Africa is rising and African economies are growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world. Private sector investment is impressive, democracy is growing deeper roots and human development has improved. However, the current pattern of trickle-down growth is not benefiting enough people. Indeed, benefits measured by poverty reduction, maternal mortality and childhood survival fall far short of what Africans have a right to expect. These deep and enduring inequalities in evidence across the continent are economically inefficient and potentially politically destabilizing.

The 2012 Africa Progress Report, which will be launched on 11 May during the World Economic Forum on Africa, in Addis Ababa, looks at the issues concerning jobs, justice and equity that are required to ensure that Africa’s impressive economic growth is translated into shared growth for all Africans. The report highlights Africa’s “youth surge” as one of the key five global trends that are shaping the continent’s future, including food insecurity, the rise of emerging powers, the exponential uptake of technology, as well as the emergence of social movements and the spread of public attitudes contesting what is viewed as unacceptable levels of inequality.

The future is never entirely predictable – but there are three areas, covered in detail in the report, in which the Africa Progress Panel believes that policy failure today will have highly predictable, and damaging, consequences for the future:

Youth Unemployment

The first is youth unemployment. Africa’s youth population will rise from 133 million at the start of the century to 246 million by 2020 – requiring another 74 million jobs over the next decade simply to prevent youth unemployment from rising. Thirty million children are out of school and a failure to tackle the twin crisis in access to school and learning in school limits the right to education, undermines economic growth and wastes human potential.

Africa must, therefore, reap its demographic dividend to harness youth potential and creativity. The report calls for a greater focus on education and skills, and on investment beyond natural resources to sectors such as manufacturing and services that have greater potential to create jobs.

Agriculture and food security

The second area that requires urgent policy attention is agriculture and food security. A key focus must be smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, where there is great potential for dramatically increasing productivity and employment. The report identifies “land grabs” by foreign investors and speculators as a significant threat and urges African governments to consider stronger regulation.

Millennium Development Goals

The third area is a “final push” towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which is urgently needed if the 2015 targets are to be met. Failure to accelerate progress towards the MDGs would diminish the credibility of any post-2015 commitments.

An overall decisive issue for Africa remains governance. Leadership that is more transparent is being demanded across the continent. But there is also a growing demand globally for more transparent support from aid partners and from the private sector. This is especially critical for natural resources where too much of Africa’s resource wealth remains in the hands of foreign investors and powerful elites. Effectively utilized, however, revenues from natural resources could close some of the glaring inequalities and justice gaps identified in the report.

Africa is a region of immense potential, much of it unfulfilled. With greater focus on jobs, justice and equity, there is now an opportunity to unlock that potential and to set course for shaping Africa’s transformation and a future of shared prosperity, more equal opportunity and greater political stability.

The 2012 Africa Progress Report launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 11 May 2012. Visit http://www.africaprogresspanel.org/apr2012 for more information.

Caroline Kende-Robb is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.

Photo: Men hold placards offering temporal employment services in Glenvista, south of Johannesburg.

Photo Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters