By Caroline Kende-Robb, executive director of the Africa Progress Panel
A new report from the Africa Progress Panel shows that mineral wealth could transform education in Sub-Saharan Africa, building on the findings of the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which showed that 17 resource-rich countries could put another 11 million children into school.
The Africa Progress Panel is a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, whose objective is to track and encourage progress in Africa and assess opportunities and threats to Africa’s development. A month ago, the Panel published the 2013 Africa Progress Report, Equity in Extractives: Stewarding Africa’s natural resources for all, which outlines the opportunities and challenges linked to the exploitation of Africa’s mineral resources.
While much of the media coverage of the report naturally focused on the losses to African economies from asset undervaluation, tax avoidance and shady deals, I think the opportunities Africa’s mineral wealth provide for the future are the really exciting finding of the report.
Over the past decade, Africa’s economies have been riding the crest of a global commodity wave. Extractive industries have emerged as a powerful engine of economic growth. Surging demand for natural resources in China and other emerging markets has pushed export prices to new highs – and the boom shows no sign of abating. Africa’s petroleum, gas and mineral resources have become a powerful magnet for foreign investment. And this is only the beginning. With new exploration revealing much larger reserves than were previously known, Africa stands to reap a natural resource windfall.
If managed well, what this resource wealth means is that African governments finally can build a budget based on substantial, predictable long-term income. While development assistance will continue to play an important role in many countries, the new resource-based income streams will better enable governments to set strategies and plan for the future.
In those plans, education will have to be a central element. New revenue streams can immediately be channeled into securing basic education for all those who still go without, or who drop out early, as the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report showed.
Yet, that is just the start. A central part of turning revenue from mineral exploitation into lasting progress and national wealth is to ensure that oil, gas and mineral operations are staffed by as many national staff as possible. Another central element is to build secondary industries to supply exploration and production facilities and add value to the raw materials that are brought up from the ground.
Both of these tasks will demand large numbers of educated people. African countries must therefore look beyond primary education, with ambitious plans for providing skills training, management and engineering educations.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report team’s recent policy paper “Turning the ‘resource curse’ into a blessing for education”, outlines very well the opportunities and risks that the new resource wealth provides for improving education.
But like health, education often gets at the back of the queue when government budget priorities are set. This must therefore be the time for an extraordinary effort by education advocates to get the message through.