The Yale School of Management’s Africa Business and Society Club opened its new Africa Speakers Series on October 15 with a talk by Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, the former prime minister of Niger and the CEO of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Yale World Fellow Taz Chaponda, a development economist with extensive experience across sub-Saharan Africa, moderated a discussion with Mayaki that explored Africa’s most pressing development challenges, as well as its great promise and rich business opportunities.
Mayaki gave a brief overview of Africa’s progress in the 60 years since the wave of decolonization in the 1950s. During this time, some African countries have emerged among the world’s top fastest-growing economies, he said.
But the continent has struggled with what Mayaki called a “double-bind” problem: how to strengthen individual nation-states while simultaneously fostering political integration across Africa during the post-independence era.
The 1980s and ’90s saw the deployment of harsh structural adjustment processes, which erased Africa’s capacity to think strategically in the long term.
NEPAD was created to address this challenge by identifying viable development projects, serving as a catalyst for initiatives, and partnering with the private sector. The agency works with the 54 member states of the African Union to share best practices, foster partnerships, and encourage international cooperation.
“NEPAD is the bridge that will allow for the transformation of African unity,” Mayaki said. “Ours plans are a blueprint for social and economic transformation and regional integration.”
NEPAD has identified six interdependent pillars of development: addressing challenges related to agriculture and food scarcity; climate change and natural resources management; regional integration and infrastructure; human development; economic and corporate governance; and private sector involvement, gender development, and the development of information and communication technologies.
We absolutely need the private sector to come on board… Domestic resources can’t finance many of these initiatives. We need partners and investors.
These pillars have been incorporated into the African Union Agenda 2063, which is the organization’s new vision for continental transformation over the next 50 years. Adopted in 2013, this vision is to be structured into the 10-year implementation plans operationalized by NEPAD.
Many issues in the areas of development prioritized by NEPAD can only be addressed through partnerships involving the private and social sectors, Mayaki said.
“We absolutely need the private sector to come on board,” he said. “Domestic resources can’t finance many of these initiatives. We need partners and investors.”
There are huge opportunities for the private sector, Mayaki said. Agribusiness is one, given Africa’s fertile land and farming communities. Fisheries also offer strong opportunities for wealth creation, both locally and for investors, Mayaki said. And startups have a promising foothold in Africa. “There is a vibrant entrepreneurial sector with young, dynamic Africans who are setting up companies, many in the IT domain,” Mayaki said.
While the obstacles are myriad and some observers have criticized the African Union for having the hubris to create a 50-year plan, Mayaki said, the time for a broad, coordinated effort in African development is now.
“Africa has so much to offer the rest of the world,” he said. “We are in a period of great transition now, but the opportunities in some areas are limitless.”