From education to agriculture, experts and panelists at the Atlantic Dialogues conference were clear that a lot has to change for Africa to reach its potential.
Rabat – Participants in the eighth Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakech did not sugarcoat the challenges facing Africa as it looks towards development.
With the theme “the South in the Time of Turmoil,” African panelists and audience members alike did not shy away from denouncing many aspects of the current state of the continent. From gender equality to education and agriculture, no sector was safe from critique.
What these experts did offer, however, were tangible solutions.
“We have to start with the fact that we are late in terms of technology, in terms of economic development,” Serigne Gueye Diop, a minister advisor to the president of Senegal, explained to MWN at the conference.
“In my opinion, we should start by investing at the educational level,” he said.
Doing so would entail equipping African schools and universities with laboratories and the latest technology, he added. Additionally, parents and teachers should encourage young children to pursue science, mathematics, physics, and chemistry at an early age.
“We need now to look at the overall economy,” he continued. “Since we are late [in technology] we are lagging behind. We don’t know how to make planes, drugs, cars… How can we make sure we invest?”
Gueye Diop, an agronomist and holder of several patents in the agri-food sector, went on to outline the key sectors that African leaders must invest in.
“First: Universities. Research on agriculture, biotechnology for medicine… It’s not normal that our vaccines are imported, and we’re still importing milk and meat.” Essentially, according to Gueye Diop, investing in education is crucial in ensuring that Africans are sustained by their own resources.
Second, industry. “Africa needs its own industrial revolution,” he declared. “We need economic zones and training for young people. Foreign direct investment must increase from Europe, America, Asia—not only in petrol and gas but in all fields of development.”
Finally, Gueye Diop went on, Africa needs to take control of its own potential. When Africans create the tools necessary for continental development, these tools must be used effectively in pursuit of African goals.
“When we develop this technology we must master it. We must own it. We must make our own technology in order to face our development challenges.”
Attitudes to women need to change
For Bineta Diop, the African Union’s Special Envoy on Women, Peace, and Security, the solution to Africa’s development challenges is simple: “Make sure women are leading in every sector.”
“The status of women in Africa has been very low when it comes to equal pay and equal jobs and when it comes to the impact of conflict in our society,” she said to Morocco World News after a plenary session on December 14, 2019.
This poor status needs to change if Africans expect to transform the continent’s economy and institutions, Diop argued.
“Women have been the backbone of our society,” the special envoy continued. “In the new global order, Africa cannot afford to lose women and youth.”
The Senegalese women’s rights activist went on to describe what should be Africa’s priorities as it shifts towards greater continental development.
“Gender equality is a prerequisite for Africa’s transformation,” she began. “Every day, we lose billions by not including our young people and our women in political and economic decisions.”
Diop then highlighted the importance of developing African agriculture, tying this industry back to women.
“We need to make sure to feed Africa,” she stressed. “We are importing food from outside Africa when Africa has land and everything that is needed.” She added that women and youth, as the leading laborers in this industry, must be supported by ‘smart agriculture’ technology.
In addition to her role as an AU special envoy, Diop is the founder and president of Femmes Africa Solidarite, an international NGO dedicated to promoting peace, security, and development in Africa.
Her mission is to promote the protection and advancement of the rights of women and children, particularly those affected by violent conflicts in Africa. Doing so is a crucial component of development, she argued.
“We always say that when conflict erupts, the men are in war or they run out of the country. Women are the ones who stay behind. And this has been used as a tactical form of violence against women.”
“[Terrorists] come to destroy the social fabric of the community and impact the life, body, and mind of women. That’s a tactical form.”
“Terrorists in the Sahel are using the same tactic,” Diop explained. “They are kidnapping young girls from their schools, that is a tactical form. It’s not about Islam, it’s a tactic to destroy the family. You don’t have your mother, sister, or wife at home? You don’t have anything.”
“If you destroy women, you destroy a community,” she underlined. “That’s why we are saying we must make sure that women are protected—it must become a plan of [AU] member states. A plan to protect women, to give them equal roles, to have access to land, credit, etcetera. Not just empowering them but allowing them to be equal to men.”
Education for integration
Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, the former Minister of Education of Nigeria, is now a political and social activist. A staunch critic of Nigerian leadership, she ran for president of the country in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform.
Like Serigne Gueye Diop, Ezekwesili shares the concern for African educational institutions and explained how they need to be strengthened in order to foster large-scale development in Africa.
“For any institution of higher learning to be a world-class institution, it really depends on the students it recruits into its system and the faculty that trains those students,” she told MWN.
“What kind of college is it offering those students? This determines the kind of interventions that a country must make.”
“Countries must look at what kind of learning experiences their children are having in school,” she said. “If the quality of the children who go into university is top quality, then you are already starting on good ground.”
The Harvard University graduate added that African educational institutions also need world-class faculty members.
“We need to figure out how to design our institutions to have the authority and financial independence to attract the best teachers.”
“There are many Africans in the diaspora,” she lamented. “But there is a way to design your faculty and teaching opportunities so that they would come back—because they want to be home.”
While the students and faculty members themselves are essential, what matters most to the former minister of education is the content of the knowledge promoted in educational institutions.
“We need to really prepare people for the future of work,” she said simply. “The curriculum must reflect that.”
The eighth annual Atlantic Dialogues conference invited hundreds of senior officials, business leaders, academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, civil servants, and civil society actors to engage in high-level dialogue.
Hosted at La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech by the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS), a Rabat-based think-tank, the three-day conference focused on promoting leadership, entrepreneurship, and innovative policymaking with a series of informative plenary sessions led by notable experts in various fields.