Is ‘the dark continent’ set to light the way?

A report by the African Economic Outlook 2013 describes Africa as a “growth pole in an ailing global economy”. The observation that the African continent has the potential to become the next global economic engine raises some pertinent questions. What are the constraints to making this happen? How do we ensure that we are equipped to take ownership of this reality? What role will the African workforce play in this development? And, most importantly, who will lead this fight for dominance?

The key to unlocking Africa’s endless possibilities lies in the creation of effective leaders. The critical skills deficit throughout Africa has to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to allow the continent to compete with the rest of the world on an equal footing. Aside from the obvious benefits of extensive business acumen, competent leadership provides the necessary inspiration and motivation to drive an entire workforce to perform at new levels of excellence.

Upskilling a new generation of business leaders, through a combination of accredited syllabi and non-formal programmes, is essential if we wish to leverage our natural and mineral resources and balance our unequal trading platform.

There is ongoing discussion around how South African schools and universities are succeeding in terms of global ratings. However, dialogue regarding the ability to equip future leaders remains depressingly subdued. Developing a culture of entrepreneurship and a hunger for economic productivity among our youth should be one of the most important outcomes of our educational system.

But the responsibility to develop the appropriate curricula cannot be neatly assigned to our educational institutions and then ticked off the to-do list. Coherent, relevant training and education is only possible with the full co-operation and engagement of government and industry. Workplace-related programmes and regular input from all business sectors can provide invaluable practical information. Business delegations should routinely include educators who are able to apply knowledge gathered from other economic successes to the African landscape in an integrated, useful manner.

A strong vocational slant to educational and training programmes will ensure that the different types of entrepreneurs are identified and thoroughly researched in order to accommodate their individual educational requirements. In this way, we will be able to overcome any disconnect between business and academia that may hamper our continent’s progress.

As South African universities become more aware of the significance of research and publication to enhance global relevance, it is vital that this research incorporates the critical success factors of African business. The opportunity to develop Africa’s future leaders is one that shouldn’t be passed up.

Professor Dina Burger is the deputy pro vice-chancellor for Monash South Africa.