Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Building Resilient Education Systems for Increased access to Inclusive, Lifelong, Quality, and Relevant Learning in Africa


By Albert M. Muchanga 

The 21st century is characterized by digitalization and artificial intelligence among other elements of technological development. In this era, Africa must not be left behind.

In many countries of the Global South, debt servicing obligations are higher than expenditures on education, health and sanitation, a factor that contributes to undermining the resilience of education systems in those countries. This challenge must be met to have resilient education systems in our countries.

Inclusivity in education is not assured for many people across Africa. Again, this is a challenge we must meet.

In the world of today, where change is the only constant, learning from the cradle to the grave is key to having a high quality of life. This means that lifelong learning is not a luxury. It is indispensable.

For our children of today and tomorrow, education that equips employability, including self-employment is of great relevance.

And in addition, the quality of education in Africa must meet the minimum global standards if its relevance is to go beyond our borders in this world of interdependency. Countries will continue to depend on each other through migration even as we undergo the disruption of global supply chains and the consequent fragmentation of international trade.

Having unpackaged the theme, the task now is to brief you on how the Department of Economic Development Trade Tourism Industry and Minerals is contributing to this theme.

Let me begin by saying that the Department has two Directorates and one Specialized Agency.

The Directorates are: Economic Development, Integration and Trade on one hand and Industry Minerals Entrepreneurship and Tourism on the other hand.

The Specialized Agency is the African Minerals Development Centre.

Selected important factors in socio-economic development in Africa

The selected examples are the following:

About 15.6 percent of employers in Africa identify inadequate education of the workforce as a major constraint for their businesses. The issue of relevance comes into play here.

In 2016, 45 percent of youth across 10 African countries felt that their skills were inappropriate for their current work (17 percent felt over-skilled and 28 percent under-skilled), while 38 percent indicated that their education was not useful in finding jobs. Again, the issue of relevance comes into play.

Due to population growth and increasing life expectancy, Africa’s working-age population is growing faster than formal employment opportunities. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with a median age of 19 years, compared to 30 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 31 for developing Asia and 42 for Europe. Longer life expectancies and higher overall levels of educational attainment further increase the share of the population participating in the workforce. Yet, the demand for labour does not match the growing supply. In 2020, over one in five African youth were not in employment, education, or training.

Workers in informal employment are often under-educated, while social skill gaps are prevalent in formal labour markets. The share of informal employment is likely to remain larger than that of formal employment. The African continent has a higher share of informal employment than any other world region: in 2021, the share of own-account workers and contributing family members of the total working population was 63.9 percent, compared to 33.9 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean and 44.9 percent for developing Asia.

Africa’s productive transformation is increasing the demand for foundational, soft, and technical skills

However, Africa’s productive transformation differs from the conventional growth patterns of developed countries or developing Asia. For example, the transition from low productivity to higher productivity in economic activities has not happened with the growth of manufacturing activities. By 2022, manufacturing accounted for only 11.8 percent of Africa’s GDP compared to 20.5 percent in developing Asia.

Manufacturing also employed about eight percent of the continent’s workforce, compared to 12 percent in developing Asia and 19 percent in China. In contrast, most of Africa’s labour force shifted from low-productivity agriculture to services activities such as retail trade, often in the informal sector. Nevertheless, growth in sectors such as agro-industries and horticulture, ICT-based services or tourism provides significant opportunities for job creation and productive transformation.

From these selected examples, African countries need to devise skills development policies that include their entire populations and identify specific opportunities for productivity-oriented skill development. To this end, the rest of the briefing shows what we are doing as a department to contribute to the 2024 theme.

The broad themes are:

• Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment

• Inclusive growth and sustainable development

• Entrepreneurship, innovation and digital transformation

• Development of regional and continental value chains

Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment

Although prime advocacy for the signature and ratification of the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment lies with are sister departments of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development on one hand and Political Affairs Peace and Security on the other hand, we have also joined in the advocacy because it is a key platform to creating an African Customs Union/Common.

We see stronger harmonization of qualification frameworks and skill accreditation programmes as being foundational for labour market integration across Africa as we move towards creasing a single African market, starting with the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Comparable qualifications frameworks are key building blocks of labour market integration. Their absence usher in non-tariff barriers in the labour sector.

In advocating for signature and ratification of the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment, we are also advocating for implementation of the African Union Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016–2025 which stresses the need for continental qualifications frameworks linked to regional and national qualifications frameworks to facilitate regional integration and mobility of graduates.

We are fully aware that efforts towards harmonized qualification frameworks to facilitate quality assurance, skills accreditation, and credit transfer mechanisms require sustained country engagement, capacity, and resources.

We are however encouraged by the fact that existing regional qualifications frameworks spearheaded by economic communities such as ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, IGAD and non-governmental organizations such as the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education and the Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education have laid the groundwork by removing restrictions on intra Africa mobility of skilled labour and creating comparable qualification frameworks that are moving us in the required direction.

Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development

The first aspiration of the African Union Agenda 2063 is: ‘A prosperous Africa, based on Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development’. One of the goals being followed under this aspiration is to have: ‘well educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by Science, Technology and Innovation’.

In this respect, we are working in partnership with the African Development Bank and AUDA NEPAD on a study on key actions to achieve inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa. The study is planned to be rolled out in July this year.

Some of the key actions envisaged are human capital development to promote, among others, employability, and productivity.

Furthermore, we realize that inclusive growth and sustainable development are driven by, among others, savings and investments. In this connection, the study will also identify measures to raise rates of economic growth across Africa to promote inclusiveness, savings, and investments.

A related activity is formulation of a strategy on export development and diversification. We plan to roll it out by the end of this year. The strategy is geared towards strengthening Africa’s exports to the rest of the world.

Currently, Africa’s share in global trade is less than 2.8%, an indicator of the low levels of productivity across Africa. Increasing Africa’s share of global trade anchored on value added exports will generate savings in the form of foreign exchange earnings. Consequently export development and diversification would greatly contribute to savings and investments growth in Africa.

We also have a programme on enhancing capacities for domestic resource mobilization. Again, this can be a source of savings, critical to investments in both human capital development and productive transformation.

Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Digital Transformation

The Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government adopted the Africa Commodity Strategy in 2022. The Strategy aims to promote value addition in the primary sectors of agriculture, mining, oil and gas and energy. Fundamentally, the value addition should be at source.

Skills development is key to promoting value addition. Let me briefly mention some of the activities that we are pursuing in this respect.

We have partnered with The African Capacity Building Foundation to commission a study on the establishment of an African Manufacturing Institute. This will be key to rapid development of industrial skills across Africa at all levels of the industrial value chain.

In addition, we have partnered with the African Business Council to promote skills development in the manufacture of jewelry.

Again, in partnership with Africa e Trade Group, African Export Import Bank and Google, we are implementing the African Union Youth Start-Up Programme to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and employment.

As part of the process of implementation of the theme for this year, we are also advocating that African countries increase investments in research and development to boost innovation as well as provide affordable financing to African Youth Start Up operators.

Our department is also contributing to the implementation of the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa which runs from 2020 to 2030. The Strategy aims at creating an integrated and inclusive African digital society and economy that improves the quality of life for its citizens. In 2022, Member States validated the AU E-Commerce Strategy, which sets the tone for digital trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area. In addition, the department is currently doing a mapping exercise of e-commerce programmes at regional levels in anticipation of the development of the roadmaps and guidelines.

In line with our dedication to education, the department, through the African Minerals Development Centre will be initiating sensitization programs for the African Green Minerals Strategy when it is adopted by the African Union policy organs this year. This strategy aims to leverage Africa’s comparative advantages in strategic green minerals and renewable energy potential. Through these programs, our aim is to raise awareness and cultivate consensus among stakeholders regarding the importance of sustainable mineral resource management and value addition.

In addition, the African Minerals Development Centre will be conducting online courses on tenets of the African Mining Vision, specifically focusing on the African Minerals and Energy Resources Classification and Management System (AMREC) and the Pan African Resource Reporting Code (PARC).

These courses aim to educate the youth and industry players on the correlation between value addition, wealth creation, and mineral resources, as well as their classification.

PARC sets the benchmark for transparent and responsible reporting of mineral resources and reserves, while AMREC, a comprehensive system for managing Africa’s mineral and energy resources, aims for holistic value chain and project lifecycle management. Training on AMREC-PARC will empower AU Member States to adopt internationally recognized reporting standards, thereby enhancing investor confidence and promoting responsible mining practices.

Furthermore, work is underway to support and expand initiatives for electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, emphasizing the importance of retaining value within the continent. In this regard, the African Minerals Development Centre, in partnership with other African institutions, is supporting initiatives such as the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Advanced Battery Research in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The African Minerals Development Centre is also partnering with the Pan-African Decarbonization Institute (P-ADI) to provide leadership in the decarbonization value chain. It will contribute through research in the development of the whole value chain and transformation of energy systems in line with the green transition.

Development of Regional and Continental Value Chains

The department, in collaboration with the International Trade Centre (ITC) launched a Value Chain Diagnostic study to identify sectors with high potential for sustainable value chain development in Africa and the bottlenecks preventing businesses from fully realizing this potential. The study mapped 5 300 products as inputs or outputs and identified 415 continental value chains. In the context of the diagnostic study, instead of importing rubber from Thailand for the automotive industry, the business community will source from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire.

Clearly, skills development is crucial in the development of regional and continental value chains.

We will join our sister Department of Education Science Technology and Innovation in advocating for increased investments in such as education and training programmes related to our portfolio in order to increase investments in research and development, skills development, global market access as well positioning Africa to succeed in both the green transition and the fourth industrial revolution.

The author is African Union Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry and Minerals


  1. Many African countries adopted the British education system that was designed to produce workers for its industry. Syllabus D was for African and Asian & mideastern countries. The intent was for them to produce raw material to feed their manufacturing base. Unfortunately, African countries haven’t weaned themselves from this system even when they’ve realized that it isn’t working for them. Tiger economies that have designed systems that address their challenges are no longer dependent on the West for machinery to run their industry. African has continued to produce educated but useless boffins preoccupied with international acceptability as opposed to addressing challenges in communities.

  2. The MMD tried to address this challenge with the introduction of basic education and skills training at an early stage. You don’t need to spend 3yrs in a college just to get a craft certificate. The intention was to produce skilled school leavers to provide the required labour for privatized companies. Unfortunately their dishonest killed this program because funds realized from privatization that were supposed to support it were stolen. They only managed to plunge Zambia into further poverty but succeeded in producing very wealthy individuals that couldn’t explain how they made it. The World Bank refused to fund the program because of high foreign debt and corruption. Today we have people in charge who don’t have a direction and aren’t willing to listen. The future is bleak

  3. Iwe author, you wrote “From these selected examples, African countries need to devise skills development policies that include their entire populations and identify specific opportunities for productivity-oriented skill development. To this end, the rest of the briefing shows what we are doing as a department to contribute to the 2024 theme.”

    It is your job to devise those skills and you haven’t done that for years. Those declarations and protocols you’re referring to are just documents and not practical solutions.

    Let’s learn to develop practical solutions for the continent and not BLA BLA and copying/pasting things from internet

    So at the end of this meeting you will adopt another declaration

  4. Writing useless things to justify your salary. That’s why Africa doesn’t develop, it’s because of people like you

  5. As someone who used to be involved in global job placements, one of the embarrassing moments I had was speaking to colleagues reviewing applications from Zambian applicants. For instance, some of the worst grammar came from BA, Masters’ and some PhD graduate applicants from Zambia. It was so embarrassing when you consider that applicants from Francophone countries presenting their applications were far more coherent than a English speaking Zambian. Top applicants came from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon etc. What are they doing right?

  6. I’m just wondering how if we can’t get the basics right, we will achieve the aspirations espoused in this article. Our education system needs serious re-assessment and rebuilding. Actions could include teacher re-training, curriculum review and teacher tenure based on results, revamp school infrastructure to include IT equipment that can only work on school servers. Oh and include basic English and phonetics lessons (or whatever language we choose to use) before teacher certification. Otherwise we shall lag behind and only seem smart in our own eyes.

  7. We need more Africans/Zambians like the author of this article. The problem is that everything is political and we have few people in the civil society space that are ready to assist the country to move forward. The other thing is we are not developing the skills required for development. We wait for others to develop the people and then we want to use them, instead of developing them from the grassroots. If you look at successful economies, they have educational systems that align with the economy.

    • Can you tell us what that author has done which has translated into a change in people’s lives? It’s all rhetoric, copying and pasting from other documents, which even university students can do.

      Let’s not be fooled

    • What practical thing has that author achieved apart from copying and pasting things from other documents to come and share here? Can you point at anything he has done that has made a tangible change in people’s lives?

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