9 opportunities and challenges shaping Africa’s future

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African development has made impressive strides over the past few decades and, despite a slowdown in growth in recent years, steady economic growth is forecast for 2018 and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Even still, there’s one thing Africa’s economic journey is far from achieving: sustainability.

Africa will continue to develop but how African nations approach development will shape its future. Seizing on every opportunity they can and overcoming challenges – both old and new – will determine how is going to determine what kind of future Africa enjoys and how quickly it can realise it.

The opportunities shaping Africa’s future

Africa has never had so many opportunities to take control of its own economic future but capitalising on these isn’t always easy. While new opportunities are guaranteed to surface, African nations are struggling to make the most of some that have been present for many years already.

 

Intra-African trade

As The World Bank and various other groups have pointed out, Intra-African trade is an essential economic driver for nations across the continent. Regional trade integration is a long-term strategy for the African Union, too, but there’s still a lot of progress to be made before neighbouring countries can do business with each other more effectively.

It’s still more expensive for many Africans to travel across the continent than visitors from Europe or the US, making cross-border business difficult before you even factor in trade tariffs and other expenses. The sooner the African Union can implement an open market similar to that established by the European Union, the sooner African nations can start reinforcing their economies collectively through stronger intra-African trade.

Manufacturing

Africa’s manufacturing revolution has struggled to meet the “awakening giant” predictions that were popular in the early 2000s. Now, the likes of the World Economic Forum are talking about a manufacturing renaissance in Africa that will increase the sector’s share of GDP which has stalled at around the 10% mark for the past decade.

Africa still relies heavily on imported goods from countries like China and the volume of African goods going out in return pales in comparison. The next couple of decades are a massive period of opportunity for Africa and parts of Asia as millions of manufacturing jobs in China get relocated overseas due to rising wages.

This opportunity is in danger of being missed, though, as countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam line up to claim their share of the global manufacturing market.

Technology innovations

Technology innovations are helping Africa on two fronts: first, there are global tech advances finding new solutions to problems like disease, climate change, renewable energy and other developmental issues. However, there’s also the opportunity for African technology innovations to make their impact on the world, attract new investment and improve domestic economies.

Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar and Senegal have all gained attention for their innovations related to “digital agriculture”, reinforcing the continent’s single largest industry with technology.

Entrepreneurship

As African nations become more innovative, they also become more entrepreneurial. In 2017, Africa’s tech startups raised $195,060,845 in funding – a 51% increase on the previous year. Two key areas for Africa’s entrepreneurial drive are “agri-tech” and “e-health” where finding into these sub-sectors growing by 203% in 2017.

This entrepreneurial mentality creates an Africa that’s better suited to finding solutions to its own challenges while also providing new business opportunities.

The challenges shaping Africa’s future

The challenges shaping Africa’s future are a familiar but complex mix of ongoing issues combined with new socio-economic factors that are inevitable with rapidly developing nations. African countries have struggled with some of these problems for decades while others present new challenges altogether.

Leadership

Leadership remains one of the biggest challenges for African development and it’s a complex issue spread out across more than 50 countries. Looking at recent events in Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan and a long list of other African nations, it’s easy to see where leaderships have a negative effect on the direction of individual countries and the continent as a whole.

However, the situation in countries like Rwanda is more complex. Few can dispute Rwanda’s impressive economic rise over the past two decades but many would argue it’s come at the expense of human rights, political freedom and a fair democracy.

Ethiopia and Tanzania are also demonstrating impressive levels of economic growth but the first has been dogged with violent protests for years now and Tanzania’s John Magufuli is developing a reputation as an undemocratic dictator.

Insecurity

Insecurity is never far from African talking points and this runs deeper than conflicts between government and rebels or insurgent groups. Ethnic violence is still a major problem for many countries and even when it doesn’t result in a full-blown conflict ethnic divides are clear to see in political crises such as Kenya’s double election last year.

Economic stress

One of the biggest economic problems facing Africa right now is the rising level of public debt. Last year, the IMF estimated that the median level of public debt would exceed GDP by the end of 2017.

“The debt sustainability outlook has worsened considerably since 2013,” the IMF said. “The number of low-income countries in debt distress or facing a high risk of debt distress increased from seven in 2013 to 12 in 2016. Consistent with the broader trend of credit downgrades in emerging markets, several sub-Saharan African frontier markets or other countries with sovereign-credit ratings have been downgraded.”

Food security

Despite technology innovations and improved economies, Africa is far from achieving food security in various regions. Droughts are becoming more common in East Africa, due to climate change, forced migration and volatile food supplies. Meanwhile, food shortages are also being caused by conflict as we’ve seen in the case of South Sudan, which was declared to be in famine for a period in 2017.

Africa is among the world’s most vulnerable places when it comes to climate change, threatening its ability to produce enough crops to feed its own population and sustain its agriculture industry but there are other factors contributing to African food shortages that also need to be addressed.

Population growth

Another factor contributing to African food shortages is its booming population. More people mean more mouths to feed and an increase in the negative impact of human activity upon the environment. However, it also puts more strain on healthcare, public services, schools and other sectors already struggling to cope with Africa’s existing population.

Another problem African nations need to address is how to create enough quality jobs for a growing population – something that could become increasingly difficult as it also adopts technology more extensively.

Featured image: By Gavin Houtheusen/Department for International Development, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30786775

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.