The Challenge of Human Development in Africa

by Oct 18, 2018

The Challenge of Human Development in Africa – Presentation by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of Nigeria

In his presentation to a packed audience at the event organised by the African Studies Centre of Oxford University School of Global and Area Studies, Professor Osinbajo highlighted four important areas with regard to world development in the next two decades. These are population, the environment, output of goods and services and social exclusion, under which rubric comes poverty and human capital development, and its implications for global security. Africa’s success or failure in the four areas highlighted would have profound impact on the world. Although the presentation covered the whole continent, Nigeria, was the primary focus with 20% of the total population of Africa and projected to have a population of 400 million by 2040, making it the third most populous country in the world posing enormous challenges with regards to jobs and the environment.

He reviewed a list of human capital development indicators which have been summarised by Amartya Sen as the “ability to live a good life”. Poverty he noted was primarily caused by deficiencies in human capital development; Africa lagged behind the rest of the world in human capital development and Nigeria scored very low worldwide, ranking 157 out of 189 countries. While tremendous progress had been made in alleviating poverty in Nigeria and Africa in terms of the proportion of the total population the actual numbers had increased. Two fifth of Nigerians were illiterate and between 6 -55% of children were not at school in the various states.

The key factors cited for low human capital development were poverty, corruption, conflict, inequality, climate change, and inappropriate policies and underinvestment by national governments. He highlighted the Boko Haram insurgency and floods and the contraction of Lake Chad caused by climate change as particularly debilitating factors, citing research by Oxford University academic Paul Collier on the devastating impact of conflict on the economy. Human capital development had been negatively impacted by the structural adjustment programmes of the 1990s and illicit financial capital outflows, which the Mbeki report estimated at $80 billion. Tax revenues were often very low, in Nigeria they amounted to only 6% of GDP.

The government’s role and moral obligation is to reduce poverty, notably, to reduce unemployment with human capital development being a key tool in achieving this objective. Governments typically have challenges relating to social investment, physical infrastructure, and tax and business policies. The Buhari administration had made significant effort in dealing with these issues. It had quadrupled the budget on human capital development, made significant investment on infrastructure and implemented policies to diversify the economy. Its efforts that have earned Nigeria accolades from the World Bank on ease of doing business, with a very significant jump in world ranking compiled by the bank.

Professor Osinbajo said the emphasis has been on measures targeted at the jobless and that the administration has made the largest social investment ever in the country’s history. The government has provided credit to farmers through cooperatives, targeting the most vulnerable households. The outcomes have been impressive in terms of outputs, recipients and repayment. The country has reduced its trade deficit in rice, tomatoes and other agricultural products, the uptake and loan repayment have also been significant and encouraged the government to extend the scheme. As part of the effort to improve financial inclusion the government’s measures have resulted two million people opening bank accounts, bringing them into formal business structures. The government’s school feeding programme, involving 9.2 million children, is intertwined with the agricultural sector because it mandates states to use local produce, increasing enrolment and the market for farmers.

In the last two years the administration has trained 500,000 people in its digital skills (empire) programme and the three pronged education policy aims to: achieve self-sustaining goal by 2030; enrol an additional nine million children in school working in partnership with state governments, religious organisations and other stakeholders and in this process, making use of new technology may mean that children would not have to attend school; significantly change the substance and methods of education with an emphasis on improving Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) uptake and quality. The administration is making use of global brands like Microsoft, Oracle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in developing countrywide curriculum and skills, building on work with the Bill and Melinda Gates and the Dangote Foundations.

Human capital development is part of the administration’s comprehensive economic and social development strategy. The objective is to raise the budget significantly and seek long term solutions that target deprivation and the most vulnerable members of the community. They would be looking at innovative ideas and prioritise good governance.

The presentation highlighted the impressive efforts of the administration in addressing crucial issues with some caveats. The projection for population growth is an extremely challenging situation and would require measures that were not covered. He did not mention the crucial issue of the education of girls and women. Educating girls has been shown to have a significant impact on development and a reduction in the population growth rate – the current growth rate is not sustainable. Typically in Africa education for girls lags behind boys significantly. The Vice President made only a very brief mention of STEM an area that holds great potential but which Africa lags behind. He did not mention vocational education which is also an area that holds huge potential for the country and continent. The country has seen a huge explosion in universities with many graduates becoming unemployed while at the same time many low and medium level technical positions are filled by technicians from outside the country and/or the country is not considered an attractive destination for foreign investment because of lack of skilled manpower. Finally, while Nigeria can do with all the help it can get, major technology brands can only really add value if they are truly in tune with the real needs of the country, which means Nigerians setting the agenda.

J Boima Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO)