Charting the way to ‘The Africa We Want’

My domestic worker is a good sharp-eyed boy. When I returned home from work yesterday, he told me: “Tonton, something special might be going on in our city.” Even before I intervene, the guy went on saying: “I’ve been watching TV since Monday and I realized that there is a big event which attracted a lot of foreigners to the city.”

And the 23-year old guy went away as he was busy with cooking activities.

afrThen, I thought for a while; just wondering to what extent the event was organized to catch the attention of laypeople like my domestic worker! The guy was absolutely right and there was a ‘big event,’ indeed!

The special event was the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank that took place in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, from the 19th to 23rd May this year, attracting more than 3,500 high profile people from all corners of the continent and beyond. It was very special in a sense that the bank was at the same time celebrating its 50th anniversary of operations.

Unlocking agric potential

The meeting was a kind of platform to talk about different crucial aspects that affect development of the continent such as political stability, infrastructure, access to clean water, education, health, ICTs, to mention a few others. But more interestingly, unlocking agriculture potential for fast economic growth, youth and women participation to make all these aspects a success were at the center of the debate.

For instance, you could hear from speakers something saying that Africa’s agriculture potential is staggering while the region has more than 60 percent of the world’s uncultivable arable land. Others repeating that it’s unacceptable to see that the continent has become a net food importer while some 50 years ago, it was a net exporter of agriculture produce.

Indeed, the challenges facing agriculture are enormous. Of these challenges, one stands out. There is chronic underinvestment in agriculture in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, smallholders still depend on rain for irrigation. They use simple tools denying them opportunity to increase production. Those who manage to produce under these difficult conditions have limited access to market. These challenges are thriving because governments invest very little of their budgets in agriculture.

“Agriculture should not been seen just as a development project – it should be seen as a business. Whether you are talking of small scale or medium size – this is very important. African farmers are living in antiquity by the material that they use, inadequacy of infrastructure and poor access to markets. This should not be,” Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria was quoted saying along with other very profile people.

Obasanjo emphasized the need to invest in technology to modernize agriculture in Africa and increasing access to affordable finance for smallholder farmers as critical to increasing productivity. He also noted that though few farmers have access to finance, the cost of it is still excessively high with interest rates ranging between 18 and 20%.

“There is no way farmers can make it at that rate of interest unless they are producing cocaine,” he said, underscoring the need to provide affordable financing to farmers.

And many more went on unanimously arguing that since the majority of Africans depend on agriculture, investing in the sector is critical to reducing inequality and creating jobs.

Watch a part of the debate where Nigerian former president Obasanjo, Nigerian agric minister Adesina, CEO of Americas Standard Bank, Shankar and others give their views on what needs to be done to unlock agric potential

The debate was really quite interesting to follow. But on the other hand, I asked myself whether there was something new from such good debates! Truth is that we’ve had enormous meetings of the kind — even at the level of catching the attention of laypeople, but with insignificant actions. Through the discussions, I could learn that, we, Africans, know very well challenges we face, possible solutions and how to go about it – which is a good trend. But again, where do our problems come from? I would argue that the problems obviously arise when it comes to implementation stage.

Role of leadership

The same argument was echoed by very influential figures on the continent including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Kenya Vice President William Ruto, African Union Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, form presidents Olsegun Obasanjo of Nageria and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Sudanese mogul Mo Ibrahim who were speaking during another session. They were all talking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

Watch a small video where these prominent persons were speaking about the role of leadership for ‘The Africa We Want.’

And much more has been said; just turning around words “The Next 50 Years, The Africa We Want.”

I totally agree with the speakers and I finally remain with an optimistic view in a sense that recent experience from some African countries has proven that political will and fair implementation of policies can make things better.

For instance, reports indicate that strong political will and huge investments in agriculture sector have helped some African countries  to grow their economies and lift thousands of people out of poverty.

I really do believe that we cannot afford to waste the abundant potentials of agriculture while we look elsewhere for the solutions to end poverty and hunger. It’s really high time for everyone’s participation to ensure the declarations get turned into substantial results soon; tremendous results that cannot only catch the attention of laypeople, but also bring about betterment of their lives.

And my concluding statement is simple: if we, Africans, do not act accordingly to get ‘The Africa We Want,’ in due time, who else will do?


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