Celebrating cultural identity and common heritage
The African story is not one of poverty, but one of power; it is not a narrative centred on conflict, but rather on connection and community. On 25 May, Africans on the continent and in the diaspora come together to celebrate the reclamation of this narrative and shine light on the continent’s successes — and the changemakers who drive them.
Africa Day was first observed in 1963 to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), a precursor organisation that would eventually become the African Union as we know it today. On that day, Africa made history by becoming the first continent to collectively pioneer the principles of transnational unity and cohesion for all its residents. Today, Africans celebrate the strides that have been made since, while reflecting on the common challenges that the continent still faces, and the individual and collective solutions to overcoming them.
Africa has come a long way since then, and there is still much cause for continental celebration. Since its “soft launch” in January 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) promises to be a gamechanger once fully implemented. The establishment of the trade area aims to bring together 1.3-billion people in a $3.4-trillion economic bloc — the largest free trade area since the launch of the World Trade Organisation in 1995. The World Bank has estimated that it could lift tens of millions of Africans out of poverty by 2035, by boosting trade among neighbouring states while allowing the continent to develop its own value chains.
Gains have also been made in terms of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as a channel for greater investment in economic and social infrastructure on the continent. These PPPs are strengthened through continental collaborations between the African Development Bank, national governments, development finance institutions, the private sector and professional associations.
According to the African Development Bank, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic slowdown have sharpened an already urgent need for investment. But, it adds, more needs to be done: Between 2008 and 2018, five African countries accounted for more than 50% of the continent’s successful PPP: South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and Ghana. Several other countries have multiple PPPs in the pipeline: Burkina Faso has 20, and Botswana has eight.
When it comes to travel and tourism, the One Africa? Report by donor collaborative Africa No Filter (ANF) found that young people on the continent have a strong African identity and are optimistic about the continent and its future. The study, which drew on interviews with 4 500 people from nine African countries, found that young people were keen to travel within the continent, but more than half indicated that they were being held back by how expensive it would be. Despite this, the youth strongly believe that Africa — as both a place and a construct — is worth investing time and resources into.
On the arts and culture front, increased digital accessibility and connectivity means that it has never been easier for African creatives to connect and collaborate across borders. Support from the continent and abroad means Afrobeats and other home-grown artists are now competing with international musicians on the global stage.
— Jamaine Krige
Taking ownership: Tourism in Africa must benefit Africans
Tourism in Africa is about conservation, but it is also about people. This, says Vimbai Masiyiwa, is what sets Batoka Lodges apart. The 27-year-old entrepreneur and businesswoman is the first African woman to own a five-star luxury game lodge in Zimbabwe. She says it is time for Africans to take ownership of the wonder that is the continent.
Victoria Falls has always been a home base for Masiyiwa. “We decided to examine safari lodges, hospitality and tourism, and see how we can use these sectors to empower local communities, and create local economic growth that does not only benefit a select few,” she explains. “It’s time that Africans take ownership of the land and of our own stories, culture and heritage.”
But what does this ownership look like on the ground? Masiyiwa says the answer to this question is layered: “If we take the safari lodge as an example, we firstly look at who owns the land that we are building on and who benefits from this. One of our properties is in a national park, while another one that will be opening in a few weeks — Gorges Lodge — is built on land that is owned by and leased from the community. We also aim to source all of our fresh produce from the community we’re situated in, and want at least 90% of our staff across all levels of operations to come from these communities. We want our people to own the narrative and to be real partners in the processes.”
When Batoka Lodges was recruiting field guides, more than half of the applicants were young, black women. This, she says, was surprising but also exciting. “As women, we have to create space for ourselves, and then we have to work to create space for each other, and this is something that I hope to achieve as the hospitality business grows.” All lodge staff attend a six-week paid training programme that allows them to gain skills and experience across the various operational departments. This, she says, will also enable them to expand their employment opportunities and grow in the industry.
Empowering people and encouraging community access to hospitality spaces also benefits conservation, she explains. “I think it is ignorant to expect communities to have a good relationship with wildlife and to protect wildlife when the platforms to educate them about the value wildlife and tourism brings do not exist.” After all, it’s hard to engage with issues around conservation on an empty stomach. “In order for us to protect our wildlife, to protect our fauna and flora, we need to start with people, and that is the angle we are taking. Let’s engage the communities first, let’s engage the people first, let’s ensure they are looked after so that they can take ownership and preserve the natural resources that serve them.”
Engagement at a community level is structured and layered, and always directed by the community itself. “It doesn’t help that we come in as outsiders and want to ‘fix’ the food system or make water more accessible; we need to ask communities what they want and what they need, instead of assuming.” When talking to community leaders, Masiyiwa says issues such as alcoholism and drug addiction were raised as areas of concern. “The community leaders said that that should be prioritised before we start talking about building schools and hospitals.”
Masiyiwa says that while many luxury lodges exist across the continent, they are not always accessible to local or regional travellers: “While we are creating an international product through our properties, we are also creating a product that is affordable luxury for Africans to experience the continent. We feel it is important to come in at a price that does not exclude Africans from the experience — even if it means we take a bit longer to make a return on our investment.” This, she says, includes special rates for local and regional travellers.
While the Covid-19 pandemic was a curveball, Masiyiwa believes it also presents an opportunity: “I think it opens the door for us to encourage more regional and local travel, because if you look at the trends, Africans are spending more time in Africa. We’re going to Zanzibar, spending time in Ghana, and this creates room to tell a new story and promote Africa as a destination for Africans, and for our diasporic communities and people historically from here who want to explore the continent and how their identity is tied to it.” — Jamaine Krige
The Big Africa Debate
The Big Africa Debate (TBAD) series was launched by the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) continental radio service Channel Africa, in association with the Mail & Guardian, on 10 May 2022 in Cape Town. Held on the periphery of the Mining Indaba, the series is an interactive platform for policy and decision makers, civil society, experts and the academia to discuss and debate about challenges and opportunities for Africa.
The first debate, which was streamed live on both the Channel Africa and Mail & Guardian websites, focused on economic development, specifically on infrastructure and the bankability of Africa, anchored around politics and social issues. Moderated by Journalist Aldrin Sampear, the panellists included: Dolika Banda, Chairperson, ZCCM-Investment Holdings; Janade du Plessis, Launch Africa Ventures, Five35 Ventures; Edgar Pieterse, Director, African Centre for Cities, South African Research Chair in Urban Policy, University of Cape Town; and Catherine Koffman, Group Executive, Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
The debate concluded with exploring the future of smart cities on the continent and the convergence of infrastructure that’s required. All of it remains linked to political will and striking a balance between traditional infrastructure and new technology, particularly when considering how to cater for rural areas, a common reality for most African nation states.
The conversation led to the question: what is next? During the next decade, African governments should embark on a sprint to bridge infrastructure gaps that could help position their countries toward more sustained growth. What are the right projects? Where will the funding come from? Who are the right partners to help deliver the projects? These looming issues are not mutually exclusive. Infrastructure projects take time to deliver. For this reason, they must be bankable, have the right policies, projects and partners, and be a priority for governments, as they can be a bottleneck to broader sustainable development.
The Big Africa Debate will continue to have exclusive conversations directly with those who are at the forefront of the continent’s development. On Tuesday 31 May 2022, the SABC, in association with the Mail & Guardian, will address these questions as this year’s Africa Month Debate Series is concluded.
The final debate — a webinar — will take place virtually on Tuesday, from 10am-11.45am, under the theme of Private and Public Partnerships in Africa — how to create the foundation for the bankability of transboundary projects.
“The Big Africa Debate is an important instrument for implementing Channel Africa’s advocacy mandate, which includes providing news, content and events from the African perspective,” said SABC Group Executive of Radio, Nada Wotshela.
In order to ensure that the event serves to reflect the priorities of the African Union and its Member States, each year’s edition of the TBAD focuses on the theme that the African Union adopts for the year. In this way, it contributes to and enhances the visibility of the AU’s efforts, and provides a platform to promote innovative ideas and recommendations related to each year’s theme. The AU theme for 2022 is: Building resilience in nutrition on the African continent: Accelerate the human capital, social and economic development.
“The world we live in today has a very discerning population,” commented Banda, “the issue of youth tracing the hamburger they are eating to make sure it was produced in an ethical manner means that we’re here to serve the communities in which we are hosted. If those communities don’t feel they’re part of the economic upgrade that’s happening to corporations, then we run the risk of real social upheaval … we must carry our communities along.”
In addition to community cooperation and local alignment, Koffman identified regional mobilisation as a critical success factor. “We need coordination between different regions, and we need to identify regional priorities — collectively. Trade corridors are extremely important for me. They have a multiplier effect, and the introduction of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was such an important development for the region because of the stark reduction in tariffs among member states, and a common customs union where we have more capital flowing freely.”
However, due to the backlog of projects, there is a need for a multi-pronged approach of “large infrastructure projects and localised and venture capital investments”. Koffman said the DBSA often plays a part when commercial banks don’t have the appetite, most noticeably at the local level.
Responding to the issue of government owning and running some businesses, Banda said: “Governments need to facilitate the environment so the global investors that we need are able to come and partner with us. This is where we fall short; we structure these institutions, we invest as government, sometimes we own them, but we run them like arms of the cabinet or parliament, as opposed to using professional, capable people who know how to run that business, and run it well.”
To register for this free webinar, visit the websites of the Mail & Guardian, Channel Africa, or the SABC. The interactive webinar brings to conclusion the discussion topic for this year’s Africa Month engagements, with recommendations for policymakers, government and financial institutions alike — be sure to register and join the conversation.