For nearly a year, various Afro-centric issues have been raised weekly on this medium by this author. Essentially, the attention drawn to them was neither meant to scare nor was it a literary virtuoso but a call for action. Although Africa has been a hotbed of crisis as a result of pockets of wars and hostilities, it is also a haven of investments and a destination for prosperity. The former resulted from poor or bad leadership, as in cases of DR Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, South Sudan. The latter, however, finds expression in the shining example of emergent post-war Rwanda and can be stretched further to include a transforming Ethiopia – now leading the way in innovation and governance issues, especially on gender inclusiveness at the highest level of governance. We can therefore affirm that Africa has hope and a bright future.
But, things must first be done right before the right results could emanate. The unacceptable state of economies across the continent must be corrected. Bad leadership must give way to people-friendly, progressive and truly participatory governance. Infrastructure must be upgraded and improved upon. Communication must be more accessible. Healthcare must improve. Education must be reformed. Road networks within and between countries must be increased and be better. Aviation system within and between countries must be undergo advancement, and air links between countries must be enhanced. Security architecture must be overhauled within and between countries for effective monitoring, peace keeping and territorial integrity.
The insidious flow of small arms across national borders constitutes a threat to security on the continent. These arms, which are either used to fight ethnic, religious or other forms of sectarian wars, have led to the deaths of millions and displacement of millions in the past decade. It has resulted in forced migrations and a band of refugees in many parts of Africa. The effects, mostly as a consequence of predominantly agrarian population, are brought to bear on food security, with resultant famine among the extremely vulnerable and resource-poor. The Boko Haram crisis, which began as a local insurgency in the north east of Nigeria, has displaced nearly two millions of inhabitants and crippled agricultural production within that region. This has assumed international dimensions because of the links with international terrorists. It has thus gone beyond a national crisis. Africa must therefore regard this as a continental emergency that must be handled with urgency, with the aim of finding a permanent solution.
Agricultural systems must be made more productive and less susceptible to the vagaries of weather and climate; the smallholder farmers need robust and timely support to keep them producing, and a new cadre of farmers need to be raised among the youth and the millennials if food security is to be ensured as the future beckons. Beyond the private sector-led ICT innovation in agriculture, countries must collaborate and deploy huge financial and human resources towards supporting big data relating to agriculture – with information base in areas such as weather, markets, security, global commodity prices, insurance and institutional policies, laws and regulations. They should make deliberate attempts at raising commercial and large-scale farmers and linking Africa to the global value chain in agriculture, with profound emphasis on post-production activities such as processing, packaging, storage and logistics.
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It is not enough to create business opportunities for the operators and investors, we need to greatly reduce the post-harvest losses annually and hitherto recorded in African agriculture. While the foregoing could provide some incentives, the following will safeguards against shocks. Although Africa is famous for having vast reserves of agricultural land that can feed the world in the future, the various factors contending against that reality must be tackled head-on. Agriculture must be made competitive with estate and property development and policies must evolve to establish a balance between these two competing real sectors in the context of changing climate and rapid urbanisation to minimise pressure on agricultural lands and ensure food security. Leaders across the continent must put their heads and hearts together to tackle the seemingly intractable problems of agricultural pest invasions such as Fall Armyworm that have become major trans-boundary agricultural crises and a potent threat to food security, affecting a major African staple food.
Emphasis on foreign aid needs to be reduced and replaced with innovative approaches to economic activities. Donors should fashion out ways to make aid more impactful. Aid providers should seek to go additional step closer to the causes of the problems rather than just focusing on effects. In agriculture, in particular, a lot of leakages of financial aid for smallholders occur along the line, in the process of reaching the farmers. These happen in forms of costs of transportation, hotels, per diem allowance and other incidental expenses for experts and officials involved in interventions, such that just a fraction of the entire allocated funds ultimately trickles down to the farmer-beneficiaries from such interventions. But back-to-office reports hardly capture these and many such donor-supported programmes stop soon after the donor funds stop coming or at the end of specific project cycles.
Donors should henceforth ensure that their interventions align with national and continental development programmes. Where they have ideas that are superior to governments, they need to seek proper engagement to ensure that governments bend over backwards to accommodate them. Many farmers have said they don’t need aid; what they need are infrastructure, market outlets, storage facilities and good agricultural inputs in timely supply and in good prices. If the interventionists (and national governments) listen to the farmers, they need therefore to re-draw their policies in ways that are responsive, bottom-up and needs-based rather than top-down and autocratic. They therefore need to modify their intervention and provide, instead, what the farmers truly find useful and what reduces the fund leakages and raises impacts of investment. Impact investing thus requires proper diagnosis of problems before committing huge intervention funds.
Migration is denting Africa’s image, more so in cases involving economic rather than humanitarian causes. The pride of Africa – that the preponderance of youthful population constitutes the strength of the continent – becomes altogether meaningless when the same youth migrate en masse across the Sahara in search of elusive better life in Europe and elsewhere. In the process, Africa suffers brain drain and brawn drain, and the youthful energy is dissipated. This is where, in the words of Peter F. Drucker, “reason becomes nonsense and boons afflictions.” Failure to evolve practical steps towards retaining and ennobling the youth at home could spell social, economic and humanitarian disasters in the near future. Well trained, skilled professionals as well as untrained but strong youth who could do farming and non-farm agricultural works, or who could exhibit many other creative talents, end up in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, with less than satisfactory working conditions. These need to be stopped on a continental scale!
To bring back Africa on the path of sustainable development, the various comparative and competitive edges of the continent need to be harnessed.
This will necessitate a pooling together of intellectual resources across national borders as well as sharing of common goals. More developed countries cannot afford to leave the less developed behind as the latter could constitute the source of retardation of the former. For instance, as insurgency spreads across borders, a prosperous African nation that shares border with an insolvent nation might end up getting endless supplies of destitutes, criminals, insurgents, smugglers, and illegal migrants which could become pains in the neck of the prosperous countries. African nations must therefore begin to think with common future in mind and must work toward this. The various regional blocs must begin to speak to each other more often, share experiences, collaborate and support each other.
The problem of one African country is the problem of others.