What makes Africa not worth living in?

Departure in Africa

What must happen to enable young Africans to have a future in their homeland that is worth living in? A panel of experts at the Berlin Demography Forum 2018 dealt with this question.

Africa is a young continent. Of the 1.3 billion people who live there, around 60 percent are younger than 25 years. Due to the high birth rates, it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. This is especially true for the countries south of the Sahara: Women have an average of five children there. The United Nations estimates that the African population will double to 2.5 billion people by 2050.

"We have a huge demographic potential, but how do we manage to use this advantage for ourselves?" With this question, Kenedy F. Tumenta, Managing Director and co-founder of the African Business Information Bank, brought the challenge to a panel discussion during the recent Berlin Demography Forum (BDF) to the point. Many Africans now have an educational qualification, but there is a lack of jobs. In his home country of Cameroon, around three quarters of men and women with a proper schooling are unemployed. “We have to create new economic centers,” demanded the manager, whose bank wants to bring company founders and investors together.

“What young Africans need are jobs with decent wages,” Claudia Warning agreed with Tumenta's assessment. Warning is head of department in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and was previously responsible for international programs at the Protestant foundation Bread for the World for many years. The expert on development cooperation emphasized that good work keeps people in their country of origin and is therefore also in Europe's interest.

Education with a perspective

Education is important, said Claudia Warning, and the needs are still far from being met in Africa. "But education without professional prospects is simply not enough," she said. The rural areas, where more than two thirds of Africans live, many of them in extreme poverty, needed economic stimulus.

The linchpin for Africa's future, said Warning, is good governance that enforces basic democratic rights such as the right to freedom of expression. Ghana, Botswana and Mauritius are on the right track here, said Claudia Warning, and the situation in Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic is not very encouraging.

More woman power could lead to a change for the better, said Thokozile Ruzvizdo, director at the UN Economic Commission for Africa. On the podium in Berlin, she campaigned for women to be granted the right to land - at the moment, in many places, it is still withheld from them. Ruzvizdo: "Women cultivate the land well because they want to feed their families." Claudia Warning jumped in: "A decisive factor is education, here a lot more has to be done for women."

UN Photo / Hien Macline

Become a mother later

This demand is also linked to the hope of getting a grip on the excessive population growth. Because the longer girls and young women go to school, the older they are usually when they get married and become mothers. Educated women usually want fewer children and are more likely to realize this wish - because they are better informed about contraceptive methods, for example.

Claudia Warning reported from her previous work that not a single one of Bread for the World's 650 international development projects focuses on family planning. This is not a coincidence, but a very conscious decision: "Such programs alone are not a solution, they have to be embedded in society and need a functioning health system". But that is often not the case. Warning therefore relies entirely on the leverage effect of women's education. There are certainly encouraging signals here, reported Thokozile Ruzvizdo: "More and more African women are now asking themselves how many children they really want." Usually there are significantly fewer children than now and in a decade at the latest this will be reflected in the birth rate.

The lively discussion with the audience that had come to the event at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in the center of Berlin also focused on corruption as an obstacle to development. “Yes, it's true,” said Thokozwile Ruzvizdo, “Africa is corrupt, but the rest of the world allows it.” The EU must prevent African politicians from stashing their black money in European accounts, one panelist called for.

A year abroad in Africa

Another plea from the audience was about youth exchanges. Far too little is known about each other - an exchange program between African and European countries could reduce the strangeness. At the moment, however, most young Germans prefer the year abroad in the USA or Great Britain and do not go to Africa - with a view to the professional future of young people, this is also easy to understand, said one participant.

More nurses from Africa could help both sides, the aging societies of the north and the young population of Africa, so another argument. The Indian state of Kerala has been sending nurses abroad for half a century and they have been supporting their families at home with cash transfers: The model works splendidly, said Claudia Warning - so why not adopt it for Africa? However, according to an objection from the plenum, one must always keep an eye on the risk of a care drain: In Manchester, UK, more Ghanaian doctors are now practicing than in Ghana itself.

The Tanzanian bank manager Kenedy Tumenta pointed out a memorable peculiarity right at the beginning of the discussion: "We are discussing the future of Africa here, but in African languages ​​there is no suitable term for what is meant by future in Europe." Future, that be in his language area tomorrow, but at most the day after tomorrow. For the world, it is now about the time after.

From Lilo Berg

Photo front page: Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

Photo above: Photo ID 509486. 01/27/2012. Bongouanou, Cote d'Ivoire. © UN Photo / Hien Macline. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/