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The New Frontier: Where does Africa stand?

His Excellency Professor Dr Ambassador Tal Edgars

"Allow me to implore you to reset your mental map about Africa." This quote by His Excellency Professor Dr Ambassador Tal Edgars, Group Executive Chairman of the GBSH Consult Group Worldwide, poignantly summarises his keynote address delivered at Unisa as part of the Africa Intellectual Scholar Series, Knowledge Systems and Africa Futures Programme.

Edgars thanked the university’s leaders for inviting him to participate in this "magnificent" series, remarking that it was a "wonderful setting" to speak on African issues. "I want to acknowledge the extraordinary connection of this University in Africa," he said. "Throughout the years, Unisa was perhaps the only university in South Africa to have provided all people with access to education, irrespective of race, colour or creed."

Expressively weaving together narratives on the history of Pan-Africanism; how Africa became underdeveloped; Africa’s current growth and acceleration; and whether Africa’s talent is a constraint or an opportunity for the continent, Edgars indicated that Africans and their descendants are still on a "painful quest for three magic kingdoms: peace and democratic governance, socioeconomic transformation, and cultural equality".

Pan-African thought and conversation

On Pan-Africanism, Prof Edgars discussed influential thought leaders such as founding Ghanaian president and "Pan-African prophet", Kwame Nkrumah; Tanzania’s socialist leader, Julius Nyerere; and francophone leaders like Senegalese poet-president Leopold Senghor. He also, during the conversation with the virtual audience, spoke on military officer, socialist revolutionary and President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara.

He explained the different views of Pan-Africanism beginning with Nkrumah’s call for a "United States of Africa" by Africans for Africans, in which countries would pool their sovereignty in the areas of economics, security and foreign policy as a way of achieving industrialisation. He then addressed Senghor’s school of thought, which, he said, centred on the positive aspects in colonialism and the attempt to create a synthesis between Africa and Europe. "Where Nkrumah urged Africa to harness its own resources for development," said Edgars, "Senghor promoted a pragmatic use of European resources and scientific knowledge to promote socio-economic development".

Edgars said that Nyerere offered the most cogent intellectual opposition to Nkrumah in calling for a more gradualist approach to regional integration involving the use of sub-regional bodies. "As Nyerere noted, 'African unity is at present merely an emotion born of a history of colonialism and oppression; it has to be strengthened and expressed in economic and political forms before it can really have a positive effect on the future'."

"To have this Pan-African thought and conversation with substantive contribution to contemporary transformation in itself is a labour of love," he said. "I hold the objective view that we must contribute to transforming the fossilised Eurocentric curricula, which has insisted that for centuries poverty continues to occupy the central position in African epistemologies on almost every subject under the sun."

Africa’s acceleration

In addressing the growth of Africa and its opportunities, Edgars provided some fundamental statistics. He said Africa will account for one-fifth of humanity by 2025 and will see its population double by 2031. This will make it one of the only regions on earth with an expanding labour force and expanding group of consumers. More than 80% of its population growth over the next few decades will occur in the cities, making it the fastest urbanising region in the world.

By 2030, Africa will have 17 cities with more than five million inhabitants each up from only six in 2015. By 2030, there will be 89 African cities with populations of one million or more. Africa’s fastest growing urbanising population already represents a sizeable market, and it is only getting more attractive. Private consumption in Africa rose from $860 billion in 2008 to $1.4 trillion in 2015 – significantly higher than that of India, which has a similar population size. A possible forecast would be that Africa could reach $2.1 trillion by 2025. In 2015, companies in Africa spent more than $2.6 trillion building factories, buying equipment and services, and gearing up to serve customers across the continent. A reliable expectation of annual spending by African businesses to reach $3.5 trillion by 2025.

But what does this all mean for Africa and her people? According to Edgars, Africa’s growth is premised on the fact that it is a young continent. "At a time when many advanced economies are seeing population growth stagnate, this is profound," he said. "Organisations in need of employees will find the largest pool available in Africa. The continent is home to some of the biggest challenges. However, as the past decade has shown, these also represent tangible opportunities. From education to SMEs, healthcare to fintech, Africa needs radical and innovative solutions to its biggest problems."

"For example, one of tech’s greatest opportunities is in ensuring that young Africans have the skills and training necessary to meet the labour demands of the future," said Prof Edgars, adding that Africa desperately needs a better education system. He said by 2050, Africa will be the only region globally with a growing working-age population, yet a large cluster of African countries do not have the capabilities to train this influx. "Many teachers don't have the training or qualifications needed to deliver quality education," he said.  

When will Africa’s people act?

Edgars said that since the 1980s there has been talk of Africa rising. "But when will her people act?," he asked. "We speak of privatisation, but we take a lot of time to do things. I hold the objective view that we do have the capacity, we do have the people and we do have the capital. I am not persuaded that Africa does not have the capital to develop."

He added: "If we have the political will, we can as of tomorrow bring down all barriers to movement of people in Africa, we can make Africa currencies fully convertible, and we can try to work together to pull our resources. This does not require an act of parliament; it is purely an administrative process that requires evolution to want to do that. That answer lies within all African governments."

Following Edgars’s address was a response from Prof Pumela Msweli, Executive Dean: Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL), Unisa. Thereafter, a conversation was facilitated by the programme director, Dr Itumeleng Mothoagae, from the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, Unisa. Forming part of these discussions were Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula; and Unisa Vice-Principal for Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa.

While there were a multitude of views shared and discussed, a prevailing sentiment was that Africa is in the midst of a significant acceleration, and African higher education institutions will continue to be key role-players in the mobilisation, socialisation and education of its people in order for the continent’s acceleration to be a successful one.

* The Africa Intellectual Scholar Series, Knowledge Systems and Africa Futures Programme is part of the Principal and Vice Chancellor’s Projects at Unisa. This programme is also part of a series of Academic and Public Lectures, Business/ Academic Roundtables aimed at promoting innovative ideas, debates, discussions and research ingenuity on discourses and processes of envisioning and constructing Africa’s development and its futures.

  • Click here for a biography of His Excellency Professor Dr Ambassador Tal Edgars.
  • Click here to read the keynote address delivered by His Excellency Professor Dr Ambassador Tal Edgars.
  • Click here to watch the lecture.

* By Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester

Publish date: 2021/07/05