WITH a sharp focus on how to propel the continent’s next phase of growth, the high-profile World Economic Forum on Africa gets underway this week, with hundreds of government officials, business executives, academics and the media congregating in Cape Town, South Africa.
Discussions will among other areas focus on financing growth, technology and innovation, the region’s demographic growth and infrastructure, as the continent builds up ideas on boosting the growth of the last two decades.
Key to such growth will be how well African countries develop and deploy their human capital, a “more important determinant of its long term economic success than virtually any other resource”, according to the WEF.
In its recent Human Capital Index, the organisation says that while the focus has tended to be on gross unemployment, this does not take into account the education and skills in both those who have a job and those who are searching.
“Above all, as today’s economies become ever more knowledge-based, technology-driven and globalised, and because we simply don’t know what the jobs of tomorrow will look like, there is a growing recognition that we have to prepare the next generation with the capacity for lifelong learning,” the WEF says.
To guide policy makers and employers, the Geneva-headquartered organisation ranked 124 countries on how successful they have been in developing and deploying what it calls human capital.
Some 29 countries in Africa are ranked on a total of 46 indicators, essentially measured on how far they are from the “ideal”. The indicators range from school enrollment rates and quality of education to skills, workplace learning and labour force participation.
Unemployment and underemployment, and even child labour, are also measured.
For the older groups, the Index includes measures of years of life expected to be lived in full health, providing a sense of the quality of life and an individual’s potential to remain active and productive into older age, the WEF says.
Sub-Saharan Africa ranks last of the region’s surveyed, but beats out North Africa in indicators for the over 65 age-group. It also has a high labour force participation.
“Given the age group’s low educational attainment and a healthy life expectancy at birth below 60 years for all countries in the region except Mauritius, this almost certainly reflects activity due to economic necessity and lack of an adequate welfare or pension system,” the report says, but adds that senior citizens have much to offer the younger generation.
It is a however a list that contains a few surprises.
Mauritius tops the continental ranking on the back of brisk enrollment rates and quality of education, but only comes in at position 72 globally.
The next five positions are taken by Ghana, Zambia, Egypt, Botswana and, more surprisingly, Cameroon. Many of these countries however have high incidences of child labour.
The region’s most advanced economy, South Africa, comes in sixth (and a distant 114th for its ease of finding skilled labour) ahead of Namibia, Morocco, Tunisia and Kenya.
At the other end of the scale is Chad, which is last of those ranked. To highlight the link to development, the Central Africa state placed last of the nations surveyed in the Human Development Index.
Mauritania, Burundi, Africa’s biggest economy Nigeria, and Guinea follow.
Economic stars Senegal and Ethiopia come in at positions 19 and 21 respectively, while Rwanda is ranked 16th. Ethiopia and Tanzania notably have low primary school enrollment, according to the survey.
Globally Finland leads the ranking, ahead of Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Japan.
The WEF study urges a global “fundamental rethink” of the “talent value chain” to respond to both current predicaments and a highly uncertain future with the topic featuring prominently on the crowded agenda.