A brighter future for Africa

GETTING HER HANDS DIRTY: Farmer Wendy Tsotetsi of the Inkululeko Agricultural Cooperative. PHOTO: Vathiswa Ruselo
GETTING HER HANDS DIRTY: Farmer Wendy Tsotetsi of the Inkululeko Agricultural Cooperative. PHOTO: Vathiswa Ruselo

The month of May bears particular significance for the African people.

It was during this month in 1963 that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has now transformed into the African Union (AU), was formed.

The OAU/AU united the African people behind the common vision of eliminating colonialism and apartheid so Africans could claim their right to self-determination.

The Africa of 2016 is vastly different from the Africa of 1963. Within the framework of its Agenda 2063, our 50-year vision of the Africa we want, the continent is making progress and growing economically.

Africa is the least indebted region in the world, with a debt-to- GDP ratio of 37%. Expenditure on much needed infrastructure is growing faster than general government expenditure, and just over the last three years, infrastructure spending has increased from US$50-billion to $90-billion per annum.

If Africa continues to speed up infrastructure development, grow its agriculture and diversify its economies, it will lead to sustainable economic growth, enhanced intra-African trade and the eradication of poverty.

We must radically alter the colonial/post-colonial pattern where Africa is a supplier of raw materials. Africa should produce value-added goods for export into the global economy. It is only in this way that we can address the paradox of a rich-resource continent inhabited by a poverty-stricken population, and make a decisive break with the past.

At present, only 15% value is added to Africa's natural resources exports. By increasing it to 30%, the continent could create an estimated 7 million new jobs.

In pursuit of the continental economic integration agenda, we have witnessed the launch of Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the East African Community (EAC) and, in June 2015 in Egypt, the Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA).

This FTA, which merges 26 countries into a free trade zone with 625 million people and a total GDP of $1.6-trillion, will contribute immensely towards increasing intra-African trade. The Tripartite FTA represents an important milestone towards the conclusion of negotiations for the establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area.

Africa is the only continent whose growing population is getting younger. This means that as a continent, investing in education and skills development, infrastructure, manufacturing, beneficiation and industrialisation, and agro-processing are critical to ensure that Africa's youth have opportunities to contribute to our shared prosperity and help us to reap the demographic dividend.

Women, along with young people are the key drivers of Agenda 2063 and for innovation in our continent. Conflicts on the continent are subsiding. Research shows that most Africans today live in countries more peaceful, democratic and better governed than two decades ago.

The AU's Peace and Security Council, of which South Africa is currently a member, has contributed to the implementation of Agenda 2063's goal of "Silencing the Guns by 2020".

Agenda 2063 stresses that the path towards silencing the guns on the continent is investment in the African people, our most precious resource, and building inclusive, democratic, people-centred and caring societies with developmental governments that are accountable to their citizens.

The African continent continues to leverage relations with strategic partners such as China in order to achieve the developmental objectives set out in Agenda 2063.

The first ever summit-level meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in Johannesburg, focused on the objectives of Agenda 2063 and the China Two Centenary Goals. China pledged US$60 billion for Africa's skills training, socio-economic and infrastructure development, from which South Africa and the continent at large will benefit.

Since we joined the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) formation, Africa's developmental needs and aspirations have been fully incorporated into the Brics agenda.

The Brics New Development Bank (NDB), headquartered in Shanghai, China, has recently started operations and its African Regional Centre will be located in Johannesburg.

Africa is a staunch supporter of the UN and the UN Charter. With its 54 member states, the AU contributes the largest members of any continental body to the UN.

We remain convinced that the UN is the pre-eminent organisation for the maintenance of global peace and security. African leaders spoke with one voice last September on the occasion of the UN's 70th anniversary regarding the importance of the UN system and the need for the UN to move with the times and adapt to new realities, key among which is that African states are now free and independent, ready to take their rightful place in world affairs.

Africa is determined to change its fate and the conditions of its people and to be a major role player internationally.

Over the last decade we have seen over 5% growth across the continent and advances in infrastructure, in education and health and in building inclusive, democratic and peaceful societies. However, much more needs to be done and must be done faster in order to transform the continent and build a better life for all Africans.