This debate arose from the observation that – in purely economic terms – most individuals within most African states remained trapped in abject poverty decades into the post-independence era.
Roughly 18 years ago I followed a low-key academic debate within Africa on whether the founding fathers of the various African states made a mistake in struggling to attain independence from their European colonial masters.
The point increasingly being made was that whereas the liberators of the 1950s and 60s spoke of “freedom” as a unitary goal, it had since been realized that there is political freedom, and then there is economic freedom. And that economic freedom may actually be the more important of the two.
But what do we mean by “economic freedom”??
Well, Francisco Flores, a former president of El Salvador, when explaining his country’s success in the fight against poverty once wrote that “Opportunity is choice, and choice is freedom; and it is this enhanced freedom that allows a person to unleash his creative energies and resolve his problems.”
So we could say that “economic freedom” is the opportunity to escape from poverty through you own hard work.
It is this opportunity that is lacking in much of Africa; and it is in search of such opportunity that many young Africans take enormous risks to seek the life of an illegal immigrant in Europe.
This is the challenge that the which the Pan African Movement Entrepreneurs Council (PAMEC) has been formed to address – it aims at nothing less than the economic liberation of Africa.
To summarize, PAMEC is designed and intended to be the apex body within Africa for public and private sector engagement. It has been established to foster the interests of the private sector and public wealth creation in the integration process of the African Economies. Its membership and representation are drawn from The Global Pan African Movement.
PAMEC therefore provides a continent-wide platform through which the local entrepreneurs can in partnership with international players, be competitive globally. This is done by creating a more conducive business environment through targeted sustainable policy reforms and fair business practices
More practically, the vision of ending poverty in Africa is anchored on two economic realities.
First is the central role of agriculture in much of Africa.
It is estimated that 63% of the total Sub-Saharan African population live in rural areas, compared to 74% of all EU-citizens who live in urban areas and 26% in the countryside.
So creating the mechanisms which will facilitate a shift from the current agrarian destitution found in most of rural Africa, to some degree of prosperity is arguable the most crucial policy challenge in most African countries.
In layman’s terms, I would say that the real focus of attention here is the search for high-value agricultural products suitable for small scale farms, which can provide an income adequate for a family of five; and the creation of the infrastructure and logistical capacity to deliver such products to a suitable market at a reasonable cost.
What makes this policy challenge crucial is that given most African nations have roughly 60% of their people living on small farms in rural areas – and given the pervasive poverty in rural Africa – there is a general trend of migration towards the cities in search of economic opportunity, mostly by younger men and women.
Such people usually end up living in slums, and this explosive growth of urban slum populations in Africa is a potential source of political instability, as well as a contributor to the pervasive crime in African cities.
The few thousand Africans who try to make their way to Europe every year – mostly illegally – may make for bigger media headlines.
But in fact, far more people, millions of people, every year make the trip from rural regions of their countries to the cities, in search of employment. And millions more travel within Africa from one country to another in search of economic opportunity.
Hence the urgency for creating suitable incentives for all and any investments which can generate rural prosperity.
This is not a challenge which African governments alone can tackle. It requires not only the full support of such governments, but also the fullest ingenuity of African entrepreneurs.
The economic reality – which is potentially the second pillar for African economic growth – is manufacturing.
And as shown by China in the great interest shown in the possibilities of creating a strong African manufacturing sector, the day is at hand when the focus of global manufacturing may well shift from Asia to Africa.
Up to fairly recently, although African leaders and technocrats would often talk of their plans to “industrialise” their nations, few of them seriously believed that they could compete with China when it comes to manufacturing of the kind of products which find a ready market in North America and Western Europe.
But now opportunity has come knocking.
With its “graying population” and a shift from its current export and manufacturing-based economy to a service and consumption-based economy, China is now looking for ways to enter the African market which has almost 1.0 billion people, and a rising middle-class.
A massive entrepreneurial effort of innovation and investment will be required if these opportunities are to be seized, for the benefit of all Africans.
Two generations ago, the great focus within Africa was on political liberation. Now in the second decade of the 21st century, the focus has shifted to economic emancipation.
This is the task which PAMEC is dedicated to. And this is a challenge we are determined to overcome.