Among the numerous reasons why Africa remains underdeveloped and burdened with poverty and diseases is the shortage of skilled manpower. By contrast, Asian countries such as China, India, Singapore and Malaysia that were at par with Africa in the 1960s have either since joined the club of developed nations or are nearly there. The continent’s manpower deficit has continued to blight efforts to move it in the right direction away from the era of doom and gloom.
The following research findings will enable us to properly situate Africa vis-a-vis other regions. While Africa has two percent of doctors worldwide, it bears 24 percent of the global burden of diseases. Yet more than 10,000 medical graduates born or trained in Africa migrated to the United States as recently as 2011 to practice there. Similarly, there are 35 engineers per million people in Africa compared to 168 per million in Brazil, 2,457 for the European Union and 4,103 for the US. Also, African universities still turn out mostly arts and social science graduates just as during the colonial period. Only 28 percent of African students are enrolled in the fields of science and technology; it’s clear that most of them are studying for degrees in the humanities and social sciences.
“Skills shortage in terms of numbers and quality on the African continent has reached an alarming point, posing a major concern,” said Prof. Emmanuel Nnadozie, Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation. This threatens to undermine ambitious plans by the African Union and the United Nations to transform the continent into a land of prosperity in under 50 years from now. To address the deficit, African governments and development partners such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme came together in February 1991 to found the ACBF. From its base in Harare, the Foundation has since invested in more than 321 capacity development projects across the continent, produced 73 knowledge products advocating emerging development issues, and committed more than $700 million to capacity development to date.
One of its key areas of intervention is the establishment and funding of think tanks across the continent. These institutions are immensely useful in conducting independent researches that are relevant to the development aspirations of the countries where they are based. And as a testimony to the quality of assistance they’ve been receiving, 23 think tanks supported by the Foundation were ranked among the top 65 in sub-Saharan Africa in 2014 by a global think tank index published in January last year.
Another area of intervention by the Foundation is in education and training. Here in Nigeria, for example, it’s been supporting the Centre for Management Development whose main objective is the development of managerial manpower in the country. It has also been making substantial contribution to the West African Institute of Financial and Economic Management which trains the staff of central banks, ministries of finance and economic planning, as well as other public and private sector institutions in macroeconomics, debt and financial sector management. WAIFEM as it’s widely called is a regional centre admitting people from neighbouring West African states. Similarly, ACBF has been helping to nurture Nigeria’s young democracy through its engagement with the National Institute for Legislative Studies in Abuja. The institute ensures that the legislature is well equipped for its role of making laws and having oversight over the executive arm of government. NILS avails neighbouring West African countries of its training programmes, thereby contributing positively to the democratic development of the region.
Yet another project in Nigeria with the ACBF imprint is the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja. Part of the Nelson Mandela Research Institutes, it is a pan-African centre of excellence established to improve sub-Sahara Africa’s capacity deficit in science and technology. The institution undertakes only graduate studies in science and technology and has its students coming from Nigeria and other African countries. The ACBF gives grants to encourage female students to ensure they complete their studies successfully.
While it can be said that efforts aimed at bridging the manpower gap are going on apace, experts say there’s still much work to do. At a forum in Harare to mark ACBF’s 25th anniversary earlier this month, UNDP’s African Regional Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye outlined tasks begging to be accomplished. He said there’s need to broaden Africa’s competencies in the areas of budgeting, taking care of the poor and the vulnerable, provision of education, employment for the youth, sustainable agricultural development, clean energy and conflict resolution. In his opinion, African governments equally require assistance to broaden their tax base, stop illicit financial flows from Africa and facilitate domestic resource mobilization.
Having identified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and vocational skills as the continent’s greatest capacity challenge now, the Foundation will be “investing massively” in its forthcoming five-year planning cycle starting from next year, Prof. Nnadozie said. Wise counsel would be for the Foundation to also take measures to discourage African experts now resident on the continent from moving abroad and to entice those in the Diaspora to return home. Unless we Africans rise up to develop our countries, we’ll continue to depend on foreign experts whose interests may be at variance with Africa’s priorities. After all, it’s the one wearing the shoe who knows where it pinches.