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By: Ochola K’ochola

“An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.” – Vision of the African Union

This is the vision of the African Union; a body formed in 2002 to be “an efficient and value-adding institution driving the African integration and development process in close collaboration with African Union Member States, the Regional Economic Communities and African citizens.” It’s an admirable goal, and one worth pursuing. But is the organization living up to its mission and vision?

The continent of Africa has the youngest population in the world and contains vast reserves of natural resources. The ingredients for rapid economic expansion and innovation are readily present. However, the continent has yet to be integrated, prosperity has yet to be achieved, lasting peace has been elusive, and the vast majority of citizens have yet to be effectively enfranchised.

Contrary to the AU’s mission, Africa still remains a tepid geopolitical force, emphasized by the fact that many young Africans continue to live in poverty. According to the African Center for Economic Transformation, about 50% of young graduates in Africa remain unemployed. This statistic stands in stark contrast to the ninth and most critical of the fourteen AU objectives that is to “establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations”. Empowering the African economy is made much more difficult with such a low employment rate for educated young people.

In 2016, the then President of Coca-Cola, Central, East and West Africa said; “Unemployment is a general problem in Africa and there must be a partnership between governments and the private sector to address it.” Perhaps Mr. Kelvin Balogun was referring to the integration of different stakeholders, governments and development partners as envisioned in the AU’s vision. A good idea in theory, but one that has yet to come to fruition.

In reality, the World Bank expects the already mind boggling unemployment rates to shoot up to 42.5 Million by 2020. Addressing the failed absorption of educated young Africans into the workforce should be a major focus. However, in Africa, many job opportunities are available to foreigners even when there are qualified African young men and women. How did this happen? African countries failed to take the initiative in starting their own development programs.

In Kenya, for instance, the Chinese have taken up the entire construction sector; about ten Chinese firms control the entire government construction industry. There is no opportunity for local firms to compete with this foreign behemoth. In May 2018, a total of KSh 4bn went to three Chinese firms to fix roads in Nairobi. Are Africa’s local firms incapable or lacking of the requisite technology required to do the job? Or is the political leadership losing in their trade agreements with these international firms? Evidence would point to the latter.

What then is the role of the African Union in these agreements if they end up being driven by foreign countries, rather than its own citizens? How will local firms in Africa gain the confidence and the capability to take up the big projects that will open up job opportunities for the young men and women of the continent when they’re being outsourced? While it is important for Africa to outsource certain projects when local technical know-how is lacking, it is critical to ensure that these agreements are sustainable for African countries in the long-term. There should be a vision to take the reins from these international firms when citizens become capable.

The international firms are making this effort more challenging than it already is, as they ship in every project requirement, including labor, even as local labor is readily available. A truly sustainable agreement would see Africa outsource experts to train its local contractors. This will empower the citizens of Africa to take on these ambitious projects themselves, and help to unleash Africa’s economy. If that can be done effectively, more resources will circulate around the continent, more job opportunities will be available for the young people, and there will be a prosperous and peaceful Africa Driven by its own Citizens. Otherwise, it will become increasingly difficult for this resource-rich continent to fulfill its vision of being a dynamic force in the global arena.

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