Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Monday, urged Sub-Saharan African (SSA) governments to develop deliberate policy measures in education and digital connectivity to harness the benefits of new technologies that would ensure an ‘Africa Arisen’.
According to her, achieving an ‘Africa Arisen’, one of three scenarios of the ‘Future of Work’ in sub-Saharan Africa, would require a well-trained labour force with the right skills, which meant that education would be a key priority.
Speaking at the opening of ‘The Future of Work’ in Sub-Saharan Africa Conference, in Accra, on Monday, Ms. Lagarde noted that despite the successes in primary education, sub-Saharan Africa lagged behind in secondary education, with only 30 per cent of its children in secondary school-the lowest in the world.
In addition to upping enrolment, she said, they should promote digital literacy and skills that would help the next generation to work with technology. “…Simply increasing enrolment is unlikely to be enough,” she emphasised. “We need to promote digital literacy and identify skills that will allow the next generation to work with and take advantage of technology rather than be replaced by it,” she stated.
Commenting on the Free Senior High School Programme being implemented in Ghana, she said the programme could play a pivotal role in improving educational outcomes if implemented in a sustainable way. Therefore, she said, the second policy area of focus should be the provision of digital infrastructure, especially as digital access fostered innovation in all sectors of the economy.
Ms. Lagarde noted that although traditional infrastructure were still essential to connect farm and factory gates with global trade routes, digital infrastructure was just as important for the traditional sectors and more so for new opportunities created in the digital economy.
This, she acknowledged, posed a critical financing need to develop physical, digital and social infrastructure. “Our research has shown that there is potential to raise three to five percent of GDP in domestic revenues by improving the efficiency of the tax system and through institutional reform,” she said.
“The IMF can help to achieve this potential through technical assistance, including by helping governments leveraging technology.” Other areas that should be focused on include smart urbanisation, boosting trade integration on the continent and expanding social safety nets.
She explained the three possible Future of Work scenarios for sub-Saharan Africa, which were used to evaluate how technology, demographics and urbanisation, climate change and global economic integration could interact with each other to shape the future of work in SSA.
“These are the ‘Africa Adrift’, an unfavourable scenario, where rapid automation, reshoring of manufacturing to advanced countries, hard impact of climate change had led to a -SSA that - as indebted and ill-positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the digital economy. “This not a happy scenario”!
“In the second, ‘Africa for Africa’ scenario, there is increased tensions and inward-looking policies due to displacement of worker by technology and increasing income-inequalities; where African leaders responded to the challenging external by boosting regional trade, such as through the signing of the Continental Free Trade Agreement.
“In the final scenario, Africa Arisen, technology increases productivity for all and global economic cooperation leads to decisive action to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and SSA successfully harnesses new technologies to create an emerging, vibrant middle class.
“I, for myself, think of something that will be a mixture of the second and the third where you actually leverage this Pan-African approach with the Africa Risen…they give us a vantage point to explore more policy choices that are made today that will influence tomorrow,” she said.