President John Mahama has cautioned, the expansion of population, of labour force and of urban centres could be crippling to the continent, if proper care is not taken.
Delivering the keynote address at the third Times CEO Summit Africa in London on Tuesday, President Mahama noted that, “urbanization could undermine the apparent gains of our current economic growth”.
“30 years ago, 28% of the continent’s residents lived in cities; today, it’s 40%. Of the 1 billion residents in Africa, 40% live in cities. That places us on par, not in the future but today, with China and India. And within 15 years, that figure will rise 50%.
“In certain countries, urbanization is creating overpopulated slums. In others, it is the driving force behind the accelerated construction of roads, housing, commercial buildings, water systems and other like projects”.
President Mahama therefore called on his colleague African leaders to ensure that urbanization and its associated issues form part of everyone’s vision for Africa’s future.
Read the full address delivered by President Mahama below:
PRESIDENT JOHN DRAMANI MAHAMA’S SPEECH
for TIMES CEO SUMMIT 2013
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen [Additional greetings]
It would be simple enough to stand here and share with you all of the successes that have been experienced on the African continent over the past several years—and there have been many.
Successes in the areas of social and economic growth; successes when it comes to the practice and promotion of peace; when it comes to transparency in the exercise of democracy and respect for the rule of law.
The examples are many, and the stories are inspiring.
But I am certain that everyone here is well aware of Africa’s past—all of it— beginning from the infamous scramble for Africa to the heady days of independence; from the devastation that was caused by coups, dictatorships, war and famine to the hope that has, of late, been shining brightly over the continent’s horizon.
I am certain that everyone here is well aware that success in Africa has never been simple. It has involved a struggle against low expectations, the assessment of risk versus reward; and the challenge of balancing the commission of profit with the empowerment of people.
I imagine that what we are here to do today is imagine. Imagine Africa’s future. Imagine the roles that we can and should play in shaping that future.
In the early 1970s, despite the difficulties of the time, young people all across continent—myself included—had enormous Afros, wore polyester shirts and platform shoes, and spent as many waking moments as we could dancing in discos.
I remember a song by the O’Jays that was popular back then. The chorus of the song was one question: the dilemma of what to do with something valuable once you have achieved it: Now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it?
It is a bold question, one that I believe is currently at the heart of many relationships in Africa, all of which are rapidly being redefined:
the relationship between citizens and elected officials; the relationship between governments and donors, as well as investors.
And, of course, it is a question that exists at the heart of the relationship between the continent as a whole and the rest of the world: now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it?
How do we ensure that this success Africa is experiencing is sustainable?
How do we translate the glowing figures that we see on paper into plain facts in the lives of African people? That is, the fact of employment; the fact of affordable health care; the fact of education; the fact of class, gender and ethnic equality?
Toward the close of 2012, the IMF released a World Economic Outlook in which it forecasted the economic growth of 185 countries.
Based on those estimates, 10 of the 25 countries with the highest projected compounded annual growth rate from 2013 through 2017 are in sub-Saharan Africa. And Ghana my country is one of them.
But is this mass economic growth on the continent still as impressive when one takes into consideration that, thus far, it has essentially been a jobless growth because the population is growing at a rate that is far faster than the rate at which jobs are being created?
Consider this as well: Africa’s rapidly expanding labour force—which will increase from the 500 million that it currently is to1.1 billion by the year 2040, making the continent’s collective labour force larger than that of China and India.
Add then there’s also the issue of urbanization. 30 years ago, 28% of the continent’s residents lived in cities; today, it’s 40%. Of the 1billion residents in Africa, 40% live in cities. That places us on par, not in the future but today, with China and India. And within 15 years, that figure will rise 50%.
In certain countries, urbanization is creating overpopulated slums. In others, it is the driving force behind the accelerated construction of roads, housing, commercial buildings, water systems and other like projects.
If not taken properly taken into account, this expansion of population, of labour force and of urban centres could be crippling to the continent. It could undermine the apparent gains of our current economic growth. But there’s no reason why it should not automatically be a part of everyone’s vision for Africa’s future.
At the core of our investment in projects must be our investment in people and in the continuity of Africa’s success. We must make sure that jobs are being created for the people who need them now. We must provide education and training so that tomorrow’s work force will possess the necessary skills.
Structural provisions should be made so that our people, honest hardworking citizens, can also have a stake in industry—otherwise, all of this will merely be this century’s version of the scramble for Africa.
In Ghana, to ensure local participation in the new oil & gas industry, a draft legislative instrument on local content will ensure a backward integration of the extraction of this natural resource into the local economy. Downstream processing of gas, fertilizer production, refining of petroleum products will ensure value addition and creation of precious jobs that will engage our fast growing youthful population.
Africa seeks a partnership that would be a win – win for the continents people and those who wish to invest there. A partnership that transfers technology, a partnership that creates jobs, a partnership that ensures growth and a decent life for our people.
Smart business and smart politics are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, they were. But a lot has changed in Africa since then, and we need to shift our expectations so that they fall in line with what is possible today, not what was probable back then.
Gone are the nationalist regimes, the frequent coups, interminable wars, skyrocketing inflation and corrupt, pot-bellied dictators. Those risks are not relevant in this age of multi-party elections and political stability. Our democracies may not be perfect, but they are rising up to each and every challenge.
This is an exciting time for Africa. The energy of what will come next is almost palpable. I can feel it in this room. I can feel it in every room in which discussions of Africa are taking place. Change takes time, but look at where we were not so long ago, bent and broken. Look at where we are now, standing tall and facing forward. This is much more than a story of Africa’s success. This is a story of Africa’s survival.