If there is one thing Africa hopes to have in abundance a few years from now, that would be a huge and resilient youth population that is waiting to be harnessed to its full potential. Africa currently accounts for 19% of the global youth population and is expected to account for 40% of the world’s working population by 2030. However, as the numbers keep soaring, there is so much that stakeholders and governments need to do to strategically position their young people for both local and global relevance if the continent must attain its full potential and arrive at the future with its ‘champions of sovereignty’. There needs to be a pragmatic and realistic approach to public-private collaborations as well as adequate youth integration in governance on all levels.
At the opening panel of the African CEO Forum 2023, themed From 300 to 3000: Creating the champions of tomorrow’s sovereignty today, critical conversations regarding the role of government and private investors in creating the environment that would enable the growth of resilient and high-impact youth population were tackled. According to insight from the forum, Africa has nearly 300 companies with turnovers exceeding $1 billion compared to 2,700 in Europe and 3,300 in Asia. These firms play a significant role in reinforcing strategic autonomy and increasing resilience, as seen with Pfizer in the United States during the Covid crisis and Eni in Italy during the gas crisis.
But the fact remains that African countries must create their champions in agribusiness, energy, digital technology and other key sectors, based on their comparative advantage. The question then is, how can the public and private sectors foster high-performing African multinationals through government strategies, partnerships and regional value chains? This is where there needs to be a balance between what the continent has as a public-private partnership in theory and reality.
Fostering public-private sector engagements
One of the major challenges that come into play when fostering public-private partnerships on the continent compared with what is obtainable elsewhere in America or Europe is the problem of systemic bottlenecks. A situation where engagements hold between key private sector players and government-appointed officials such as technical advisers (civil servants), who do not necessarily have the power to create or activate policies recommended from high-level engagements or projects presented. In the long run, months of hard work from private corporations, consulted by the government, hit a roadblock as they sometimes don’t get to advise policymakers directly.
“In most African countries, there is a need to have a direct engagement between the private sector and the state,” said Colins Mukete, Chairman and CEO, of Spectrum Group. “There is a need for both parties to have a collaboration as this would enable them to advise the state regarding the sectors that they need to open up a bit more.” Once these bottlenecks are removed, the continent would most likely feel the impact of such collaborations on its youth population.
Again, to promote the development of modern private champions for Africa’s future, stakeholders need the vision to leverage the opportunities that the continent has. “We need to have a pragmatic and realistic vision of what to be done in the space of the public and private sector,” said Sergio Pimenta, Vice President for Africa, IFC. “IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank Group and we’ve seen bigger recognition of the role of the private sector in the past few decades. But the private-public sector development Africa seeks is not going to happen in a vacuum. But in the context of the kinds of public policies that are enabling the private sector to come in.”
Fostering youth engagement in governance
African youth are largely underrepresented in the government. This trickles down to the creation and implementation of policies that have not been screened through the lens of their demography. Although African leaders keep calling for youth engagement, the political milieu never really encourages that. Across the continent, young Africans would love to be a part of the governance process but the messiness and intricacies involved in politics would rather keep them far from it.
“Your system is only as good as the people who run it. So, your state is only as effective as the quality of the people who are in it. Talents need to start flowing upwards to the government for us to develop African champions,” said Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia. “Our most complex problems as a continent, politically, socially or economically, are solved by government. We have all our best brains in government to some extent. Not in all areas. So, if we want to build African champions, we also need good coaches and that is the integration of the skill gap that you find in the public sector. According to the Namibian First Lady, there is an obligation on the government to resolve some political problems that create the messiness that is sometimes found in the government.