Poverty in Africa: Has Time for Change Come?
That is despite the fact that there is no poverty of effort among the many hard-working peoples of the continent.
The mass migration of Africans into Europe, especially of key professionals, attests to the dwindling employment opportunities, inspired by the worsening levels of poverty on the continent, which they so desperately want to beat.
For Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO): "There is poverty of opportunity in Africa."
The situation could never be more depressing for Zambia if, according to former Vice-President Nevers Mumba, 25 nurses left the country every month to seek "greener pasture" elsewhere, more so in Europe.
The growing crisis of mass migration of Africans could be said to have two faces, according to a Zambian journalist.
Charles Chisala, who is also a gender columnist, says there are many Africans running away from poverty in their countries who otherwise face an uphill battle of adjusting to competitive living. It is either they are not educated or they have little education to enable them find reasonably decent employment.
The expected result is that these people become more disillusioned when they slide further into poverty in their adopted homes.
Then there is what Mr Chisala calls the more serious migration that has directly sucked from the continent's intelligentsia. This is the kind in which Africa has continued to sacrifice key professionals to other lands.
Quite recently, World Bank regional Vice-President Callisto Madavo said the migration of professional medical personnel to developed countries posed a serious threat to Africa's health care system.
Dr Madavo was particularly concerned about the impact the brain drain would have on the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic which has left approximately 40 million African children orphaned.
But there has to be a way out. In his address to the African Union extraordinary summit on employment and poverty alleviation in Africa, the ILO chief emphasised that Africans did not want handouts.
"They seek a hand up to move from the creativity to survive to the productivity to develop. Give me a fair chance at a decent job - that is what people are demanding."
Mr Somavia extolled delegates to the summit, held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on September 8, for organising something truly African.
"With the African Union as your political compass, NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for African Development) as the roadmap, and the social partners alongside, you are introducing a new development logic," he said.
It was his supreme view that poverty reduction would not succeed without jobs.
Employment and enterprise creation should be made a central development objective on which all major policies should converge, particularly sound macro-economic and social policies and an enabling environment for investment.
Work, after all, is more than a source of income. It is a source of individual dignity, family stability, peace in the community, and a democracy that delivers.
Work is social protection for families and communities and social dialogue for lasting solutions.
But all that, stressed Mr Somavia, should be decent work.
And that is the missing link. It is what African Finance ministers declared in a pre-summit statement when they "welcomed recent progress in the African economies, but deplored the fact that the creation of decent work had not followed the same path."
There are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions to the grave problem of unemployment on the continent.
But in Mr Somavia's words, "Africa doesn't need more lip service. Africa needs a listening service - partners who truly respect national ownership of development policies."
The many acronyms representing initiatives to solve a number of African countries' problems devised by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank show how governments (and the people) have been yanked from one extreme to another to address the same, old problems of poverty and unemployment.
The tragedy, however, is that some so-called new ideas following upon the failed former solutions have to contend with worsened situations.
"But Africa has a right to expect an international community that recognises your diverse national realities.
"Africa has a right to expect support for home-grown initiatives, preventing child labour, fighting HIV/AIDS and caring for those living with it.
There is need to be focus on young people, and to recognise the vital role of women," Mr Somavia told the delegates.
But Africa clearly could not achieve any tangible results in the fight against unemployment and poverty in isolation.
That is the reason why Mr Somavia supported the continent's call for fairness.
"Fairness for the African cotton farmer and all farmers.
Fairness in access to markets and for African enterprise to compete on a level-playing field.
Fairness for the definitive solution of the crushing debt issue, not to mention overseas development assistance," he said.
On all issues that link Africa to the global economy, there needs to be special and differential treatment. But it is the other way round.
Too many African farmers struggle for survival while their counterparts in developed countries are handed over a billion dollars a day in agricultural subsidies. It is clear who is getting the special treatment.
Zambia's agricultural produce, for example, is still unable to penetrate the US market under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) many months after the country was admitted to the preferential export facility.
AGOA desk officer under the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Moses Simemba told the Times recently that Zambian farmers could not export snow peas - despite being produced on a large scale - because it was said not to be enough to sustain continued export to the US market.
But that is not the real reason. The fact is that the charges for exporting cargo are fixed. If Zambian farmers exported small quantities they would still be expected to observe the whole cargo standard charge!
But in Africa seeking a level playing field, it also means international policy coherence on global growth, investment and employment.
According to Mr Somavia, inequality is worsened when growth, which creates wealth, is not accompanied by decent jobs; the sort of growth that distributes wealth, fosters consumption, and drives investments.
"When that sound market cycle is broken in too many parts of the global economy, we are in trouble, as we are today. We are facing a global unemployment crisis.
A billion people unemployed, underemployed or working poor worldwide, plus all the unaccounted workers in the informal economy.
This is probably the biggest security risk the world faces today.
This problem will not be solved purely by national action, and clearly not by piecemeal, fragmented, parallel, and, sometimes, conflicting advice or conditionalities that you today receive from international organisations.
We need a global approach. No institution has all the answers, but we all have mandates that oblige us to find solutions. By joining forces, we can forge a better path to a fair globalisation."
Similarly, it is important to consider recommendations made by the first African Social Partners' Forum, also held in Ouagadougou at the beginning of last month, which carried the theme 'Decent work: a driving force for Africa's development'.
Some of the recommendations were that decent work, as defined by ILO, should be made a global and an African objective; it should be placed at the heart of socio-economic policies in Africa.
The decent work agenda opens the way for Africa to work itself out of poverty through the creation of decent employment opportunities, the respect of standards and fundamental rights at work, the provision of social protection for all and reinforcement of tripartism and social dialogue.
There is need to promote integrated development strategies to tackle poverty through a comprehensive macro-economic and social policy framework.
Since high sustainable economic growth is a necessary but insufficient condition for employment creation and poverty reduction, economic growth should be sustainable, employment-intensive and pro-poor.
Furthermore, the role of the state to create a favourable regulatory and incentive framework for the creation and development of enterprises, to ensure a fair redistribution of the benefits of growth, and to ensure universal access to public goods, should be strengthened.
There is need to focus on highly productive and employment-intensive sectors with particular attention to the agricultural sector where most of the working poor are found.
Dynamic forward and backward linkages should be developed between peasant agriculture and the rest of the economy, particularly the public sector and the priority sectors of NEPAD that include industry, infrastructural development and telecommunications.
It is important to work towards transformation of the informal sector through strategies such as the development of co-operatives, promotion of youth and female entrepreneurship, provision of technical and vocational training for informal economy workers.
Furthermore, considering the scope of youth unemployment in Africa, active labour market policies should be implemented within the framework of national employment policies to tackle the problem.
But there is also a greater need to strengthen democracy through the participation of the people, and good state and corporate governance in order to promote transparency, accountability and to combat corruption.
The international development community, also, should be engaged to ensure policy coherence among them and prioritisation of employment creation in poverty reduction strategies.
The alignment of donor support to country-owned strategies calls for debt cancellation to free resources for socio-economic development, enhanced market access for the goods of developing countries, and eradication of trade distorting subsidies and unfair trade rules.
Mr Somavia is, indeed, right when he says there is poverty of opportunity in Africa. But his closing remarks to the summit delegates, too, could never be ignored.
"You are sounding a wake-up call to the world. The present course of globalisation and unemployment is not sustainable. Repeating the same policies and expecting different results is senseless.
The time for change has come. I see here the strength, the hope, and the energy to overcome. It is in the message of the social partners, in the statement of your finance ministers, in your determination to ensure a successful follow-up.
It is in the people of this mighty continent, and it is in your winning attitude."