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Stephen Shames

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Smarter Development: Part 1 of 3

Posted: 07/11/2012 6:05 pm

Bono, the rock star and activist, writes about the G-8 conference and what the assembled leaders should do to make development smarter, in the May 18th issue of TIME:

In many ways Africa is to this century what North America was to the 19th. It has 60 percent of the world's undeveloped arable land and vast resources of coal, oil, and minerals, together with enormous renewable energy resources. Sub-Saharan Africa is also home to 400 million of the world's poorest people. These resources should be theirs. Get the development of them right and the forthcoming financial resources -- invested well -- can transform the lives of countless numbers of people.

Bono suggests the resources be used to further develop Africa's agriculture and food production, and then move on to improve health, education, and roads.

"This isn't about... committing massive new aid increases. It's about continuing present investment and making it smarter." Bono urges us to act in "partnership with the developing world." "If I've learned anything in more than 25 years... it's that partnership trumps paternalism."

Bono is concerned with how governments can partner to make resource development smarter. He is also concerned with corruption, which cripples smart development. He says, "Transparency is the vaccine to prevent the biggest disease of them all -- corruption, which any African will tell you is killing more kids than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined."

Everything Bono writes is so true. Bono's main argument is succinct and brilliant. But here is the rub. How do you stop corruption? How do you make governments and corporations more transparent and accountable? In the United States and Europe the answer has been to empower previously excluded people. In the U. S. this was accomplished by granting political rights to ex-slaves and women, by giving workers the right to organize, and the G. I. Bill which educated millions. All of these reforms enlarged the middle class. The power of the middle class made our democracy vibrant and put a check on greed and corruption.

Democracy is the best check on corruption. But democracy requires an empowered population -- a middle class. This is proving true in China and India, where the growing middle class is demanding more transparency. In today's world education is the pathway to the middle class. Most African countries have a small ruling group and vast numbers of poor, under-educated people. Instead of looking at these people as a problem, let's consider them a resource, who if educated and empowered will put a check on corruption and help develop the resources in the smarter way Bono suggests.

Bono mentions resources of coal, oil, renewable energy, which when developed will allow Africa to improve agriculture, education, and infrastructure. I would like to urge him and all of us to consider Africa's greatest resource -- the mind of the African child. Bono mentions education as one of the areas that resources could help develop. I would like us to take this one step further. I would like to invite Bono, the G-8, and everyone reading this to consider the minds' of Africa's poor children as a vast, untapped resource that is more valuable than all the gold and diamonds the continent possesses -- and to help develop it in a smarter way.

What I am suggesting is that education is not a second step, to be done after resource development; but a step done in tandem with developing coal and oil resources. We must develop the skills of Africa's youth and build the middle class if we want smarter development of natural resources and increase transparency. The reason is we or the G8 can not solve this for Africans. Democracy is needed and that can not be exported. It only flourishes if it is home grown. If we ignore the minds of the excluded, we will never get there. We need to educate the millions of excluded outsiders now. When they are educated and empowered, the middle class expands, along with the demand for greater transparency and smarter development. We see this happening already in Uganda, a land locked, mid-sized country with an expanding middle class. Public pressure has made corruption a major concern of the current Parliament. Several cabinet ministers were forced to resign earlier this year.

Just as we need to do smart development, we need to do smarter education. Today, in Uganda, less than 5 percent graduate from high school and fewer go to college. Only a handful of the "400 million of the world's poorest people" make it to university. I applaud Bono for his Millennium Goals advocacy, and for drawing our attention to the importance of education in eradicating poverty. The Millennium Goals have accomplished a great deal, but it is time to take the next step.

Higher education is necessary if we are to utilize education as a development tool. We need to send a multitude of excluded young people to university so they gain the 21st century skills needed to drive a modern economy. But we also need to consider empowering them with near-college level technical training so they have skills needed to do the mid-level technical jobs required for development -- for example, keeping an oil pipeline running or repairing and maintaining a drilling rig.

Uganda is developing its' oil reserves. Dr. John Muyingo, Uganda's Minister of Higher Education and Sports told me recently that while 26,000 university graduates are not able to find jobs, there are not enough qualified Ugandans to fill the technical jobs in the oil fields, so foreigners are filling these jobs. Dr. Muyingo's education ministry is reforming the education system so Ugandans will receive the training needed for these jobs.

Uganda is also working with NGOs to improve the curriculum. Educate! is partnering with the Government of Uganda to revamp entrepreneurship courses in the country's high schools. L.E.A.D Uganda, the non-profit I founded, has had remarkable success turning marginalized and traumatized African girls and boys who have been affected by war, AIDS, and poverty into leaders. Dr. Muyingo endorses our efforts, "L.E.A.D Uganda is preparing morally upright, academically very strong, and responsible leaders for this country."

The children L.E.A.D Uganda serves -- former child soldiers, abducted girls, child laborers, street kids, AIDS orphans, and youth living in child-headed families -- maintain 1st grades (A averages) at elite boarding schools and go on to receive scholarships to top universities in Uganda, India, and the United States. They are being trained in areas vital to Uganda's development such as pharmacy (the country has only 300 pharmacists), aquaculture (a growing industry), information technology, and business. Upon graduation, our students start businesses and employ people. We are enlarging the middle class and building democracy.

If we are going to achieve the smarter development goals Bono advocates, we must also educate smarter. We need to take the next steps, to move beyond the Millennium Goals, and give them the technical and leadership skills they will need to develop their own countries. That requires partnering with NGOs like L.E.A.D Uganda to give excluded youngsters a top university education so they can become entrepreneurs. That means working with NGOs like Educate! to improve the high school curriculum. And it requires joining with governments to ensure Africans gain the technical skills needed so they can be the workers who develop their country's resources.

Giving excluded youngsters an excellent education will enlarge the middle class and strengthen democracy. It is these young people, not their governments or foreigner partners, who will put a check on corruption and enable smarter development of resources. They will do the job if given the skills.

We must make a greater commitment to educating Africa's greatest resource -- the brain of the African child. We need to move the African child to the front row of our development agenda.

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Next week I will talk about smart education and how an Ugandan NGO, L.E.A.D Uganda is turning forgotten children into leaders.

 
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