The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. All data in this blog are taken from 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report.
I’m delighted to see that the focus of the Ibrahim Forum this year is African migrations. Today, we finally have a platform to tell the real story of African migration. As panellists and guests our mission at the Ibrahim Governance Weekend is to hold an African-led conversation about migrations, youth, jobs and mobility.
When Mo and his team asked me to write a piece about migrations, youth, agriculture and technology, I was initially hesitant. Of course, I knew about migrations as I was born in Cameroon and grew up in Europe. I knew about youth issues as founder of Africa 2.0, and from my membership of President Adesina’s African Development Youth Advisory Group. I knew about technology as I had been investing in tech businesses for almost 20 years. But when it comes to agriculture, I could not really claim to be a full-on expert. Yes, I made investments in a few agri-business companies when I was in investment banking, but I could not really claim to have spent enough time on a farm to see the full lifecycle of a harvest.
Unfortunately, we tend to disconnect from our roots. We have a short memory; we forget that in all human civilisations, land has been the founding base of wealth creation as it caters to our basic needs such as food and shelter. It is the base for shared growth. Did you know that Africa is not the real name of our continent? The real name of our land since the beginning was Alkebulan, 'mother of mankind' or 'garden of Eden'. Alkebulan is the oldest and the only word of indigenous origin.
I thought of my grandfather, who used to own a plantation in the western region of Cameroon. His land was confiscated by the government after he was imprisoned in the 60s for funding the movement supporting independence for Cameroon. The land he inherited generated enough wealth for him to take care of his family. It was in the 60s and 70s, when Africa’s growth prospects were promising, and the continent was slowly emerging as a global food source. But what has happened since? Why is Africa now a net importer of food? In the 60s and early 70s, Nigeria was one of the largest producers of cocoa and coffee. Until the 80s Zimbabwe was the bread basket of southern Africa. Many countries then decided to ignore agriculture and turn towards the exploitation of natural resources, leaving a big chunk of their population jobless. Where did we go wrong? How can we fix this?
The continent hosts the largest share of uncultivated arable land in the world. Agriculture is a key employer, with the farming sector accounting for 60% of African jobs. In 2030, the African population is expected to reach 2 billion people. Every year 10-13 million African youth enter the job market and only about of 3 million of them find a job. For sure, these youth will migrate and look for opportunities elsewhere, like my father did. Some may flee to neighbouring countries or cities to look for opportunities and greener pastures. The 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report cites examples of the number of people who wish to leave the continent. If these wishes were granted, Sierra Leone would lose 78% of its youth population, Liberia 70% and Nigeria 57%.
For my part, it was important to return to the Alkebulan and contribute to its development. That is the reason why I founded Africa 2.0. Other migrants from my generation contribute by sending money, some came back to contribute their skills, others start a business back home, or even introduce new transformative technologies, like Mo with Celtel. In the context of global economic slowdown, where developed countries are closing their borders, where so-called opportunities in the promised lands turn out to be mirages, creating jobs for Africa’s youth should be at the top of the agenda in order to avoid wasting the demographic dividend.
We saw how access to telecommunications in Africa made it possible to access financial services, health services, and connect rural communities. I see the real impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution can have on our future. I realise that my grandpa’s generation had no cellphones and no internet to evaluate international market fluctuations, let alone access to the kind of crops and harvesting technologies available today. Mobile phones and the internet paves the way for democratised access to information. It offers the unique opportunity for African youth to research farming processes and anticipate market trends.
Let’s take blockchain for instance. With blockchain emerges the internet of value. An era where humans are free to autonomously allocate value to forest, land, lakes, ancestral knowledge, and our creations through a tokenisation process and trade as they wish with one another. This technology is revolutionising the way we interact, build trust and transact. The agri-sector in Africa could be the biggest beneficiary from blockchain technologies. Blockchain allows us to store and share information or transactions in a highly secured way, without the intervention of a central third party. Small farm holders and cooperatives could pool resources and data, allowing traceability of goods and record keeping. This would facilitate access to financing for equipment or fertilisers, as investment risk is mitigated by real time reporting, and flow of data allows greater visibility to small farming operations. This is the dawn of web 3.0: let’s leapfrog again.
Aside from the Ibrahim Forum, I’m energised by the rallying call made to the Now Generation of young Africans gathering together to discuss this vital issue of African migrations, with expectations and conclusions from their discussion being shared at the main Ibrahim Forum.
As a migrant, I view myself as a global citizen. I stand for Ubuntu: “I am because we are”. For me, Africa is more than a passion: it is a mission. I am dedicating my life to designing the tools and frameworks that provide equal opportunities for people in Africa and around the world to achieve their full human potential. Collectively, our perspectives and knowledge should fuel the vital discussion on African migrations and its true dynamics.
The Foundation will hold its flagship annual event, the Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) from 5-7 April 2019, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Follow the discussions on our social channels by using #MIFAbidjan, #AfricanMigrations or following us via the links at the top of this page.