Key issues on Agenda 2063 and their relevance to the education sector in Africa

Most of these girls in the Central African Republic said if they could not come back to school, they would have to spend time on doing household chores. © UNICEF CAR/2015/KIM

The 50-year vision of the African Union puts people first, including through better education and skills

The African Union has developed Agenda 2063, its 50-year Vision and Action Plan for the Africa that Africans want. Agenda 2063 calls for action by all segments of society to work together and build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny.

The foundations of the 50-year strategy for Africa

In May 2013, as they celebrated their 50th anniversary, the Heads of State and Government of the African Union made a Solemn Declaration: they acknowledged the continent’s past successes and challenges, and rededicated themselves to Africa’s accelerated development and technological progress.

The African leaders articulated eight goals in their vision to serve as the guide for the continent, which Agenda 2063 translates into concrete objectives, milestones, goals, targets and actions. Agenda 2063 aims to enable Africa to remain focused and committed to the ideals envisaged in the context of a rapidly changing world.

The question that often comes to mind is: why 50 years? In 2013, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, summed up an answer in the following words: 

“What makes us so confident that Africa’s time has arrived and that we can achieve our dream within 50 years, or even less? Six of the World’s ten fastest growing economies are African, and the continent has been growing at an average of 5% per annum for over a decade, despite the global financial and economic crisis. We have a growing, vibrant resourceful and youthful population, equipped with critical skills that would be necessary to drive Africa’s transformation.”

Surely, a 50-year planning horizon is ambitious, and no model is rigorous enough to predict that far into the future. The breathtaking and complex changes (political, social, cultural, economic and technological) that the world and Africa are experiencing will continue for a long time.

However, as was put succinctly by African ministers during the 2014 Bahir Dar Ministerial Retreat on Agenda 2063:

“Planning 50 years ahead allows us to dream, think creatively, and sometimes crazy, to see us leapfrog beyond the immediate challenges.”

Setting up Africa to prosper in the 21st century

Agenda 2063 is rooted in pan-Africanism and African renaissance; it provides a robust framework for addressing past injustices and the recognition of the 21st century as the African century.

The Agenda is a flexible instrument and a living document to be adjusted according to exigencies of the time. Implementing Agenda 2063 begins with a ten-year implementation plan, which lays out in an incremental manner the concrete steps and milestones to be achieved in the journey towards 2063 to fulfill the African Union vision.

Agenda 2063 is a paradigm shift for the continent if implemented on all fronts.

Once Africa cultivates the recommended framework that will harmonize the execution of Agenda 2063 with the global Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030), the realization of both agendas will be coherent, and will surely make a meaningful impact.

The vision of Agenda 2063 is that Africa will become a rich continent with high-quality growth that creates employment opportunities for all, especially women and youth. Through this vision, sound policies and greater infrastructure will push Africa’s transformation by enhancing the conditions for private sector development and by heightening investment, entrepreneurship, and micro, small and medium enterprises.

The change will entail shifting the sources of economic growth and opportunity in a way that encourages higher productivity, resulting in sustained and inclusive economic growth. The Agenda requests strong leadership, as any successful transformation requires visionary and determined leadership.

Challenges on the road to realizing Agenda 2063

The stakes are high for the realization of this vision. Several economies on the continent remain fragile, and infrastructure remains underdeveloped. Many African economies still rely on raw materials, with a limited diversification of their productive structures.

Poverty rates remain unacceptably high. Inequality is also high. According to the United Nations, six of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are African. Recent global food crises and continuing struggles with hunger in some parts of Africa, particularly in the Horn, stress the need for greater food security.

Africa must also harness more of its capital – human, natural and financial – to invest in future development.

A demographic challenge

Africa’s population is young and growing, and a rapidly expanding number of job seekers will soon be getting into labor markets.  Population growth rates are even higher in cities, where an estimated 40% of Africa’s population live.

According to the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), urban populations will increase by an additional 300 million people by 2030. The Bank projects that 250 million Africans will be between 15 and 24 years old in the next three years.

Africa’s challenge is not only to create employment fast enough to keep pace with this population growth but also to provide everyone with the skills to join a productive workforce.

Investing in people first through education

Agenda 2063 demands that Africa invests in skills, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that the peoples of Africa can drive the continent’s development. In this respect, Agenda 2063 has set up pillars for the priority areas that will make this vision a reality.

One of the pillars of Agenda 2063 is the need to invest in the peoples of Africa as its most precious resource. According to Agenda 2063, these resources include their nutrition and health, their access to shelter, water and sanitation, expanding quality education and strengthening science, technology, innovation and research.

We know of the disconnection that exists between the skills school systems produce and the ones the private sector wants. Educational quality is often low. African students rank lowest internationally in reading and computational skills.

The continent’s education systems needs to enhance skills in traditional professions – such as teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers – and in sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics to support the rapidly changing demands of African economies.

It is also urgent to develop skills for micro, small and medium enterprises.

Science, technology and business creation are key areas

To start meeting the targets of the first ten-year plan of Agenda 2063, African institutions dealing in education must focus more on investing in science and technology.

The African Union’s Department of Human Resources, Science, and Technology, which has a Science and Technology Division as well as several Education and Youth Divisions, must be at the center of the skills development agenda on the continent. It must receive both financial and technical support from AfDB and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).

Support for technological and vocational training must step up and link to specific needs in the labor market, in both the formal and informal sectors, including the skills to create small businesses.

Programs for women studying in technical and scientific areas must be supported.

These institutions must work with bilateral, multilateral and non-traditional partners to leverage their development contributions in Africa, through co-financing thematic trust funds and other bilateral initiatives. Work must also continue with the private sector, foundations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and academia.

Specific support from ADEA and AfDB

ADEA, through its external arms in governments and its working groups, must embark on new approaches that will focus on better education and better matching of supply and demand for skilled workers to address youth unemployment.

The African Union must also work with AfDB to strengthen scientific research and innovation through African networks of excellence. They should collectively help create dynamic, innovative systems with global links and develop mentorship programs (with the diaspora) to equip the next generation of entrepreneurs.

ADEA is a knowledge broker, and its technical arms must collaborate with AfDB and the African Union to assist African governments to promote skills in traditional fields as well as in such areas as engineering, research, and science and technology to support the continent’s fast changing political, social and economic development.

Universities and regional vocational training institutions must be at the center of this effort. I hope that the outcome of the ADEA Triennale in March 2017 will be consistent with these suggestions to operationalize this agenda.

Through education, achieving the vision of Agenda 2063

The goal of Agenda 2063 is, therefore, to ensure the full realization of Africa’s ambition to be a stable, integrated and prosperous continent with competitive, diversified and growing economies participating fully in global trade and investment.

The continent must aspire to become a future growth pole and the next global emerging market. Agenda 2063, while seizing all available opportunities, underlines the fact that success depends on the unity of purpose, transparency, placing citizens’ first, sound governance, and willingness and capability to assess performance and correct mistakes timely.