By Ali Bouzerda
“Wish me good luck …”, that was the simple wish of Fatima Zahra Biaz during a brainstorming debate of Atlantic Dialogues on one of the topics “Africa: one billion youth by 2050”. If this date seems remote for some, the number of these young people concerns would discourage the most optimistic among our futurologists.
In one word, Fatima Zahra, this young Moroccan who runs a start-up in Casablanca does not disarm. On the contrary, she is among the majority of Africans who have an unshakable conviction that this incredible number of young people does not represent “a hopeless handicap”, but rather “the strength and the hope” of the continent. No doubt!
Initiated by the OCP Policy Centre, Atlantic Dialogues, held in Marrakech from 13 to 15 December 2017, brought together more than 350 participants from 80 countries, comprising 60 from Africa.
Political leaders, including three former heads of government, former ministers, economic decision-makers, researchers and analysts in various fields.
All these participants looked at the future of Africa, a continent with enormous potential and extraordinary human resources that are increasingly lacking in Europe, Japan and elsewhere.
The fundamental issues of education and training have come back as looping images to remind participants that we are in a globalised world where knowledge and scientific research are among the keys to surviving because the competition is tough and ruthless. It can be summed up in a few words: “You walk or you die”.
And to “walk…”, you must solve the equation: the match between education and job market to absorb millions of young people who invade the labour market without being well equipped to meet the requirements of the digital market, among others …
On this issue, the speakers posed a serene and uncompromising debate. They came from West, Latin America and Asia, including China and tens of young Africans trained in Anglo-Saxon universities with innovative approaches where stereotyped language had no place in this temple of critical and prospective reflection.
One billion young people: the scarecrow?
First, the dashboard with supporting figures to see more clearly. Let’s recall that Africa currently has 1.2 billion people and will have 2.5 billion in 2050, including one billion young people under thirty. On the other hand, the old Europe whose population is around 742 million in 2017 will fall to 716 million in 2050.
Figures that obviously challenge Europe and Africa. The old continent which is closing itself more and more in its fortress in the face of migratory flows from the south, and Africa which is suffering from this terrible haemorrhage of educated young people who have lost hope in the public policies of their countries. This sad fact has made former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos say: “This is not the end of European geography … Africans must live together in a globalised world …”
This question of living together and not shutting himself each up in one’s “fortress” brings us back to the starting point relating to the question of how Africa can meet the challenges of development, combat poverty and social disparities, to be competitive despite the delays? In the end ensure the well-being and prosperity of its citizens to prevent its youth (labour force) from deserting the continent in search of wacky dreams?
In fact, we must not deceive ourselves because there are no magic solutions but rational approaches that fit into the time.
Far from politician game, the speakers during these three full days came to a conclusion: there can be no success of an economic model by trying to skip steps or pretend by ignoring irregularities and dysfunctions of a system. No salvation without respecting a certain number of fundamental principles including:
- Good governance
- The fight against corruption
- Independence of justice and a transparent legal framework to secure investment
- Urgency of a revision of public policies
- The State must encourage and support private investment, especially at the level of local communities and for the benefit of disadvantaged populations
- The need to involve young people in decision-making at central and regional levels
Africa: generational transition …
African youth is at the heart of thinking while waiting for action. In fact, more than 80 young leaders had spoken freely to express the need to accelerate the “generational transition” under way, a point of contention, it seems.
Without being preoccupied with the reaction of his elders who were listening wisely, a young Congolese appealed for “the revolution” against old people who cling to power and marginalise young Africans. A justified Anger?
In reality, the approach is more pragmatic because the young people explain that the continent, which is at the heart of mercantilist lusts, needs a “cultural revolution” involving a change of mentalities.
And if you rely on history, they say: “It is the young people who dare to initiate the big changes”. Pan-Africanism icons Kwame Nkrumah and Jamal Abdel Nasser came to power “very young, in their thirties,” said Zeinab Badawi, the star and brilliant journalist of BBC World News, in a reference to gerontocracy that is shaming Africa.
Establish and build North-South relationships of trust
Hassan II said: you must avoid focusing on the rear-view mirror because you may enter the wall. And for good reason, in this open framework of Atlantic Dialogues similar to collective “therapy sessions” to exorcise the demons of the past, should the countries of the North not review their history classes and join in this new “building of trust” dynamic of North-South partnership, voluntaris and constructive? In simpler terms a “win-win party” partnership which obviously involves a North-South investment flow and technology transfer to Africa?
In Marrakech, the question was asked more than once, “the people of the North”, as said the singer Enrico Macias, were here, in Marrakech, they listened well but we wonder: do they always have the heart elsewhere?
The days of gunboats are over, the North as the South have everything to gain by listening to each other, and it is for this reason that the Atlantic Dialogue framework was set up bringing together the cream of the four continents: Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe.
An African proverb was revealed at the closing of the works of this sixth edition of Atlantic Dialogues: “If you want to walk very fast, you have to be alone but to go very far, you have to be several”.
In a globalised world, this wisdom does not engage only Africans but everyone.
In 2050, says Karim El Aynaoui, general manager of OCP policy centre, “half of the young people under 30 on this planet will be in Africa … it is a challenge but also a lot of opportunities”.
This has reminded me of the intervention of the young Fatima Zahra who revealed her modest but ambitious plans for the future, notably off the beaten track. “Wish me good luck,” she urged the audience with a smile full of hope.