Earlier today, I was greatly honored to receive the SunHak Peace Prize. For myself and my co-laureate and my dear sister, Waris Dirie, it’s also special, since the Prize this year goes to two Africans. And for both of us, our paths to be where we are today have been marked with challenges. That you shine your light on us today is due to providence and God’s blessings.
I grew up from a poor farming background to be who I am globally today as President of African Development Bank – Africa’s premier development institution, a World Food Prize Winner, and now a SunHak Peace Prize laureate.
In a similar way Waris’s story is incredibly inspiring, one of rising from being a refugee from Somalia to becoming a global supermodel, whose work is at the forefront of the global fight against female genital mutilation, for which she also is being awarded the SunHak Peace Prize: Our stories are like beauty from the ashes, a microcosm of the story of our continent: Africa. A story of a resilient continent, developing and making giant strides, despite all the odds.
For way too long the continent has been known and defined by negative imageries, of wars and conflicts. The good stories of Africa get shelved aside, but any misstep or challenge is made front news.
I am here today to tell you that Africa has good news and that Africa itself is good news!
Diamonds are found in the rough and are no different from any other rock. But with visionary eyes, skillful hands, diamond cutters cut through the rough edges, until they catch the streaks of sunlight, delivering the remarkable diamond sparkle we all have come to like so much.
Like the hidden potential of rough diamonds, we must work to fully unlock Africa’s potential. Africa must sparkle!
My mentor, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the late Nobel Peace Prize Winner, once said “nobody eats potential”. We are on a race with time to unlock the full potential of Africa.
The greatest asset of Africa is not its vast minerals, oil and gas. Africa’s greatest asset is its youthful population.
Africa’s youth population, currently estimated at 250 million, is expected to rise to 840 million by 2050. That’ll make Africa the youngest continent in the world, as many parts of the world are witnessing rapidly aging populations.
What we do with that population of youth today will determine the future of work in the world. Africa must become the brimming workshop of the world – with a knowledgeable and highly skilled workforce that’s able to propel the continent into the fourth industrial revolution.
Today, millions of these same young people have no jobs and many take enormous risks to cross the Mediterranean to seek a brighter future in Europe. I do not believe that the future of Africa’s youth lies in Europe; their future must lie in a thriving and more prosperous Africa.
Our challenge is to ensure that Africa’s economies grow more rapidly and in ways that create quality jobs for its teeming youths. Africa must arise and pull itself up, and develop with pride.
For there’s no pride in massive unemployment of youths. There’s no pride in seeing thousands drown on turbulent waters of the Mediterranean. That’s why the African development bank is pursuing major Jobs for Youth in Africa initiative to help African countries create 25 million jobs for its youth.
In collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn and Safaricom, the Bank is developing 20 computer coding centers across Africa that will provide cutting edge coding skills to help turn the youth into job creators.
We are determined that the future Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will not only come out of Silicon Valley but out of Africa. And that’s already happening.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, visited Nigeria in 2016 and is investing $24 million in Andela, a startup company by a young Nigerian, to nurture software developers for the world, out of Africa.
The Bank’s investment of $40 million in the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology in Rwanda, today helps train hundreds of top-notch ICT experts in a world class Masters program in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University.
One of the graduates of the program, 30-year old Clarisse Iribagiza, grew her IT company which she recently sold for a whopping $20 million.
But we’re not just focusing on the IT sector, the Bank is also supporting the growth of young agribusiness and commercial farmers for the continent. Africa has 65% of the arable land left to feed the world by 2050.
What Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world. But we must make agriculture exciting for the youth. That’s why the Bank has invested $300 million in programs to support youths to take agriculture as a business.
One such entrepreneur is Dr. Aroge, a young medical doctor who found a new passion in agriculture and is now running his own 500 hectares commercial cassava farm and industrial processing of cassava into flour and starch. He like others are the new faces of African agriculture, young, fresh, dynamic and ready to take on the world.
I believe that the future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come out of agriculture, the wealth of Africa, waiting to be unlocked to shine.
To shine, Africa must have universal electricity. Africa cannot develop in the dark. Some 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity. That’s why at the Bank we are investing rapidly to help light up and power Africa. We’re investing $12 billion in power to help leverage $45-50 billion to accelerate access to electricity for millions of people.
And the results are encouraging. The Bank helped to finance the largest concentrated solar power system in the world, in Morocco. We helped to finance Africa’s largest wind power station, at Lake Turkana, in Kenya. In 2017, 100% of the Bank’s investments in power generation was in renewable energy.
In Kenya, we’ve helped to connect over one million people to electricity through our support to the Kenyan government’s “last mile connectivity project” to connect poor households to grid power. A lady by the name Grace, a 70-year-old woman, whose house had just been connected to power in a village told me “we once were in darkness, now we can see”.
Such powerful stories can be told by the over 4.5 million people that we’ve helped to connect to new or improved electricity in 2018.
Light is so important. How would I see you or you see me tonight, in this magnificent place, if there’s no light? So important is it that the first thing that God did when he created the world was he said “let there be light”.
To be continued tomorrow
•Adesina, the president, African Development Bank Group, delivered this as keynote address at the 2019 Sunbak peace prize laureate, World peace Summit, Seoul, South Korea.