April 27th, 2011
02:08 PM GMT
Business leaders and political bigwigs will soon meet in Cape Town for the World Economic Forum. There is a clear understanding that the dialogue has shifted in recent years when it comes to understanding Africa’s role in the world.
No longer dismissed as a business basket case, the global community knows that money is being made on the continent. Growth rates are strong. Investment is flowing. Returns are good.
The big question for Africans is to ensure that they too get a share of the spoils.
But how do they do this?
The answer for many is the rather wordy phrase “beneficiation at source.” Politicians like to throw this buzz phrase into conversations because it describes how local communities should “benefit” from their own natural resources.
Traditionally, foreign companies buy Africa’s raw materials, whether they are metals, oil or crops, and then sell the finished product back to Africa.
Now, there is a political push for more African control over its refining capacity, to have more influence over the end product.
While this makes sense, economists and analysts all point to two significant challenges that Africans face as they try to unlock the potential of their continent and grab the opportunities “at source.”
Over and over again, I hear the same two concerns - that a lack of infrastructure and a skills deficit continue to hold back Africans.
If Africa’s working-age youth - an estimated half-a-billion people by 2050 - are to seize the chances that lie before them, then more investment has to be plowed into education.
African engineers, farmers and architects are urgently needed to create a better infrastructure to underpin the continent’s economic potential.
Highways linking big cities and regional hubs need to be built. Fertile agricultural lands need to be farmed strategically. Electricity and power grids need to be upgraded and maintained.
The world and African leaders cannot talk about economic growth unless they increase investment in the critical areas needed to sustain that potential.
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