If Africa’s leaders do not act quickly to move the continent into the 21st century, young people will leave them behind, South Africa’s President Cyril M. Ramaphosa said today at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. Young people are ready for the digital era and are engaged in technology, but governments are not keeping up. They have not “fully embraced this new bright and brave world that young people live in today,” he said.
“Africa now has this great opportunity, having lost out on previous revolutions, to leapfrog,” said Ramaphosa. The speed at which mobile phones have been adopted across the continent over the past decade highlights the willingness of Africans to adopt new technology. “It shows that we have the skills and the capabilities to do this and we should now have the courage to embrace technology in the fullest way.”
Ramaphosa said that with an estimated 9 million unemployed people in South Africa, his government has prioritized job creation and is working with labour unions and other economic stakeholders to develop strategies to address labour market challenges. The country is investing in a programme that aims to equip all young people in schools and colleges with digital skills to enhance their future employment prospects.
Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said that it is imperative that all African countries make investments in human capital to bring them into the 21st century. This requires a holistic programme of interventions and investment.
Kagame chairs the Smart Africa initiative, which aims to put ICT at the centre of the continent’s national socio-economic development agenda, improve access of Africans to technology and use ICT to promote sustainable development. Internet connectivity in Africa is just 22%, which shows the opportunity that technology offers the continent to move into the digital age.
Smart Africa is the result of the realization among Africans that their future is, or should be, a digital one, said Kagame. The initiative aims to get political leaders to align their efforts and policies with this goal, he said. There is already a mindset change in governments about the importance of technology as they seek to address the needs of growing numbers of young people.
The two presidents also addressed the issue of the African Continental Free Trade Area, launched in 2018, which aims to significantly raise the current low levels of intra-African trade. Kagame, as Chair of the African Union in 2018, has been a key driver of the initiative, which he called the beginning of a new era for trade and investment in Africa.
The fact that 44 of Africa’s nations signed the agreement at its launch and others have come on board since then shows the strong political will behind the initiative, Kagame said. Integration will eventually create a market of 1.2 billion people and pull together the continent’s countries, many of which are too small to compete effectively alone, he said.
Ramaphosa said: “This could well be the great industrialization moment for the continent.” He predicted that the African Continental Free Trade Area, by opening up trade, will drive the formation of industrial nodes across the continent, boost manufacturing, create jobs and drive skills development.