Africa needs a skills revolution if it is to fully develop and take its rightful place in the world, says African Union Commission chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Speaking in an interview with the VOA, Dlamini-Zuma said while Africa has made great strides on various fronts, it still lacks the necessary skills to achieve full potential and targets set in Agenda 2063, the continent’s vision and action plan for the next 50 years.
While much has been done in agriculture to boost food security, the AU chief is concerned about the decline in industrialization in many African countries, and wants governments to prioritize poverty-alleviation measures.
“For Africa to industrialize, eradicate poverty and to provide hope for its young generations, it needs a skills revolution,” she said.
“We do not have enough engineers, town planners, researchers, innovators, electricians, plumbers and so on. We just do not have the technical skills.”
She adds this is one of the reasons the continent is taking a long term view through Agenda 2063 "so that we can see what is possible in the long term and start doing it now”.
“Without the skills, there’s nothing you can do,” said Dlamini-Zuma. “You can have money, you can have minerals but if you don’t have skilled people to figure out what to do, then you won’t grow.”
“Ultimately, the end result of this transformation process should be an integrated, prosperous and people-centered Africa, at peace with itself and taking its rightful place in the world.”
She said Agenda 2063 is also prioritizing infrastructure development to move people and goods.
“We are looking at modern infrastructure, energy, hydro, solar, wind and of course some fossil fuel will still be used as well,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
“At the end of the day we really want a modernized and prosperous Africa, a peaceful Africa that is people-centered and can play its rightful role in the world.
“We have declined in industrialization. We need to really restart and add value to our minerals, natural resources and so on,” she continued.
“It is going to be very important because if we can't manufacture, then we can’t sustain the growth that we have now; even intra-Africa trade won’t grow. We really need to do a lot more.”
The AU Commission chair also credited China for its role in helping build Africa’s infrastructure, and urged African leaders to adopt a more equitable relationship with the Asian nation.
“We cannot really blame China. I think that we ourselves had not defined what we want out of this relationship,” said Dlamini-Zuma. “
"As soon as we have done that, I think the Chinese will come on board. If you don’t define what you want and work on it with them, then you won’t get it, but if you do, I think they will cooperate.”
Analysts say the relationship between China and Africa is unfairly slanted towards the Asian nation because it is benefiting more from African resources at the expense of the developing continent.
Dlamini-Zuma said the continental body is currently in discussions with China to modernize Africa’s dilapidated rail system and introduce high-speed trains.
The most significant post-colonial railway line in Africa, the Tarzam Railway, also known as TAZARA or Uhuru Railway, was built by the Chinese in the 1970s to help Zambia avoid its economic dependence on Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and South Africa, both of which were ruled by white-minority governments.
The line allowed Zambia to reach the sea in Tanzania without having to transit white-ruled territories.