Brookings Institution releases Foresight Africa 2017 Report

The Brookings Institution, a Washington DC based non-profit and public policy focused organisation, has recently published its Foresight Africa 2017 Report. Its “mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.”

Currently celebrating its 100th year anniversary Brookings Institution describes itself as “the world’s first independent organization devoted to public-policy research.” Part of its work is the Foresight Africa project which involves “a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent.”

The Foresight Africa 2017 Report, entitled ‘Top Priorities for the Continent in 2017’, focuses on, and explores, six inter-connected and cross-cutting themes which “demonstrate the prospects for Africa’s success for its policymakers, businessmen and women, and all of its citizens.” It further emphasises “that with each challenge there is a solution, though it might be found where we least expect it.” Each theme is introduced and briefly summarised below.

Mobilizing Financial Resources

This section of the report focuses on “strategies to manage the commodity slump and attract investment” and argues that “decisive domestic adjustment is needed to address growing financing needs.” This is a challenge in a global environment where financial conditions are tightening so “policymakers will need the right combination of political will, effective communication, and private sector and other stakeholders’ involvement.”

Increasing Employment Opportunities

Africa’s young population is seen by many as a potential source of growth for the continent. However, what comes with having a young population is the need to create new jobs for these people. Here, the report argues that “the year 2017 offers an opportunity for identifying and implementing policies to capitalize on the segment of the population that is quickly growing up.” Significant challenges are high levels of youth unemployment (four times higher than sub-Saharan Africa’s aggregate unemployment level) across the continent coupled with low-wage income

Boosting Transformational Technology

Here the report aims to support policymakers create supportive environments for game-changing innovations. An example provided is the development, spread and success of digital financial services (DFS) and highlights Kenya’s M-Pesa, mobile-based banking service. Innovators were able to innovate in a regulatory space that is considered sound and is backed by a supervisory framework. How the internet and mobile phones are used in Africa differs greatly to other parts of the world and this should also be considered when designing and implementing policies. It highlights the United Nations World Data Forum held in January 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa as an important event in this field.

Bolstering Urbanization Efforts

In 2016 it was significant that Africa was the only region to provide a coordinated response to what it felt should go into the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda. In doing this African became a leader, rather than simply a follower, and it has swiftly been adopted by the African Union as Agenda 2063. With rural to urban migration levels set to increase African cities will have a large role to play in safely housing people and providing them with opportunities. This will result in local governance issues arising that will have to be overcome and innovations proved in one city will need to be spread across the region.

Confronting Climate Change

Described as “an increasingly urgent issue” with it already being a challenge to both current and future development. Thus, decisive leadership by African governments will be required as it will have significant economic implications, particularly in agriculture, where the poor will be disproportionally affected. Climate change cannot be solved by African countries alone and will require a coordinated, international response. However, the report argues, that “the proliferation of small-scale, high-impact climate actions can drive a dramatic shift in Africa’s response to climate change, provided policymakers set up the right incentives.”

Upholding Good Governance

The final chapter focuses on how African countries and policymakers can learn from recent crises in west Africa and ensure that strong local governance and civil society solutions are developed. Where African governments have already worked together successfully is on overcoming the Ebola outbreak and fighting the threat posed by Boko Haram but more work is still required. Here, non-state actors and other stakeholders will also be required who can work as active partners who contribute to the crafting and implementation of policies to respond to new challenges. The concept of democracy and how it can be maintained and strengthened is also explored in some detail.

Overall, the Director and Senior Fellow of the Africa Growth Initiative, bellows that “2017 holds promise for Africa.” He believes that many of the problems encountered by African nations are ones that have been encountered previously and successfully overcome and that regional actors are creating African solutions for African problems with technology set to play an important role. He adds that African countries, in general, are increasingly looking to diversify their economies in order to be able to better weather challenges and enable inclusive growth.