African skills revolution will bring about renaissance – Dlamini-Zuma

2013-10-03 13:39

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Skills development, amounting to an African “skills revolution”, was needed for Africa to take charge of its future and see the blossoming of a renaissance on the continent, African Union (AU) commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has said.

Delivering the 14th annual Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town, titled Pan Africanism and African Renaissance, Dlamini-Zuma gave a lecture which, although in parts sounded like an AU statement, was personable, inspiring, and bordered on the informal.

The former minister of foreign affairs and home affairs was critical of the dominant history, written by the West, of Africa as a dark continent beset with tribal battles and internecine wars.

The positive contributions of precolonial civilisations to metallurgy, mathematics, astronomy and other endeavours by civilizations in Egypt, the Congo, Mali, Ashanti and Nubia, among others, were ignored.

And if Africa did not write its own history, it would always exist in the shadow of others, she said, and quoted Biko as saying: “People without a positive history are like a vehicle without an engine.”

However, she acknowledged the fact that while a number of African countries were on par or ahead of their Asian counterparts in terms of economic activity in the 1960s, they had since fallen far behind.

This, she said, was partly because of stewardships from organisations like the World Bank being imposed on states that had only just found their independence. The result was policy prescripts that forced African states into structural adjustment that saw cutbacks in social expenditure and increasing debt commitments.

Africa needed to “take charge of its own narrative and development trajectory”.

And the 21st century seemed to offer favourable conditions for this.

Conflict had significantly decreased – from 20 states engulfed in war in the 1990s to five in 2010.

The continent possessed abundant natural resources and, by 2020, would have the largest number of youth under 25 years in the world.

But in order to make use of these opportunities, Africa would have to invest in itself, particularly in its people.

“Skills are needed at a scale never before seen on the continent,” she said.

These are skills to beneficiate resources, build and maintain infrastructure, develop and maintain manufacturing services, reduce the burden of disease, plan cities that work as economic hubs, develop agricultural services and ensure food security.

Africa also needed to trade with itself. Currently intra-African trade stood at only “about 12%”, by far the lowest of all continental blocs.

The AU had developed frameworks and strategies in every area to ensure Africa forged ahead in achieving prosperity for its people, but implementation was now the challenge. Governments and civil society organisations needed to work together to ensure Africa’s potential came to fruition.

This was “a noble and glorious challenge”, she said, quoting Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, before going on to quote last year’s Steve Biko Memorial Lecture speaker, Nigerian author Ben Okri: “New visions should come from those who suffer most and love life the most.”

– Steve Kretzmann, West Cape News

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