JOHANNESBURG, Youngsters in Africa must try to transform an education system that is failing to inspire the continent’s economic development, says mobile communications entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim.

He said a complete overhaul of Africa’s education systems, focusing on modern quality technical skills training, could change the desperate situation facing the continent’s youth. It would make them relevant, productive and prosperous. Colonial education was failing to even equip them with relevant skills in agriculture � the engine for African growth.

The continent’s colonial education system remains unchanged. It was meant to produce clerks and administrators with a handwriting so beautiful you’d be jealous, but it’s totally irrelevant in the world that has moved into a high-tech environment, Ibrahim told City Press by phone this week.

The continent produced hardly any (2%) agriculture-related skills a year, which was grossly inadequate, he said, adding that Africa needed to focus on the technology and construction sectors to stimulate the youth to be innovative and pioneering entrepreneurs who would utilise natural resources for the benefit of society at large.

We can’t continue to fail to produce sufficient numbers of engineers and technicians to build and substantially grow our economies. We need a serious discussion between civil society, youth, business and other interest groups to make our education relevant to our economic needs, he emphasised.

Ibrahim participated in MTV Base’s conversations with the youth on May 17, which were broadcast on Sunday, in which he talked about the importance of clean governance, youth leadership, technology and their roles in Africa’s future.

What can be achieved?

He said that, with revamped education, Africa would be able to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. It would build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. In addition, it would:

– Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all;

– Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all; and

– Revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

In a recent report entitled Africa at a Tipping Point, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation maintained that the strong economic growth over the past decade had not created jobs for youth.

Looking at 51 countries from 2006 to last year, the report found that there was no correlation between economic growth and youth unemployment.

It said some countries displayed similar youth unemployment rates, even though they had markedly different gross domestic product (GDP) growth. For instance, last year, the youth unemployment rate in Sudan and Kenya was 22%, even though Kenya’s GDP growth was 6% � nearly double Sudan’s 3.1%.

Ibrahim said that construction skills were essential because Africa still needed to build ports, roads, water supply and broadband telecommunication networks, among other critical infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, Africa’s infrastructure spending needed at least $93bn a year � about 15% of the region’s GDP.

Ibrahim said it would also help if society changed its attitude towards manual work, saying many communities encouraged their children to be professionals such as lawyers, doctors and white-collar workers, while undermining people in critical economic fields, particularly in agriculture and construction.

The future can only be built by blue-collar workers � those who wear overalls and do the real work, he said.

Ibrahim was born in Sudan and moved to Egypt with his family when he was young. In 1989, he founded Mobile Systems International, a leading world cellular consulting and software provider. In 1998, he founded Celtel International, which pioneered mobile services in Africa.


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