Photo: Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Mo Ibrahim’s Recipe to ‘Deliver Africa’s Promise’

By Alice Allen, Head of Advocacy, Care International UK

Mo Ibrahim’s Recipe to ‘Deliver Africa’s Promise’

Alice Allen, Head of Advocacy, Care International UK

What do you get if you combine the youngest participant in the 2012 Olympics (13), ‘making agriculture sexy’ and the establishment of a business corruption index? The answer? Africa delivering on its promise and fulfilling its economic and social potential, according to the Sudanese-born, global mobile communications entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim.

Recently returned from Co-Chairing the World Economic Forum in Africa, Mo led a meeting in Parliament hosted by CARE International and the Trade Out of Poverty All Party Group with his insightful reflections on what needs to happen to turn the challenges the continent faces into opportunities.

For Mo, the first ingredient has to be Africa’s massive demographic resource, ‘half of Africa’s population are really kids – these kids are better connected than my generation, and the rise of civil society is immense and irreversible.’

Mo pointed out that the oldest competitor in last year’s Olympics they came from Japan – while the youngest wasAfrican swimmer from Togo. This, he believes is Africa’s greatest resource. Europe and China have aging populations to worry about and face labour force shortages.

In addition to sheer numbers, Mo believes that the young have do not share his generation’s problem of ‘respecting our elders too much’ – which is a good thing, given that the elders were often more interested in maintaining their own positions of power rather than acting in the wider interests of society.

Mo and fellow panellist Lanre Akinola editor of the FT’s ‘This is Africa’ publication also made the point that while this untapped pool of youth is an asset, it also represents an enormous job creation challenge for governments and the private sector. If expectations aren’t met with some urgency, it could only be a matter of time before ‘the Arab Spring South of the Sahara’ happens. Some thought provoking comments were also made about Africa’s oft cited ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and the fact that most of it is subsistence – born out of necessity not choice.

Mo believes that ‘agriculture should be the backbone of Africa’. 70 % of the population live off the land and Africa could feed itself as well as large chunks of the world given its availability of arable land. The trouble is, says Mo, that ‘we need to dispel the notion that agriculture is backward. It needs to be ‘sexy’.

Agriculture is not ‘sexy’ and Government’s throughout the continent have failed to prioritise and invest in this asset. Enrolment in agricultural colleges is woefully low, while land grabbing and ownership of land titles remain major barriers, the latter particularly, for women farmers. ‘There is a fine line,’ explains Mo, ‘between supporting commercial farming and kicking people off their land – we need to find models that work for all stakeholders’.

So what of the role of the private sector? As a self-made businessman, Mo unsurprisingly stated that he is ‘pro business’ but he also points out that corrupt politicians wouldn’t exist if there weren’t also corrupt businessmen and women. So, in addition to making sure companies pay their taxes in Africa (Mo asked why have we let them get away with this for so long?’), Mo is floating the idea that the OECD bribery index which aims to hold governments accountable for corruption (but which hasn’t led to any prosecutions in Europe), could be replicated for business.

This would take is leadership – and this is a subject that came up repeatedly. Lanre Akinola stated that ‘Africa has a lot of rulers and few leaders’ while Mo added that ‘there is a deficit of leadership in Africa’.

Mo is working hard to mentor future leaders, linking them up with key figures from the WTO, the African Development Bank and the UN. Ultimately he feels that Africa’s increasingly strong civil society will be the ones who hold governments and leaders to account most effectively.

When you look at the growth figures we were told that ‘Africa doesn’t need cheer leaders’ – it is resource rich and abundant in potential but it will take good governance to deliver on this promise. Still, having a committed champion of Africa’s future like Mo Ibrahim can’t hurt.

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2 Responses

  1. Very challenging and true in every sense. The growing especially youth population can be an asset and a curse pending on how it is harnessed and used. African leaders have to see the needs and intentional open their hearts to feel the needs around them especially in  reducing poverty amongst women and youths by creating an enabling environment and policies that support start ups and growth in that regard.

    Being productive for me can go a long way, engaging in agriculture etc.

  2. When the Zimbabwe land reform started in 2000, I was one of those skeptic about the whole program, as a company executive in a big blue chip organization, obviously I worked on structured implementation of any project and as the whole world knows our Land  Reform program was not structured. 13 years later we are starting to see the fruits of this “disruptive chaos” that took place and a quiet revolution that is taking place to the Zimbabwean youth who took up farming. I think this is akin to Clayton Christensen’s distruptive innovation. To recount what I have experienced. I have witnessed young newly weds who were allocated 6 hactares of land in the former commercial farms in period 2000 – 2003, these are a mixture of children of former farm workers and those youngster who due to overcrowding  migrated from the rural areas and obviously there were the source of labour in the former tobacco farms. Soon after taking up their 6 hectares, they took to growing tobacco that they knew how. They did not have the resources but had the knowhow. It is very cheap to buy the tobacco seeds and all could afford to buy a packet of seeds that can give a hectare of tobacco being 15000 plants.  Year 1 with no fertilizer and those who know how to farm tobacco will testify its almost pointless to do so without fertilizer,  these young couples did not lose heart but went around forests collecting humus for fertilizer and by supplying labour  to larger well resourced farms to earn money for the needed tobacco chemicals. The man and wife would tend the 15 000 plants as if they are nursing their own little baby and being intimate with each and every plant. At the end of the season because they had no proper fertilizer with the correct nutrients the yields were poor, giving less that 500kgs from the hectare. A good farmer ought to get at least 2500kg from a hectare. At poor average prices of $1 per kg in the first year they got away with +/-$500 less modest costs left them now with money to buy a few bags of fertilser for the next season. A hectare of tobacco needs 750kg of fertilizer that costs $450. Guess what now 15 years later this tobacco brigade are earning enough money to buy them cars and are driving these cars whilst the youth in town are jobless. Is agriculture not Sexy? In Zimbabwe it has become Sexy. A visit to the tobacco auction will testify this trend. These young farmers are yielding close to 3000kgs per hectare at average prices of $5 per kg. In other words a hectare of tobacco is earning turnover of $15 000 and less costs of $5 000, how sexy do you want to get? Now they are doing not one hectare but average of 3 hactares. These young families are now enjoying luxuries that their counterparts in town cannot since they have no means.

    Mo is right we need to get all of Africa to move towards this direction more so with crops like potatoes and other food stuff rather than tobacco that destroys lifes. We need to take care of our food security and ultimately the world food security. Its a pity in some parts of Africa we have started dolling out the land to overseas corporates yet again.

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