Leaders agree to develop human capital to stop crisis

African leaders have agreed to prioritise investing in people as a core driver of productivity, resilience and economic growth through raising the quality of education, enhancing skills development and strengthening research and innovation as well as promoting job creation, among other measures.

This was the main message that emerged from Dar es Salaam Human Capital Declaration 2023 adopted at the Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from 25-26 July 2023. The theme was ‘Accelerating Africa’s economic growth: Boosting youth productivity by improving learning and skills’.

African human capital crisis

Sub-Saharan Africa entered the past decade with significant deficits in human capital – the knowledge, skills and health that people accumulate during their lives, according to the World Bank’s Human Capital Project which shows a large proportion of African countries at the bottom of the Human Capital Index.

“Africa is facing a serious human capital crisis,” Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank’s regional vice-president for Eastern and Southern Africa, said in her opening remarks at the summit.

“An intuitive indicator of the crisis is the learning poverty rate, which measures the share of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 89% of children are learning poor,” she said. “This means that almost nine out of every 10 children are not acquiring the foundational literacy required for further learning.”

Angela Kauleni, country director of Save the Children in Tanzania, said in a news release on 25 July 2023 that this means these children will not progress to “meaningful higher education”, and that they are “unlikely to acquire the technical and higher-order skills needed to thrive in increasingly demanding labour markets and more complex societies”.

Kwakwa said: “It is no surprise, then, that, for education alone, at the midpoint of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are seriously off-track.

“Without navigating the human capital crisis successfully, African societies and economies risk being trapped in a detrimental cycle of stagnant growth, soaring poverty rates, and increasing inequality,” she emphasised. “This situation could potentially escalate the drivers of fragility and conflict as uneducated and low-skilled youth grow increasingly disillusioned.”

Kwakwa pointed out that there is a lot at stake for the global community. “By 2050, Africa will represent almost 40% of the children (0-14 years) and a quarter of the working-age population in the world. Improvements in Africa mean improvements for the world.”

Measures for action

The declaration holds that quality education and skills development are two main pillars for human capital development and called for more investment in education systems, ranging from schools to universities, to ensure equitable access and improve learning outcomes.

The declaration requires that developing relevant skills for work and entrepreneurship and innovation be prioritised. It also called for the promotion of a culture of lifelong learning.

The declaration also stresses the following:

• Promoting an enabling environment for scientific research and the transfer of technology;

• Encouraging cooperation between academia, industry and governments;

• Investing in research and development infrastructure; and

• Strengthening ecosystems for entrepreneurship and innovation to advance sustainable growth and job creation.

As for promoting job creation, the declaration called for promoting entrepreneurship, and providing digital skills training for an additional 19 million people by 2030 and aiming for a gross enrolment rate in tertiary education of 20%.

The declaration called on development partners to increase financing and technical support for human capital development programmes by 5%. It also called for reducing learning poverty by at least a quarter (from 89% to 67%) and improving literacy rates to 75% by 2030.

Plans for the future

“Over the past two days, we have heard so many creative ideas and inspirational examples of what can be done to accelerate progress on building human capital,” Kwakwa said. “We need to capitalise on the wealth of local ideas and solutions to address the human capital challenges in Africa. With our collective leadership to make human capital the cornerstone of our countries’ development strategies, I am confident that we will build strong coalitions and allocate the needed resources to ensure a bright future for Africa.”

She emphasised “a future where all girls and boys reach their full potential, grow up well-nourished and ready to learn, attain real learning in the classroom and enter the job market as healthy, skilled, and productive adults. There is no more time to waste”.