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The right kind of investment for Africa must be a collaborative effort

School children in Mbale, Uganda

4 min read

The private, public and third sector must share their expertise to deliver much needed solutions to Africa’s most pressing problems.

The recent announcement that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will cut staff numbers by 20 per cent bears bad news for the furthering of development assistance across the African continent. 

Overshadowed by larger global concerns, African tragedies such as the suicide bombings which struck Kampala last month have reminded us of the important role international actors must play in providing the most essential kind of assistance to people on the continent. 

Earlier this month, the minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, delivered a speech at Chatham House outlining the UK’s Priorities for Engagement for 2022.

She highlighted the reality that by 2050, it is predicted that one in four people will live in the continent of Africa, and of the grave impact COVID has had on the continent.

Last year, Africa experienced its largest recession on record, which resulted in 32 million more people moving into extreme poverty. 

More than 11 million girls may not go back to school because of the closures which have resulted from the pandemic’s disruption. 

In addition to committing to work with the African Union, United Nations, Commonwealth, World Bank and IMF, the minister for Africa had one key message to deliver. By 2040, Africa  will have the largest youth population in the world meaning that “with the right investments, young people can be Africa’s greatest resource and drive economic growth across the continent".
But what does she mean by the “right investments”?

The right investments are the ones that enable Africa to tap in to and empower the great potential of its young, to ensure that it does not lose a generation to brain-drain and to enable it to lay robust foundations for the future.

Development in Africa must be a collaborative effort between national and international governments, international organisations, private sector initiatives and philanthropy

I have spent half my life living in Africa, and since taking my seat in the Lords have devoted much of my life to promoting the continent and addressing the many diverse challenges it faces .

After completing my education in South Africa, I have spent many years working with both the private and public sector and continue to be actively involved in development causes through my work as Vice Chairman of the All-Parliamentary Africa Group, Zimbabwe Group, South Africa Group, Endangered Species Group (ESG) and Tusk Trust.  

I have seen both successful and failed investments 

Clearly development in Africa must be a collaborative effort between national and international governments, international organisations, private sector initiatives and philanthropy, which holds social impact and ESG at its core.

Sound and accountable management are the bedrock of success.

This year I joined the advisory board of the Nick Maughan Foundation, a charitable foundation established by the technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Nick Maughan, to promote a range of initiatives in education, social upliftment , the environment and civic support schemes for disenfranchised communities.

The Foundation has recently made a generous donation to Harpenden Spotlight on Africa, to help it further its causes in health and education. 

It recently contributed to the launch of a maternity centre in Mbale, which will help safely deliver 2,000 babies every year in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. 

Spotlight on Africa is a development charity run by a small team of diverse and enthusiastic volunteers across the UK and Africa, where it operates through its Ugandan-run sister organisation, Spotlight on Africa-Uganda. 

Education is at the heart of the Foundation’s efforts, particularly in Uganda where a lack of funding and poor infrastructure have hampered the ability of government schools to provide basic education to children.

Many of these schools have been overwhelmed by the surge in population as a result of the conflict in northern and western Uganda, as well as South Sudan. 

Projects such as the construction of the Namatala Secondary School, a collaboration between Harpenden Spotlight on Africa, the Nick Maughan Foundation and architecture practice CAUKIN Studio, are exactly “the right kind of investment” to help Africa close its education gap.

A new 1,250 pupil secondary school and technology college in the Namatala region of Mbale District, eastern Uganda, one of the largest slums in Uganda, will make an enormous contribution towards alleviating overcrowding in nearby secondary schools such as Mbale Secondary School, which currently has more than 4,500 enrolled students. 

I hope that the success of projects like these will see similar initiatives blossoming in years to come, and that the private and third sector will see that the opportunity to solve Africa’s education problems can in fact lie with them, in conjunction with governments and international organisations, which all too frequently are constrained by procedural red tape and regulation. 

There is no limit to how much can be achieved if we work together, but we can’t afford to wait any longer. 

The moment is now.

Lord St John is a Crossbench peer

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