Discussing the future of Africa

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On Friday March 8 the departments of political science and global studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as the Tshepo Institute for the Study of Contemporary Africa, organized a talk by  Robert Rotberg, president emeritus of the World Peace Foundation. He came to Laurier to discuss the future of Africa.

Rotberg discussed Africa in new terms. He felt that despite the many critical challenges that have burdened Africa there is hope for the future.

“There is an entirely new Africa, there’s an Africa which is part of the global village,” explained Rotberg. “Africa is now part of the picture.”

He discussed that despite Africa undergoing revolutions, before it can be fully integrated into the modern world, it must deal with its critical challenges for the next 70 years.

Rotberg then  asked the audience what they thought  the crucial problems the continent is currently facing. One major issue students came up with was population.

He described just how drastically Africa’s population is exploding and that  by the end of the twenty first century their population will be almost as large as Asia’s.

“Think of the challenges in sheer numbers, Africa can either have a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster,”  said Rotberg.

A second, very serious challenge for Africa is education, particularly education for girls. Rotberg stressed the important of literacy and how evidence of poor literacy is reflected in the low number of primary and secondary school graduates.

“Only six  per cent of Africans get a chance to go to university in Africa,” Rotberg explained. So there is real educational challenge ahead … Africa has also had a huge brain drain.”

“There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than there are in Ethiopia,” he continued.

Rotberg discussed many more critical challenges in great detail including disease — particularly malaria and tuberculosis — civil war and a shortage of electric power.

To stress the lack of electric power in Africa, Rotberg shared some shocking statistics.

“All of the power available today in Kitchener-Waterloo would power all of Nigeria,” said Rotberg.

Government was another key facet for Rotberg, and as he explained, a third to half of Africa is now better governed. However, some areas, such as Somalia, are still burdened with lack of transparency and corruption.

“Many countries are coming to appreciate what it means to be better governed. Good governance leads to wealth, prosperity and higher standards of living,” explained Rotberg.

Despite the many challenges Rotberg explained to the audience,  he felt optimistic about Africa’s future. He said that he believes the good governance some countries in Africa have exemplified will work as a powerful example for the rest of the continent.

Rotberg also stressed the importance of China in driving Africa’s future and making it possible for Africa to grow.

“If you see in the deadlines [that] China’s GDP has fallen, worry about Africa,” he said. “Without China, it will be very difficult to see how Africa will afford to educated its population, much less feed them, particularly in the cities.”

Despite the many critical challenges Africa has faced and is facing, his speech discussed Africa in new terms. He said that Africa, now part of the global village, has the potential to really grow and progress.

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