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Africa Day

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Africa Day offers time to address challenges, find solutions

Each year on May 25, Africans in the mother continent and those in the diaspora and around the globe celebrate Africa Day.

Essentially, the day offers Africans an opportunity to reflect on the progress made by the African Union in achieving its goals, especially with regard to protecting the human rights and freedoms of Africans. 

This is the day when 32 African countries signed the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which later evolved into the African Union (AU) in a bid to decolonise the continent, agitate for the liberation of many African countries and defeat apartheid in South Africa.

By the time South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela, joined the AU in 1994 after the demise of apartheid and the genocide in Rwanda, there were calls for greater protection of political refugees and abandonment of the principle of state sovereignty, which disallowed interference in each country’s internal affairs. 

Eventually, this led to the dissolution of the OAU and the establishment of the AU on 9 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa. 

This year’s theme of Africa Day was Arts, Culture And Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want. This year’s celebrations were bittersweet after months of the Covid-19 pandemic, which placed immense pressure on the economies of many African states.

Currently, as reported elsewhere, African nations generally do not have sufficient numbers of healthcare workers, hospital beds and oxygen supplies. 

Although Africa uses about one-quarter of global vaccines by volume, it manufactures less than 1% of its routine vaccines, with almost no outbreak vaccine manufacturing in place. The region lags behind in procuring vaccines amid a global scramble for the medicines among wealthier nations. 

Thus far, only around 2% of the world’s vaccination against Covid-19 has taken place in Africa, says AfDB private sector, infrastructure and industrialisation VP Solomon Quaynor.

“The current undertaking will require immense investment. Vaccine manufacturing, because of its complexity, is not really an entrepreneurial drive, but an institutional drive,” said Quaynor.

“Leveraging on our comparative advantages, we will both provide upstream support to governments in the enabling environment, as well as provide financing to private sector and public-private partnerships indirectly, through some of our private equity investee funds and directly through lending, and credit and risk guarantees. We will also use the Africa Investment Forum to bring in all relevant stakeholders and partner DFIs (development financial institutions) into bankable opportunities.”

The pandemic has exacerbated Africa’s socioeconomic inequalities and exposed gaps in its healthcare and social protection systems. 

But it has also galvanized some leaders into action. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, former chair of the AU, and President Félix Tshisekedi, the current AU chairperson, have emphasised the need for urgency in tackling the pandemic and spearheaded the global call for solidarity around universal and equitable access to vaccines.

Last week, Tshisekedi and Ramaphosa concluded a summit in Paris where they and other African leaders argued for an increase in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) from $33-billion to $100-billion.

According to analysts, the SDR, used sparingly, will give member countries the possibility of “drawing” liquidity to supplement their financial reserves. But this alternative is subject to the notion of quotas, which take into account the economic strength of each part of the globe.

And while peace and security and regional integration became central pillars of the new AU, conflict and violence continue to be burning issues on the continent.

One of the key objectives of the AU is to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States. But the AU is currently having difficulty achieving this objective.

In recent months, Chad’s military government after the sudden death of president Idris Déby has raised concerns, while Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict has led to thousands of civilian deaths and displacements, and allegations of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. There is also Mozambique’s Islamist insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province, which has led to a refugee crisis. 

Nine months since the military overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Mali is facing yet another political crisis after Colonel Assimi Goïta, the leader of last year’s power grab and vice-president of the interim government, seized power by force on Tuesday, accusing President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane of violating the transitional charter.

The vision today remains the same as in 1963: for Africa to achieve inclusive and sustainable development and to unite to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of their peoples. 

However, one of the most strategic pillars to get there, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is to raise millions of people out of poverty, is yet to be realised. The infrastructure is not there, and even if it was, the free movement of goods and people is going to be difficult in an environment where many governments don’t respect the rights of their citizens, including freedom of movement, association and expression.

Opening up a market of over 1.3-billion people is expected to spur more intra-African trade while increasing the appeal of direct investment in Africa for the rest of the world.

Earlier this year, speaking at the World Economic Forum, Ramaphosa said Africa was a youthful and growing market. He said the government will begin to harness the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA, which came into operation on 1 January 2021, following the adoption of the Johannesburg Declaration by the AU. 

The AfCFTA provides a platform for South African businesses to expand into markets across the continent, and for the country to position itself as a gateway to the continent.

“Our forebears, our founders wanted Africa to work together, to be integrated and it has taken us some time to arrive at that. An integration means much more when it affects the economic lives of the countries of the continent,” said Ramaphosa. 

He has also highlighted the importance of the African free trade agreement. “This free trade area is going to open the door for trading, for African producers and manufacturers,” he said.

“But the other advantage is going to be in boosting manufacturing, in boosting industrialisation, because all of a sudden, a market will have been opened and manufacturers, entrepreneurs and industrialists will now know that we now have a market.”

Intra-Africa trade has historically been low. In 2019, only 12% of Africa’s $560-billion worth of imports came from the continent. African countries have also been trapped in the lower levels of the global economy by selling low-value raw materials and buying higher-value manufactured goods. This is seen as one of Africa’s major challenges for development. The free trade agreement seeks to reverse this. 

Africa’s socioeconomic development still lags behind because of conflict, terrorism and counterterrorism operations, weak rule of law institutions, election-related abuse, and corruption that fuel high unemployment rates especially among the youth. Failure to recognise basic economic and social rights is another.

Ultimately, African leaders must promote a free and prosperous Africa that belongs to all – an Africa where leaders are not afraid of criticism, where freedom of expression is seen as an asset not a threat, and where governments are held to account and have a capacity to prevent, manage and respond to conflicts.

Celebrating Africa Day amid many challenges


According to Daniel Akinmade Emejulu, a sustainability professional in Africa, the agriculture sector offers Africa’s youth a promising alternative to bright lights and city jobs. Today, 70% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under 30. 

With an annual infrastructure deficit in excess of $90-billion, Africa still faces a massive infrastructure gap that impedes economic activity and GDP output. (Photo: Paul Botes)

The UN foresees Africa being home to as many as five billion heartbeats by 2100 — with 50% below the age of 30. Smart investment in the sector will position such future generations with sustainable livelihoods in less dense regions. 

While under-utilised, the sector still accounted for 20.85% of Nigeria’s GDP in 2017. At present, subsistence farmers in Nigeria generate 95% of the sector’s US$90-billion output. 

To boost agricultural income and employment, especially for future farming generations, Africa must also scale up schemes that provide critical financing to local players, enabling them to both ramp up production of raw materials and move value-added processing out of the main cities. Legal exemptions to provide fixed land tenures should also become more common for high-scale investors in rural areas, inspiring competition among Africa’s regulators to attract agri-business.


Energy poverty is one of the biggest challenges for sustainable development in Africa. 

At the current electrification rate, the target set by African and EU energy ministers back in 2010 to provide 100-million Africans with access to modern and sustainable energy services by 2020 has not been met.

And while the continent’s energy needs are growing substantially, the available resources are more than sufficient to meet the continent’s demand. 

With its vast and untapped natural resources, Africa is an ideal place to develop innovative technologies and renewable energy solutions. The European Union is well-equipped to support capacity development, provide renewable and energy-efficient technologies, and help in enhancing regulatory and investment frameworks.

The Director of the Department for Infrastructure and Energy of the AU Commission, Aboubakari Baba-Moussa, has said that the harmonized continental regulatory framework for the energy sector in Africa “is one of the fundamental requirements for creating conducive environment for private sector investment in the energy projects and creation of vibrant energy market”. 

This is one of the flagship projects of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and is being implemented by the AU Commission in collaboration with the European Union. Having a harmonised regulatory framework will go a long way to to support the Grand Inga Project — another flagship of Agenda 2063 — and the extension of transmission lines to the Eastern, Southern Western and Northern Africa regions. This will put the cornerstones in place for establishing regional/continental energy markets and connecting Africa together. 

Baba-Moussa also highlighted the importance of sharing energy information and data among the African Countries to accelerate the development of the African Energy Market.

Africa’s railway fleets are expanding to meet increasing trade demands.(Photo: Paul Botes)


Most importantly, the AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Dr Amani Abou-Zeid has highlighted the urgency to revitalise Africa’s railways network, justified by its expected contribution to the successful operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

At the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Transport, Transcontinental Infrastructure, Energy and Tourism, held in Cairo in April 2019, Abou-Zeid urged the AU’s member states to work together to implement the AU strategy of expanding their railway fleets at low cost.

“It is expected that Africa will soon have a robust railway network capable of advancing the competitiveness of Africa’s trade within the continent and globally, as envisaged in the AU Agenda 2063.” He was also referring to the ongoing efforts to accelerate the development and implementation of the Integrated High-Speed Railway in Africa, a flagship project of Agenda 2063.

“The development of our flagship project of the Agenda 2063, the high speed train project, is at the point of validating pilot projects on specific axes. In this context, I would like to appeal to all public and private partners to join us in implementing this ambitious and hopeful project in a win-win partnership,” she said.

Megacities — cities with a population of at least 10-million — are sprouting everywhere in Africa. Cairo in Egypt, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lagos in Nigeria are already megacities, while Luanda in Angola, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Johannesburg in South Africa will attain this status by 2030, according to the United Nations.

The UN added that Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire and Nairobi in Kenya will surpass the 10-million threshold by 2040. By 2050 Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Bamako in Mali, Dakar in Senegal and Ibadan and Kano in Nigeria will join the ranks — bringing the total number of megacities in Africa to 14 in about 30 years.

The number of people living in urban areas in Africa will double to more than one billion by 2042, according to the World Bank.

The State of African Cities 2018, a UN report, says that Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi are the leading FDI attractions in sub-Saharan Africa.

Steve Cashin, founder and CEO of the private equity firm Pan African Capital Group, believes that investors are focusing on Africa’s megacities because of market size.

“My firm does a lot of business in Liberia, and one of the main constraints to growing businesses and attracting investment there is the population size and density. When the entire country’s population is just about four million, and you’re likely only to reach a small fraction of that, it is harder to make a compelling business case,” said Cashin.

With regards to water infrastructure, it is imperative that the transboundary water programmes target the development of multipurpose dams and build the capacity of Africa’s lake and river basin organisations so that they can plan and develop hydraulic infrastructure. This will also help to address the looming energy and food deficits. 

Just this week, South Africa’s Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) has raised just over 15-billion rand ($1.09 billion) in capital markets to continue construction of the Lesotho Highlands water project, Minister of Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu said on Tuesday.

Years of hot weather in water-scarce South Africa, coupled with a lack of investment and inadequate maintenance of infrastructure has led to increasing dependence on the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho to augment water supplies to Africa’s most industrialised country.

The $1-billion raised will allow for the completion of phase two of the Lesotho Highlands water project, which involves the construction of a series of dams, Sisulu said.

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