Magazine article African Business

Beware Africa's Grey Rhinos: Political and Business Leaders Are Not Paying Enough Heed to Youth Unemployment and Climate Change

Magazine article African Business

Beware Africa's Grey Rhinos: Political and Business Leaders Are Not Paying Enough Heed to Youth Unemployment and Climate Change

Article excerpt

I recently came across a reference to grey rhino risks in an article about business in China and assumed the author had conflated the white and black rhino into a single grey version. The article it turned out was not about conserving Africa's endangered wildlife, but referred to an increasingly popular analogy. A "grey rhino" refers to highly probable, high-impact threats that people should see coming but don't.

Almost immediately I started to recognise the phenomenon around me. For example, it was evident in how African governments planned and managed their economies in recent years as though commodity price surges were a permanent feature of life, only to be caught flat-footed when those windfalls dried up. Globally, years of rising inequality and growing social tensions gave rise to a populist revolt against globalisation that has brought us Brexit, Trump and a growing number of other closed-minded autocrats.

Despite these lessons Africa's government and business leaders are still not fully accounting for two of the biggest and most menacing grey rhinos on the horizon--youth unemployment and climate change.

Less than a quarter of Africa's youth are engaged in economic activity that generates a reliable income, and between 30 and 40% of Africans aged 15-30 lack access to a clear source of livelihood. Meanwhile, changes in climate are wreaking havoc on Africa's agricultural sector and steadily expanding the reach of tropical diseases such as malaria.

These two phenomena are arguably already at the root of the wave of conflict across East, Central and West Africa, and are a major force behind the rising tide of economic migration from the Sahel into Europe.

The scale and impact of these challenges will only grow in years to come. However, you will be hard pressed to find much evidence that the political and business leadership of the continent is approaching them as truly existential threats. …

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