African Leaders Summit heats up over questions of growth and trade

Youth Skills

African Leaders Summit heats up over questions of growth and trade

Photo: G. Bugbee for Mercy Corps.

"It says something about the chaotic state of the world that the Obama administration views Africa as a bright spot for American engagement," writes New York Times reporter Mark Landler about the African Leaders Summit. The Summit, hosted by President Obama, is taking place the first week of August in Washington, D.C. under the banner “Investing in the Next Generation."

Though some commentors are nodding along with the idea that Africa "has transformed itself into a genuine opportunity" for trade and business, others are wary that the real focus of the gathering—the private sector deals with American companies invited to attend—won't do much to strengthen Africa's next generation. That is, if you define the next generation as Africa's young people: 200 million of whom are between 15 and 24 today, and who will be looking for jobs tomorrow. 

"What ultimately distinguishes—and continues to handicap—Africa is its lack of mastery of modern science and technology," write Nkem Khumbah and Melvin P. Foote, in the New York Times' opinion page. They make a solid point:

"Scientific and technological advancement will help eradicate poverty and promote homegrown economic development by providing Africa with the tools to address its own challenges and expand its industrial productivity."

The rush to dig, mine and quarry every ounce of natural resources, which has China zipping around the continent with cash streaming out of its coffers, is a high-value but short-term proposition. The Summit demonstrates the U.S.'s willingness to walk down this path, but Khumbah and Foote have another strategy in mind, one with a longer lead: reallocate aid funding to build local skills in science and tech.

Instead of continuing to focus on delivery of developed products — like manufactured drugs and solar-energy panels — to passive consumers, a reallocation of a small percentage of the more than $30 billion in government funds slated for these two programs between 2014 and 2018 could establish a new $1 billion regional fund for joint research activities that would strengthen existing institutions and help establish new ones to train the next generation of Africans in science and engineering disciplines so that they can take ownership of solving their own problems.

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