…Sees Digitalization As Continent’s Best Opportunity To Leap-Frog

LAGOS – “Africa can take full advantage of the global complexities we see today and indeed thrive in the face of the uncertainties and disruption through knowledgeable leadership which is committed to good governance.”

This was the submission of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN at a public lecture delivered in the evening of Monday, March 27, 2023, at the King’s College, London, titled: “Africa Can Prosper in an Increasingly Complex World”.

According to a release e-signed and made available to StarTrend Int’l magazine and online – www.startrendinternational.com by Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), Office of the Vice President, Osinbajo stated that if he was asked what would determine Africa’s ability to turn the problems and complexities of the continent and our world around for good, “I will say knowledgeable leadership committed to good governance.”

The Vice President spoke to a large audience comprising academics, scholars, researchers, faculty and students of the Africa Leadership Centre (ALC) in a packed lecture hall at the prestigious King’s College.

His audience included Professor Rachel Mills, the College’s Senior Vice President (Academics); Professor Funmi Olonisakin, Vice President (International Engagement & Service), who moderated a Question and Answer session after the lecture, and Professor Abiodun Alao, a notable Professor of African Studies based in the College.

Also accompanying the VP to the public lecture were senior government officials led by Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola.

The VP’s lecture detailed and interpreted issues such as climate change crisis, the Russian-Ukrainian war, terrorism etc, and noted that in today’s world “we live in a complex and somewhat confusing times.
The lines have never been more blurred in the various conceptual prisms through which we view the world.”

The Vice President added the existence of several centres of political and economic power since the unipolar world of the 1990s has meant that there are various ways in which global developments are viewed.

According to him “in addition to the United States, we now have China, Russia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, India and Brazil as dominant regional powers. The perspectives, decisions and actions of these actors impact not only in their regions but across the world including in multilateral forums.”

Speaking specifically on the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Prof. Osinbajo said “apart from its consequences for international peace and security, the war has signalled a breakdown of the global order which emerged at the end of the Second World War and is a source of concern to many African countries who now have to steer their way delicately between major powers. But the more immediate and consequential fallout of the war are the sharp hikes in food, especially wheat, sunflower oil, fuel and fertilizer prices.”

He noted “many African countries are heavily dependent on one or both of the warring parties for food and oil. When the conflict began in February last year, the price of wheat increased by 67% from December 2021. Oil prices similarly went through the roof. The international price of oil averaged $100 per barrel in 2022 as compared to about $70 per barrel in 2021. Given that some of the key manufacturing countries are oil importers, higher oil prices invariably translated to higher prices for manufactured products as well.

“These price shocks and disruption of supply chains of various commodities across Africa led to high inflation at a time when most countries were struggling to overcome the economic and social fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic especially debt and foreign currency crises.  The situation was relieved somewhat by the deal that was brokered to enable the export of Ukrainian wheat.”

On Nigeria’s position in the conflict, the VP stated that “despite our strong objection to the invasion of Ukraine as evidenced by our support for the UN resolution condemning the invasion, we have managed to maintain good relationships with both parties. We are now in the process of working out a grain supply from Russia coordinated by the World Food Programme, and we recently accepted to provide port space in Port Harcourt, Nigeria for the distribution of grain from Ukraine to other west African countries.”

The Vice President observed that the Russia-Ukraine war had made some African countries like Zimbabwe to look inward, and then stated that “the economic fall out of the war for us in Africa should be an introspective moment on the issue of self sufficiency in food production.”

He however, commended amongst other efforts to resolve the crisis, the recent peace proposal by the President of Brazil saying “President Luiz Lula Da Silva of Brazil proposed a peace club probably led by China to seek ways of ending the crisis. I think that sort of thinking is the way to go. The world must find parties that can be trusted by both sides to intervene”.

On the global climate crisis which has also polarized the world, the Vice President averred that it is “central to current global complexities.”

According to him “just a few days ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report cautioning that if speedy actions are not taken global warming might attain 1.5°C much earlier than expected even possibly in the 2030s.

“This is a worrying prospect if we consider that African countries, despite being the least emitters of carbon, are the worst hit by its  effects and the least capable of quickly responding to or mitigating the damage  caused by extreme weather events. At the same time, a competition for increasingly scarce resources such as water and arable land is fueling conflict and complicating tensions between communities.”

Continuing, he averred that actually  “African countries have a little more to worry about even in the inevitable transition to net zero by 2050 or 2060. For us energy poverty and it’s implications for extreme poverty are as existential, as the climate crisis itself. In 2020, 52% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, about 568 million people, had no access to electricity. Nineteen of the twenty countries with lowest clean cooking access rates are in Africa.

“In practical terms, these energy deficits produce staggering effects. For instance, the clean cooking deficits lead to about huge numbers of premature deaths from household air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa annually.”

“Furthermore, gender inequities are exacerbated, and millions of women and children suffer from critical health conditions. Due to the electricity deficits, half of secondary schools and a quarter of health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa have no power.

“For many, gas-rich but energy poor countries in Africa such as Nigeria, we recognise the role that natural gas, being a much cleaner fossil fuel, must play as a transition fuel in the short term to facilitate the establishment of base-load energy capacity and address  clean cooking deficits in the form of LPG.

“But there has been strong resistance to this. Several global North nations have placed restrictions on the use of development funds for natural gas infrastructure in Africa with ripple effects in the private financial sector,” the VP added.

He further stated that “while the U.S. and others have created exceptions in their policies, the intended flexibility is not yet clear or seen in practice. So clearly, limiting the development of domestic gas projects, (which is a  critical energy transition pathway for Africa,) violates enshrined principles of equity and justice, and poses dire challenges for African nations, while making an insignificant dent in global emissions.

“Even if we triple electricity consumption in African countries,  aside from South Africa, solely through the use of  natural gas this  would add just 0.6% to global emissions.”

The Vice President however suggested that in the circumstances, Africa can also lead a revolutionary approach to climate change in a way “that recognizes Climate action as the job engine for Africa.”

He further explained by citing an example, “James Mwangi and his colleagues at the Climate Action Platform Africa (CAP-A) have presented this compelling point of view.  They argue that instead of pushing the narrative of Africa as victim and or insisting on business-as-usual growth which  would make Africa a big future emitter, especially as doubling population and possible  quintupling of income per capita could propel Africa to the top of emitter league tables in the coming decades, Africa should (instead) lead the way in tackling climate change leveraging on its renewable energy potential, young workforce, green technologies, carbon removal and green manufacturing.”

Prof. Osinbajo concluded that Africa can provide jobs for millions of its young people, prosper and lead in the fight against climate change by becoming the green or carbon-free civilisation. “And we have the comparative advantage to do so,” he declared.

Speaking on the various initiatives by the global North to partner with African countries, the Vice President said “let me say a word about China, Africa and the West. In mid December last year, the US hosted the Africa-U.S. summit, only the second of such, the last was in 2014. There is no question that the summit was meant to, at least, register the US interest in being a more active player in Africa in response to evident dominance of the Chinese.

“China is Africa’s largest bilateral trading partner with $254 billion in 2021, about four times  the volume of U.S.-Africa trade. China is also the largest provider of foreign direct investment, supporting hundreds of thousands of African jobs.

“This is roughly double the level of U.S. foreign direct investment.  China remains by far the largest lender to African countries. Chinese companies have also taken the lead in exploiting minerals in Africa, many now in lithium mining in Mali, Ghana, Nigeria,  DRC, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

“Most African countries are rightly unapologetic about their close ties with China. China shows up where and when the West will not or are reluctant . And many African countries are of the view that the   ‘beware of the Chinese Trojan loans’ advise from the West is wise but probably self serving.”

He observed “Africa needs the loans and the infrastructure. And China offers them. In any case, the history of loans from Western institutions is not great. The memory of the destructive conditionalities of the Bretton Woods loans are still fresh, the debris is everywhere. And the preoccupation of Western governments and media with the so-called China debt trap might well be an over reaction, I recommend an eye opening lecture by  Professor Deborah Brautigam about two weeks ago at Jesus College Cambridge.”

Prof. Osinbajo noted that for him, the truth is as she points out “that all of Chinese lending to Africa is only 5% of all outstanding public and publicly guaranteed debt in low and middle income countries, compared to 23% held by the World Bank and other multilaterals. Chinese lenders account for 12 per cent of Africa’s private and public external debt. And the Chinese have also been there when the debts cannot be paid.

“In early 2020 as COVID battered African economies, China came together with other G20 members to launch the Debt Service Suspension Initiative ( DSSI). 73 low income economies benefited from the suspension of principal and interest payments. Chinese banks provided 63% of the total debt relief while being only owed 30% of the debt service payments due.”

The VP then moved on to the question of insecurity in the Africa continent. According to him “there is some restiveness in the continent which is driven in part by poverty, alienation, environmental degradation and poor governance. The more pressing problem today is the encroachment by franchises of global terror groups into Africa. Although many African countries have acted vigorously to tackle these terrorist groups, there is still much more that can be done especially in partnership with the rest of the international community.”

Continuing he said “the Sahel appears to be the worst hit. According to the 2022 Global Terrorism Index, the Sahel has become home to ‘the world’s fastest growing and most deadly terrorist groups’ and Sub Saharan Africa accounts for 48% of global terrorism deaths.

“The Sahel is also said to account for half a million internally displaced persons, 1.8 million people facing food insecurity and 5.1 million people needing humanitarian assistance.

“Given the scale of the problem and the fact that the threat of terrorism anywhere on earth is a threat to the whole of humanity, I think it is time for the global community to treat the menace of terrorism in the Sahel as a common challenge. This is one area in which the great powers and emerging powers can put aside rivalries and work together with ECOWAS and the African Union on an initiative to stamp out terrorism in Africa especially in the Sahel.”

He noted further that “Africa has been and remains a force for global good.  When I say that Africa can be a force for good, I often like to refer to the agreement way back in 1963 when African countries barely out from colonial rule agreed to respect colonially inherited boundaries.  This has been largely observed and this is a big deal when we recall that most wars in the world in previous centuries were often linked to disagreements about boundaries. Following from the respect for colonially inherited boundaries, Africa has also shown outstandingly good example in using its regional integration arrangements to promote peace and security on one hand and trade and industry on the other.

“African regional organisations have taken responsibility for maintenance of peace and security in the continent and its sub-regions.  Notable in this regard is the strong resistance to unconstitutional changes of government at the African Union and also in regional economic groupings.  ECOWAS for instance has sanctioned countries like Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali where soldiers have seized power by coups d’etat.  Such sanctions include suspension of memberships, travel bans and freezes on financial credits amongst other things.”

Vice President Osinbajo then commended the African Union which has backed up ECOWAS actions and has also suspended the membership of these countries, noting that “it would seem that the sanctions have some bite to the extent that the affected countries approached the ECOWAS leadership at the last AU Summit requesting that the sanctions be lifted.

“I would argue however that the measures taken against these countries would have had even greater impact if the rest of the international community had rallied round and reinforced the measures taken by ECOWAS.  I must of course acknowledge that the US Government issued a statement of specific support for ECOWAS sanctions in Guinea.”

The Vice President also praised efforts towards economic development in the continent. He said Africa has shown “outstandingly good example through the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area.  While some parts of the world were reviewing or quitting from regional integration agreements, African countries were building on the pan-African legacy of leaders like Kwame Nkrumah to establish one continental market.”

He expressed optimism that AfCFTA will overcome the constraints of Africa’s small, fragmented markets and its impact on commerce within the continent both in goods and services will be profound.

The VP said “this would be particularly so, if adequate attention is paid to building regional value chains within the continent.”

Another investment which he identified as having the capacity to act as a game-changer for Africa in the current complex world is digitalization.

According to him “I think there is a strong conviction that digitalisation offers the best  opportunity of leap-frogging for Africa. Digital technologies are being deployed across Africa to provide solutions in agriculture, education, Fintech and healthcare delivery. It is also being deployed in logistics and transport and have the potential to be used for smart housing solutions and smart power grids.

“The story of mobile telephony which has provided the platform for the use of digital technologies in daily lives in Africa is one such example. Due to mobile telephony, Africa is ahead of other parts of the world in terms of Fintech and payments solutions.”

Continuing the VP observed that Africa “accounts for about half of the world’s mobile money accounts. Similarly, more and more African countries are using AI-enabled surveillance technologies for facial recognition to monitor and respond to crime.  Perhaps even better known is the use of drones to deliver medicines in Rwanda. Such is the impact that just since 2016, despite two recessions and even a global pandemic, six technology start-ups in Nigeria achieved the status of unicorns.”

Vice President Osinbajo further pointed out that another great resource that will enable Africa to cope with a rapidly changing world is its Diaspora. “Instead of lamenting the brain drain (which is costly) Africa should organize itself to take advantage of its Diaspora some of whom are in this very audience,” he noted.

“Aside from remittances from the African diaspora, which is substantial, rising from $37bn in 2010 to $96bn by 2021, the African Diaspora is a source of strength. They have also in several instances offered themselves for public service. However, I see the Diaspora as our vanguard for keeping up with the rest of the world (a secret weapon as it were).

“As we have seen time and time again, members of the African Diaspora keep a close tab on developments at home often investing their resources in businesses or setting up facilities with cutting-edge services in medicine, education, finance. We saw for instance the contributions from the Ethiopian Diaspora that helped to fund the building of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

While further emphasizing the role of the African Diaspora, the VP noted that “Kenya has also licensed a diaspora investment fund that will enable Kenyans living abroad to invest safely at home. The hospital where I had an operation last year is based in Lagos and the Specialists that treated me practice both in Nigeria and UK.”

Vice President Osinbajo also highlighted efforts of the Buhari administration in leading Africa’s initiative to transform the continent. For instance he said “in my few years of service as Vice President, I have been quite fascinated by the place of academic rigour in both policy formulation but more importantly in execution.

“In Nigeria, our Social Investment Programme possibly the largest in sub-Saharan Africa was the product of excellent policy research that also addressed the problems of how, or implementation. The results included the award winning home-grown school feeding programme, where we fed 9.5 million children daily and created huge opportunities for farmers who sold their produce to the programme. Our microcredit programme for 2.4 million  informal traders was also rigorously evidence-based, the delivery mechanism was also well researched and the electronic platform developed by a very young team to deliver it, now called the Growth Platform  also won two international awards.

Similarly, according to Prof. Osinbajo, “the insights from the study titled ‘Conflict in the Sahel Region and the Developmental Consequences’ undertaken by Funmi Olonisakin and her collegues helped to inform the thinking and design of our National  Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) – An innovative sustainable approach to resolving the deadly conflicts around  pasture and water between farmers  and herders in Nigeria and one which may become a template for addressing similar problems in the Sahel.”

While commending the African Leadership Centre, the organisers of the lecture, the Vice President stated that the Centre “deserves commendation for how it has in a few short years of its establishment gained a stellar reputation for research and teaching on leadership studies focused on the African continent and training a generation of scholars and practitioners on issues of peace, security and international development.”

Earlier, in her welcome remarks, Prof. Rachel Mills, the Senior Vice President (Academics) at the King’s College told the audience how the College and especially the African Leadership Centre (ALC) had over the years demonstrated its commitment to offering quality education to young talented Africans through its partnership programmes with some African Universities. She underscored the importance of the public lecture delivered by the Vice President as an opportunity to reflect on Nigeria as a regional leader in economic, political and social terms and its place in global context that is increasingly fragile and in a state of flux.

Other College officials at the lecture included Ms. Shuvai Nyoni, Executive Director, African Leadership Centre, Nairobi; and Dr Eka Ikpe, Director, African Leadership Centre, School of Global Affairs, King’s College, London.

About Idowu Hamed

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