Seven reasons to be optimistic about Africa

There are many signs and reasons for optimism and hope in Africa.

 1. A communication revolution, a data revolution

The communication revolution is a boon for Africa. The rise of social media will lead to more transparency and more sophisticated forms of democracy, both in Africa and elsewhere. Citizens now have extremely powerful tools to hold leaders to account and ensure funding is correctly channelled. The communication revolution has spawned a data revolution, and mobile phones will help Africa catch up with other continents in the gathering of data. Africa sorely needs more, and better, data collection. New technologies will help level the playing fields and give poorer countries a chance to generate the data they need for better decision-making. In 2001, only 25 million Africans had a mobile phone subscription; today, Africa has over 650 million subscriptions.


2. Africa: the Silicon Valley of banking

According to Carol Realini, California-based mobile banking innovator and executive chairman of Obopay, “Africa is the Silicon Valley of banking. The future of banking is being defined here … It is going to change the world”. Mobile phones spread information about agriculture and healthcare to far-flung areas. The Grameen Foundation is going further and using mobile technology to gather extensive data directly from farmers. The mobile phone is the ultimate data-capturing device. More and better data is sorely needed in Africa to ensure informed policy and investment decisions. 

3. Consistent sustainable development leads to prosperity

Africa has the opportunity to learn from the developmental mistakes of more established countries. One such mistake was to take a narrow approach to reading on data. Per capita GDP is now considered a blunt instrument for determining if a country is on the right trajectory. The trend is towards a holistic approach (e.g. the Legatum Prosperity Index), whereby individual well-being is as important as raw wealth. According to Legatum, prosperous societies are those that afford their citizens good education, entrepreneurial opportunity, freedom and social integration – among other things. Countries become prosperous by consistently investing in sustainable development over a long period.


4. The power of individual liberty

In many African countries, there is growing trust in the power of individual liberty. Certain African governments seeking to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of their young and energetic populations have downsized. Cleaner, leaner governments are driving growth on the continent and helping to boost the private sector. Nigeria is a prime example of this, as is Ghana. It’s very encouraging when African countries can look to others in the region for examples of economic success and technological innovation. Rwanda has, in 20 years, gone from devastating genocide and war to a progressive, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy dynamo, posting record growth. Countries that get their policy house in order can attract investment from neighbours. Successful African countries pull others along in their wake.


5. Bring back the dignity of the land

Countries that develop institutions, with roots deep in the African soil, will build wealth for their citizens. Agriculture is an important source of income, and too many African countries have to import food. This is a drain on national finances and undermines national confidence. Infrastructure development, incentives and secure property rights could reverse the trend and usher in a food boom on the continent. Farming demands a certain commitment to land and community. Further, agriculture employs 65 percent of Africa’s labour force. Promoting the development of agriculture is the quickest way to build prosperity. 


6. Better data for better education

School enrolment has improved dramatically in Africa, and this is to be celebrated. But the quality of instruction is of concern. Again, qualitative data will help. Children attending school is not enough, there needs to be the expectation of high standards. Improved data collection will help ascertain areas of weakness in the school system.


7. Knowledge equals power and wealth

If it is true that knowledge equates to power and wealth, then Africa can look forward to an exciting future. No continent stands to gain as much from new technologies, which allow for the exchange of information, as Africa. Soon, every single African will have the world’s entire fund of knowledge in the palm of his or her hand. As a key knowledge resource to African governments, and outside investors, we will play our part by developing systems of knowledge gathering and analysis to help African countries join the world’s most prosperous nations.


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