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Making Africa work with former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo

Effectual leadership and governance are fundamental to grow the economy of the African continent, former president of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo believes. 

Speaking at the launch of his book Make Africa Work at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), Obasanjo argued: “Unless we get leadership and governance right, we will never get the economy of Africa right.” 

These two factors, along with peace, security and economic integration have the potential to transform the fortunes of Africa and those who live in it: “If we can get these right, I believe that the story of Africa by the end of this century will be a different story than it has been before.” 

Regional and continental integration 
South Africa and Nigeria, as the continent’s two largest and most advanced economies, had further obligations, he added: “South Africa and Nigeria have extra responsibility to play their role in their regions and in Africa, and both haven’t been taking responsibility as they should. If they don’t play the role of lifting Africa up, then who will? If they do it right, we will move Africa forward, collectively.” 

The book, which provides an analysis of the continent’s economic fault lines and how to address them, discusses the structural developments facing Africa and policy choices which could lead it in diametrically opposed directions. 

Sub-Saharan Africa faces three inter-related challenges over the next generation: A doubling of its population to two billion people by 2045; increasing and rapid urbanisation and a group of mostly young people who will be connected with each other and the world through mobile devices. 

While these challenges could result in political upheaval if not managed properly, they could present a tremendously positive force for change if effectively planned for. 

Co-author and Director of the Brenthurst Foundation, Dr. Greg Mills said the book offers the opportunity to not dwell on history, but to look to the future and the choices that lie within our power. “We have to be pragmatists and ask what is possible and practical.” 

Managing Africa’s challenges requires careful prioritising and sequencing of what is expected of governments, and what we expect them to achieve, Mills said. 

Africa’s challenges 
Africa’s demographic dividend could be regarded as either an asset or a liability, depending on how it is managed, Mills explained: “We need effective policies in place and a responsive government.” Africa’s youth bulge meant there is tremendous pressure to create jobs, skill people and create growth beyond commodities. Without economic growth and jobs, it could prove a political and social catastrophe. 

Obasanjo said business and government have to work together for their mutual benefit. Placing the private sector at the centre of growth allowed it to become the lens through which policy actions are made in terms of job creation. 

The African city of the future would be characterised by density and connectivity and could become dynamic centres of change if planned properly. “This will demand a fundamental change and the need to build an African skyline, with people living up rather than living out. It will also require an extension of the mortgage market,” Mills said. 

Continued education  
“There is no country in Africa that can’t give free and compulsory basic education and there is no reason why any African child should not have a basic education.” Obasanjo said. ”We need education for self-reliance – for ourselves, our communities, our countries and indeed for our continent.”

Mills said that while the increase of access to primary education has been a success story for the continent, challenges remain: Mastery and completion rates are persistently low, especially among girls, and the quality of teaching remains an issue.

There was a need for political education to enable voters to deal with nonperforming governments, and that countries such as Nigeria demonstrated a desire for youthful political candidates, Obasanjo added. 

While many African countries have vision statements and national development plans, the political will to execute these plans is lacking, Mills explained. “There is a premium on getting things done, and making critical choices about what not to do, about what to leave out and how to sequence projects.” 

“We have a good story to tell if we make the right decisions; but face political upheaval if we don’t,” Director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets at GIBS, Professor Lyal White concluded. 

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