Africa is a big continent with 1 billion people (15% of the world population). The growth rate is large, the average age is low, the population having multiplied 5 fold since 1950.
What at a material level does Africa need to mobilise itself towards prosperity? Young people are coming out of universities and schools with little opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they have acquired. Most are trapped in areas with insufficient food and water or tribal warfare or invasion by religious extremists or exploitation and pollution by large multinational corporations or endemic corruption and discrimination.
Africa needs hope.
The aid organisations are doing their best and need our support. E.g. Christian Aid are doing their utmost to tackle local problems at source, with the emphasis on helping people to help themselves and tackling corruption. They also have a campaign to force western companies operating in Africa to pay a fair tax to the host countries.
However, a grander scheme is called for to really make a difference. What in my view is needed is a focus on big projects financed globally, especially by Europe, the Americas, Russia and China, subject to them solving their own debt problems. I suggest a concentrated effort on just three areas:
Mobile phones network
If Marshall Plan scale investment went into these projects Africa could actually become a source of employment for the western populations and allow the African peoples to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
This is already happening in a big way. Over 2005 to 2010 mobile phone ownership doubled to 41% of the population (the world average is 76%). Even smartphone use is significant. See New Scientist 8 October, p.21-23.
Rapid growth stems from 4 factors: no need for land lines; World Bank, charity and corporate investment; falling hardware prices; and immediate benefits such as the following:
- Pest control. Smartphone cameras enable crop pests to be located quickly and for diseased plants to be removed or replaced. See e.g. a system for monitoring disease in cassava (tapioca) in Uganda.
- Agricultural market. Buyers and farmers can communicate for the best prices and delivery arrangements. Previously farmers and buyers had to travel large distances to communicate or rely on messengers.
- Health. Symptom checkers, medical advice and locators of local health facilities. E.g. MedAfrica.
- Forgery detection. An Android smartphone is connected to a USB microscope to form an authentication system (PaperSpeckle) which examines the microscopic patterns in paper.
- Technology and skill base. Smartphone applications, accessories and the infrastructure which goes with the installation of phones are becoming increasingly indigenous. This creates jobs and careers. See e.g. mlabs . Much of the training already takes place in African countries.
WATER AND ELECTRICTY GRIDS
Partly through climate change driven by carbon emissions from the developed world and partly through local corruption (local officials selling off stores of grain intended for lean years) millions of lives arebeing ruined by drought. Water is essential for food production, drinking, hygiene and sewage disposal. So we need a continent-wide water grid.
Electricity is needed for lighting, air conditioning, electric and hybrid cars, trains, manufacturing, sewage and drainage pumps, irrigation systems, production lines, mines, power tools, electrical equipment, information technology and much else. Local generators can be used for, say, hospitals and pumping stations, but it is often better to have these as backups to a grid supply. Modern power grids are far more efficient than the old ones and can also be used to carry broadband signals.
The area to be covered is large – several million square miles; but the technology for building these networks is well developed, the rudiments of a power grid exist in most areas and investment goes a long way in Africa. It is primarily a problem of money, commitment and encouraging a spirit of honesty.
Where would the water come from? Large lakes could provide a lot but there is much potential in desalination powered by the sun. Desalination is becoming much cheaper and can be combined with solar thermal electricity generation. No doubt some nuclear power would be needed and possibly wind or tidal or wave power would be feasible in parts.
There are over 50 different countries to be considered; and corruption, conflict and power mongering are major obstacles but once the vision is promoted and a momentum is established Africa could grow in a sustainable way. Probably new ways of living and doing things would be found by necessity and these could spread planet-wide, which could be a blessing if our present ailing system needs to be rebuilt for sustainability and to provide a meaningful way of life for its citizens.
It is easy to forget how our economies and societies depend on communication, power and water. Installing them over the African continent would provide immediate meaningful employment and hope for Africans and for the developed world as it struggles to redefine itself.
John, author 2077 AD