 18’s will be in Africa; 41 per cent of births and 40 per cent of under 5 year-olds will be in Africa. At present 47 per cent of all Africans are under 18 years, and in 15 countries more than 50 per cent, natural and man-made disasters, such as wars, drought and famine notwithstanding.
Given these figures and the rising standard of living, especially in the areas of education, health-care and private ownership for many in much of Africa, as well as the huge mineral and oil resources (fresh oil blocks are being discovered all the time), we can expect to see some significant changes in the face of Africa in the next 35 years.
That there will be a real impact in the lives of the poorer strata of the societies of each state will depend on such factors as transparency and accountability, a more just distribution of wealth, a lessening of the levels of corruption and corrupt practices, the establishment of mutual trust in business, and making optimum use of the institutional structures already set up.
Sophisticated technology in most of the continent comes from outside, but this need not be so for ever. With the advances in the levels of education, the opening of many new universities and trained staff returning from overseas, not forgetting the immense mineral wealth (some of which can be found only here), the future looks bright.
The real challenge for Africa is to get out of its sleepy past and get organized, without losing its natural and attractive qualities –sociability, communal work, entrepreneurial spirit, etc.- It can no longer rely on the individual’s little kiosk, where he sells sweets, cigarettes and a loaf of bread, or the jua kali (in the hot sun) worker making saucepans. It has to go big time.
Business schools are popping up everywhere throughout the continent producing young graduates in management and all related skills and courses. These are optimistic signs, and require a marshalling and re-directing of energies, and a basis of trust, as mentioned before.
Two modern inventions have transformed and are transforming the lives of Africans: the opening up of the airwaves and the mobile phone; and Internet, and social media. In the past Africa was cut off from outside, and it is only within the past fifteen years or so that we have joined the rest of the world. Now, instead of actual travel one can access the sights and cultures and, what is important, the economies of foreign countries by typing some keys.
The younger generation has taken to these inventions with relish. Nearly every university student has his lap top and everyone his mobile phone, each with its variety of features. We are watching a revolution take place.
In the past, Africa changed little from one year to the next, from one decade to the next: wars and proxy wars (fought between the super-powers); apartheid; unmoveable dictators and the whole terror system that accompanies them; laws from the colonial era and justice delayed (and therefore denied); a corrupt judiciary in league with the powers-that-be; filthy, dangerous prisons, etc. Some of these social blots remain, but step by step others are being removed.
With its huge, bursting young population, and its sun-filled energy Africa has an optimistic future. The Congo River, for example, can generate enough power to light up the whole of Africa. Who knows what else we shall see by 2050?
Spero columnist Martyn Drakard writes from Kenya.