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Ascending Africa: Women And Youth Are Our Assets

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Paul Kagame is the President of Rwanda.

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Economic growth is by its nature cyclical. But Africa is now on a sustained upward curve. The evidence suggests this positive trend will be maintained in the coming decades.

Over the last ten years, Africa's economies have been among the fastest-growing in the world, with average annual growth of 5.6 percent. This sustained economic performance has not been by accident; it has been by design. Improved economic governance has facilitated a growing diversification, reduced poverty, increased opportunities and raised investor confidence. Countries that have relied heavily on natural resources are today witnessing increased investment in technology-based and other services as well as in manufacturing.

Across the continent, people -- so often an overlooked economic indicator -- are encouraged by Africa's possibilities; they believe they too can claim a stake in the next economic frontier.

Nevertheless, we recognize the journey ahead is long. There will be challenges; some we can forecast, some will catch us by surprise. And so while we are in ascendancy, we cannot get carried away by short-term success and become complacent. We must focus on building over the long-term, getting right the fundamentals and the policies that will determine our continued development.

At the foundation is peace, security and political stability. While the majority of African countries are peaceful, pockets of insecurity and conflict are an illustration that some of our countries remain fragile; and fragility in one country impacts negatively on others in the region. What follows is political and social injustice where the victims are ordinary citizens, without whose participation in development, no progress is possible in the first place.

The continent's stability is therefore a collective responsibility, involving primarily African countries, but also the wider international community. At home, we must develop the capacity to govern effectively and deliver in order to guarantee internal cohesion with the full participation of citizens. This will enable us to prevent conflict and when it does occur, be at the forefront of finding and implementing meaningful solutions.

In achieving stability, we allow for the serious work of building democratic institutions and the freedoms and rights of citizens. This includes continuing to invest in and empower women who constitute more than half the population, so that they too can contribute to development. In Rwanda, we that without resolving governance, growth cannot be sustained nor can it contribute to development.

There is more to catch up on beyond the fundamentals, with some lessons to learn from the Asian Tigers who, fifty years on, have left us behind. As we begin to put in place strong foundations, there are other factors needed to continue our progress.

First, Africa's transformation has so far been largely driven by governments in partnership with the private sector. But in order to take it to a higher level the private sector must take a leading role. It is in the interest of African governments to establish business-friendly environments for both domestic and foreign investments.

Second, increased investment in agriculture is critical for productivity as well as food and nutrition security. This need is all the more urgent as a result of climate change and high population growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa. We must encourage greater investment in technology such as irrigation, research into crops adaptable to changing conditions and proper management of the environment. And at a global level, this will require a cooperative international approach in which African voices are relevant and heard.

Third, in an increasingly connected world, we must recognize that information is the commodity of the future. Mobile and related technology has transformed how we communicate, conduct business and provide services. Yet many countries in Africa still have very low broadband penetration rates of 5 per cent, with only 13 per cent of people having internet access. Quite simply, we cannot afford to be at this level - we need to invest in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the same way we do other essential infrastructure like roads, railways, airports and energy.

Broadband cannot be viewed in isolation of other national development priorities; it has the potential to transform agriculture, business, education, health and other sectors. The World Bank estimates a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration would yield a 1.4 per cent increase in GDP growth for low/middle-income countries. And in order to accelerate Africa's development and make our countries competitive globally, ICT must become ubiquitous and affordable.

Lastly, unlike other emerging regions, Africa has the world's fastest growing and most youthful population, with 50 per cent under 20 years old. While absorbing this large and growing population into labor markets presents a challenge, it is also an asset and opportunity. We need to invest in young people, providing equal opportunities in quality education, healthcare, skills development, including vocational training, and access to technology. We need to gear our policies towards economic diversification and job creation. And we need to make sure young Africans realize the path to prosperity depends on their innovation and entrepreneurship. African youth need to be equipped with the right mindset to shape their future and that of their nations.

The continent's increased confidence and hope in the future should serve to strengthen trust between governments and our citizens, and to build healthy international relationships where everybody's interests are represented. This should allow African nations to take more ownership and responsibility for ourselves. In doing so, we will minimize the possibility of falling prey to external dictates and ensure meaningful progress continues. Only this will give credence to the notion that this is indeed Africa's century.