Johannesburg â€” The majority of Africans are not benefiting from the continent’s economic recovery, women and child rights activist Graca Machel said on Wednesday.
She was speaking at the annual summit of the National Business Initiative (NBI) in Johannesburg.
“In Africa, the economic recovery from the global recession has been faster as 80 percent of countries had positive growth in 2009.
“However, income gaps are growing and the vast majority of people are not benefiting and we must remember that we can’t move ahead while millions are left behind.”
Machel said it was a pity that “we don’t watch indicators of life like we watch economic indicators”.
One in 16 African women died during pregnancy or birth while HIV/Aids was the number one cause of death of women of child bearing age.
Furthermore, Machel said an enormous number of African women were illiterate.
“Women in Africa are prevented from accessing land and capital that they need and financial institutions don’t have the systems in place to cater for women’s entrepreneurship as unreasonable collateral is required.”
Machel said more African women should be included in decision-making processes of the continent’s financial institutions.
“They should work with these financial institutions to remove obstacles to their participation as entrepreneurs.”
Machel said the youth of Africa had become “disengaged”.
“Africa is a continent of young people and 60 percent are below the age of 25.”
As there was insufficient employment for even educated young people, the youth of the continent had become marginalised.
If groups such as women and youth did not participate in the decision-making process, their interests could not be taken into account, Machel said.
“Here in South Africa when you look at the top decision makers like board members and CEOs – where are the women?” Africa’s best capital was its people and the potential of expertise they represented.
“Some young economies have high growth rates but they are leaving their people behind.”
While building schools and clinics was all important, human capital was just as important, Machel said.
“As business leaders, the best investment you can make is in the human capacity of Africa.”
Machel said that although it might take twenty years to see results, business and society would benefit.
“Take the example of China as 25 years ago everyone laughed at that country, but now the Chinese are not only here in Africa but elsewhere.” China had invested in its youth, training them both in the country and around the world.
“Now African must invest in its youth – the resources we have can make us a prosperous continent but not through minerals – we need people to transfer these minerals into wealth and therefore create well-being.”
Another problem facing the continent was that while Africa traded with other continents, African countries did not trade among themselves.
“You as big business, you make deals with the US, Europe and Asia, but very few deals are made with African countries.
“You can do more and you must think strategically,” Machel said.
South Africa being the only African member of the G20 and the only representative in the BRIC movement, was both the face and voice of the continent.
“You as business people must engage governments and help governments to make Africa function as a continent. Plan clearly how you are going to make Africa a continent of prosperity.”
Machel said systems imported from around the world by African business were “collapsing”.
“Africa must learn and do things its own way.”