Mo Ibrahim says more relevant skills are essential for Africa to move into the future. He speaks to Hopewell Radebe.Youngsters in Africa must try to transform an education system that is failing to inspire the continent’s economic development, says mobile communications entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim.He said a complete overhaul of Africa’s education systems, focusing on modern quality technical skills training, could change the desperate situation facing the continent’s youth. It would make them relevant, productive and prosperous. Colonial education was failing to even equip them with relevant skills in agriculture – the engine for African growth.“The continent’s colonial education system remains unchanged. It was meant to produce clerks and administrators with a handwriting so beautiful you’d be jealous, but it’s totally irrelevant in the world that has moved into a high-tech environment,” Ibrahim told City Press by phone this week.The continent produced hardly any (2%) agriculture-related skills a year, which was grossly inadequate, he said, adding that Africa needed to focus on the technology and construction sectors to stimulate the youth to be innovative and pioneering entrepreneurs who would utilise natural resources for the benefit of society at large.“We can’t continue to fail to produce sufficient numbers of engineers and technicians to build and substantially grow our economies. We need a serious discussion between civil society, youth, business and other interest groups to make our education relevant to our economic needs,” he emphasised.Ibrahim participated in MTV Base’s conversations with the youth on May 17, which were broadcast on Sunday, in which he talked about the importance of clean governance, youth leadership, technology and their roles in Africa’s future.What can be achieved?He said that, with revamped education, Africa would be able to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. It would build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. In addition, it would:- Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all;- Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all; and- Revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.In a recent report entitled Africa at a Tipping Point, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation maintained that the strong economic growth over the past decade had not created jobs for youth.Looking at 51 countries from 2006 to last year, the report found that there was no correlation between economic growth and youth unemployment. It said some countries displayed similar youth unemployment rates, even though they had markedly different gross domestic product (GDP) growth. For instance, last year, the youth unemployment rate in Sudan and Kenya was 22%, even though Kenya’s GDP growth was 6% – nearly double Sudan’s 3.1%.Ibrahim said that construction skills were essential because Africa still needed to build ports, roads, water supply and broadband telecommunication networks, among other critical infrastructure. According to the World Bank, Africa’s infrastructure spending needed at least $93bn a year – about 15% of the region’s GDP.Ibrahim said it would also help if society changed its attitude towards manual work, saying many communities encouraged their children to be professionals such as lawyers, doctors and white-collar workers, while undermining people in critical economic fields, particularly in agriculture and construction.“The future can only be built by blue-collar workers – those who wear overalls and do the real work,” he said.Ibrahim was born in Sudan and moved to Egypt with his family when he was young. In 1989, he founded Mobile Systems International, a leading world cellular consulting and software provider. In 1998, he founded Celtel International, which pioneered mobile services in Africa.Break down African trade barriersHe called on the youth to lobby their governments to speed up the African intra-trade regulatory environment to “unlock job-creating business investments”.He said that, while African leadership understood the concept of breaking down trade barriers and encouraging economic development zones, it unfortunately had no sense of urgency and there was insufficient political will to get things done.The examples of trade success noted in the EU, where countries’ policies benefited their citizens and made it easy to trade, seemed to not be convincing sufficient numbers of leaders to push for similar development links within Africa.The foundation’s report claims that between 2015 and 2050, Africa’s youth will almost double from 230 million to 452 million, and at least 15 million jobs should be created every year across the continent. In 2015, 60% of Africans were younger than 25. Last year, the average median age of the continent’s population was 20.“Our continent cannot create these jobs with an economy growing at an average of between 1% and 3%. Unfortunately, many young people end up risking their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of opportunities instead of leading the course for change at home,” he lamented.The UN Refugee Agency described last year as the deadliest year for refugees after more than 281 700 people made the sea crossing to Europe. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 4 176 people had died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea – an average of 11 men, women and children dying a day over 12 months.“With the energy of young people, we can move our continent forward. They have access to more information – unlike us, who grew up with only one state-owned radio station and TV channel. They only need to use their power to choose great leaders,” Ibrahim said.Prize for achievementWhen asked why the foundation had not picked a winner for the 2016 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, he said that, while he did not participate in the process, it was his understanding that there wasn’t a suitable candidate.“The prize is not just awarded for the sake of it. [The committee] thoroughly assess the contributions of the prospective candidate towards good governance, rule of law and economic development during their term in office,” he explained.He said the committee had to maintain standards and ensure that every winner deserved to be named as an outstanding African leader. Previous laureates include former president Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), former president Pedro Pires of Cape Verde (2011), former president Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008) and former president Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007). Nelson Mandela was the inaugural honorary laureate in 2007.