week the FT published an article, Africa: Ripe for reappraisal, about new
perceptions about Africa and some of the underlying realities. It is one
of the best pieces on the subject that I have read in some time. It can be
summarized as follows: (a) there is unprecedented progress in much of Sub-Saharan
Africa; (b) this progress is being amplified in newly upbeat perceptions; (c)
reality is extraordinarily complex, and Africa very heterogeneous; economic and
social progress is still uneven and from a low starting point, but the change
in perceptions - from glass half-empty to glass half-full, is a welcome change.
Click here to read the full article.
The article mentions the most salient changes. I would place the cell phone
revolution first and foremost among them. It has brought tens of millions out
of isolation within ten years, a change that took many centuries in Western
Europe. The natural resources boom is a positive development, although its
impact on living standards depends on how the earnings are being used.
Furthermore, as in Latin America, the boom reinforces dependence on raw
materials exports and, by pushing up exchange rates, discourages the production
of traded goods, notably industrial exports. Massive Chinese infrastructure
projects are hugely welcome, as Western aid had neglected them for decades, to
the detriment of economic development. Substantial but fluctuating inflows of
foreign private capital are surely a good thing. Nothing new about massive
capital flight, especially out of oil-producing countries.
What I miss in the article is any reference to human capital. Yes, the
market is expanding, yes, a small middle-class is growing, but will the
benefits of growth spread unless something radical can be done to repair
dysfunctional education systems and vastly improve health systems ? A recent
UNESCO report shows that at least half the kids that go through primary school
can't read, write or count. Even in South Africa, primary and secondary schools
have deteriorated to the point where universities cannot find enough students.
Higher education has been neglected for decades, largely because funding them
is not part of the Millennium Development Goals that govern much of foreign
assistance. Economic growth is outstripping Africa's capacity to build human
capital. This is clear for example when it comes to management skills, which
are essential to economic and social progress.
In Africa, demand for business education is rising exponentially. Companies,
NGOs and governments are desperately looking for local managerial talent. Yet
there are only about 50 schools in all of Africa that produce business
"problem-solving" graduates whom employers would hire. India and China,
with only slightly larger populations, each have more than a thousand such
schools. What is called for is not marginal change but a veritable
"Marshall Plan" for management education in Africa.
In conclusion, African growth may well peter out because human capacity
formation is hugely neglected.
Guy Pfeffermann is the founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network.