Ruto: we must turn every young African into a winner

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Ruto and Museveni at the summit

We gather here for an exceedingly critical purpose. This Summit is timely, and its theme highly appropriate, because we are called upon to speak to a matter of great consequence now and for years and decades to come.

For a while now, Africa has been home to the fastest growing populations. Europe is experiencing negative growth. East Asia and Latin America are slowing down, and are projected to begin slowing down in a couple of decades.

Not only is Africa growing fast, it is expected to do so for much longer and start slowing down much later than everyone else. For this reason, we are already the youngest continent, and will get younger in the years to come.

Africa’s median age is 19.4 as we speak, and Niger is much younger at around 15. Working-age population, therefore, will be growing by approximately 450 million people between 2015 and 2035, while by 2050, people between ages 15 and 24 will be 362 million.

All these young people will need jobs at a time when traditional employment avenues have been disrupted. In the past, industry not only directly employed many young people in growing economies, but also instigated structural change that improved the quality of available jobs.

For many reasons, Africa cannot wait for the traditional path to provide old opportunities. In net terms, our continent has de-industrialised because our share of global industrial output has shrunk. In the modern global environment, less than a quarter of the new entrants into the labour force will find work.

The FAO director-general estimates that up to 12 million jobs will have to be generated every year to employ young people entering the labour market annually for the next 20 years.

Given rising overall capability in terms of education and skills, this mismatch is a recipe for crisis. Experts recommend that the structural transformation required remedying this employment challenge and averting a jobs crisis will have to be considerably different from the industrial solution that worked for other continents in the past.

In other words, we have to look elsewhere for our solutions, and ensure that governments create the appropriate environment for transformation to take place.

Emerging consensus is that Africa must urgently avoid doing the same thing that has failed again and again. Rather, we need to particularly look at the opportunity for Africa to do especially well in its most dynamic economic sectors.

The Brookings Institution suggests that the same forces that limit Africa’s opportunities in industry are also creating a growing number of tradable services and agribusiness, which have capacity to create better jobs. In addition, ICT-based services, tourism and transport are also sectors that promise quality jobs going forward, and are the sites of the fastest growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, these sectors have grown by an average of 58% between 2002 and 2015, and the rat will continue to rise as more and more sub-Sahara African economies hook up to global value chains.

To drive this structural change therefore, it is necessary for us to lay the necessary foundational infrastructure and establish an appropriate environment.

The focus will be the upscaling of public goods in order to support higher productivity in households and enterprises through actions that eliminate constraints, improve capability, expand access and grow earnings.

Interventions must embrace a wide sectoral range over varied horizons. Reforming the business climate therefore must be seen to go hand-in-hand with developing a transformational youth employment policy as well as financing and facilitating small businesses and entrepreneurs, improving the links between education and training on one hand and business and industry on the other.

It also calls for efforts to intensify our economies’ internal, regional and global connectivity through a dramatic infrastructural expansion facilitated by strategic investment.

How then do we forge a future that works for Africa’s youth? I propose that action is needed in 6 areas.

1. Investment in world class infrastructure: Investment in expanded road networks, airports, railway, ports, broadband connectivity, and stable, green energy sources is critical for driving commerce on the continent. Africa’s infrastructure financing needs are estimated at $130–$170 billion a year. But total commitments came to just $63 billion in 2018, representing a financing gap of approximately $67–$107 billion a year. To close Africa’s infrastructure deficit, regional cooperation remains necessary.

When Kenya invested on the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway from Mombasa through Nairobi in the first phase and onward to Naivasha all the way to Malaba in the second phase, it had in mind the needs of the country and the region at large. Similarly, when Kenya and Ethiopia took the decision to construct the over 700 Kms Isiolo-Moyale-Addis Ababa Road or when Kenya and Tanzania decided to construct the Athi-River-Namanga-Arusha road, the clear driver and motivation was the need to open up the region to trade and accelerate commercial and people to people interaction. A similar drive animates investments by Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan in the LAPPSET Corridor project. The region’s investment on the East African Submarine Cable (EASSy) Project has dramatically improved broadband connectivity in East Africa enabling private sector to leverage on this infrastructure to invest in the region. The net impacts of these projects are to enable private sector to invest in various projects that will spur industrialization and job creation for young people.

2. Modernising, Mechanising and technologically enabling agriculture: Agriculture will remain the industry of the future for Africa. A World Bank report “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness,” says that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they can expand their access to more capital, electricity, better technology and irrigated land to grow high-value nutritious foods.

As was argued during the African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali in 2018, sustainable agricultural growth above 4pc annually requires machinery uptake growth of no less than 2.5pc. In this trajectory, Kenya and several African countries fall below the mark, with mechanization of its’ agricultural systems still way below 35pc. The resulting low production levels is partly attributable to the mechanization deficit and measures that allow production of agricultural equipment at reasonable price should be considered, if scale is to be achieved. Regional manufacturing hubs that pool a number of countries can make such manufacturing venture viable.

Furthermore, the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2018 argues that, countries whose agricultural sectors have registered marked transformation over the last decade, such as Ethiopia, have aggressively expanded irrigated farmlands. With 3.3 million hectares under irrigation out of 70 million hectares of arable land, Ethiopia’s food security turnaround craves continental replication. But farming cannot be sustainable unless it is able to attract youth participation. The average age of a farmer in Kenya is 60 years, which jeopardizes the future survival of the sector.

3. Technology: Information, Communication and Technology is a strong and key driver of growth and development across the world.

According to Financial Sector Deepening Africa, a development financial organization, technology employed in the financial sector will increase the Sub Saharan economic output by at least $40 billion to $150 billion by 2022.

Africa can turn its challenges into opportunities and growth if it employs and exploits the right and latest forms of technology.

There is no doubt that some African countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco and Kenya have done fairly well in this area especially in online and mobile banking and general automation of services both in government and private sector.

Repositioning technology as the key driver of growth in industry and marketable services and as an enabler of sustainable competitiveness can be done by investing in education and training, beginning with reforms necessary to align the needs and expectations of the private sector vis-a-vis what our youth are taught.

A suitably reoriented technology- centred education and training therefore should impart leadership, digital, and soft skills in every young person going through the education system.

This is because for technology collaboration, innovation, team work and linkage building are indispensable for productivity and competitiveness.

It also ensures that the young tech leaders have capacity to absorb and optimise resources accruing from financing and market links which need to be supported by appropriate government strategic policy.

All this work must be undertaken now. Training, support for entrepreneurship and innovation- including financing and facilitating market access as well as creating spaces and opportunities for young people to create, collaborate, test and improve concepts are some interventions that suggest serious commitment.

We have been doing this in Kenya and intend to scale it up significantly. This is how vibrant tech hubs arise, survive and drive structural change.

You all know how mobile telephony has revolutionised the way we do business. Kenya’s technology conglomerate Safaricom for instance serviced over 45 million mobile money accounts last year with transactions worth 3.9 trillion shillings (3.9 billion dollars) transacted via its mobile money platform, MPESA. The enabling regulatory environment put in place in the country has enabled Kenya to be on the cutting edge of a truly transformative technology transformation in many other sectors from agriculture, health and environmental sustainability. To support the technological take off and knowledge economy of the future, more investment in human capital development has been made. ICT incubation hubs at county level, with plans for extending these to constituency levels, to empower youth with the training and work experience appropriate for market-ready ICT services and products is underway.

Over the last 5 years, an ambitious digital learning programme was rolled out across the country. 1.2 million devices were distributed across 19,666 schools to enable young children access ICT skills including those from the farthest flung areas of our country. Kenya is investing massively on Konza Technopolis City, our own Silicon Savanna that will enable business process outsourcing services for many young entrepreneurs.

4. Retooling our education to focus on science, technology and innovation and skilling youth on technical and vocational education: In Kenya, we are implementing the most ambitious programme on human capital development focused on technical and vocational training that has seen an increase in the number of TVET institutions by close to 300 in the last four years.

For the first time since independence, the number of students enrolling into TVET institutions now exceeds those joining universities and we expect 420,000 graduates from the colleges in the next three years. This is a tectonic shift in priorities driven by this government’s commitment to align training with market needs and to the demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution. As such, we are also developing ICT incubation hubs at county level, with plans for extending these to constituency levels, to empower youth with the training and work experience appropriate for market-ready ICT services and products.

5. Trade: I am pleased that the continent has taken the view that its economic integration is critical in enabling Africa take its rightful place in global marketplace. Unless we trade as Africa, we are doomed to failure as individual states.

Consequently, African governments have made the decision to tear down the walls that hinder us from trading with each other by enacting the Continental Free Trade Area, CFTA. The CFTA Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of businesspersons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union. The CFTA will bring together fifty-four African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion. New research suggests that eliminating today’s applied bilateral tariffs would increase intra-Africa trade by up to 15 percent.

6. Migration and Freedom of Movement: The 2016 decision by the African Union to launch an African Union Passport designed to exempt bearers from having to obtain any visas for all 55 states in Africa, is one of the defining interventions empowering of youth. Unless Africans can travel, work, study and trade across borders unimpeded by bureaucracy, the continent’s dream of economic emancipation and unification will never be realized. In seeking to domesticate this commitment, Kenya has for instance decided that any bearer of an African passport is free to travel to Kenya and will obtain visa gratis at any Kenyan port of entry.

Further, Kenya has made the decision to allow any East African to live, work and own property in Kenya and enjoy the same status as that of a Kenyan citizen, save for the right to vote.

We are witnessing new forms of organization across Africa based on shared values, ideas and strategies that transcend the state, and are increasingly driven by young people. We are beholding new maturity in political contestation and open embrace of the values of democracy, tolerance, rule of law, expression and assembly, both online but also in public spaces.

Transparency is no longer an empty aspiration externally demanded, but is informing movements led by Kenya and others, for a true ethic of openness and civic participation in governance. We have new challenges, but we have new capacities, competencies and resiliencies. We can forge a stable, peaceful, prosperous future for our youth without fear.

The strategic nudge to Kenya’s vision 2030 through the Big 4 Agenda must be seen as one effort to accelerate and expand the achievement of short-and medium-term goals by selected interventions in order initiate a dynamic of greater productivity, faster growth and faster job creation.

Accompanying reforms must make governance nimbler, more adaptive and responsive to fast-changing challenges and opportunities.

Our ability to forecast and anticipate, as well as the actual responses we formulate and implement matters immensely if we are not to fail the youth and future generations. We are alive to the great task ahead of us, which is to quickly develop the tools and with them create opportunities required to solve the most important challenge of our time.

Our reflections at this Summit are therefore vital in forging the common resolve and charting the way forward. We have to ensure that all African economies are prepared to thrive and compete globally with a workforce that is getting younger.

We must understand our challenge in all its magnitude, and by facing it, produce opportunities that will enable us win by turning every young African into a winner.

Kenya vice president William Ruto’s speech at Africa Now 2019 Summit at the Commonwealth Hotel-Munyonyo, Uganda.

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