CRITICAL INVESTMENT

African child in sordid condition

Human capital central pillar to quest for prosperity, sustainable growth.

In Summary

• Africa stands on the warm threshold of opportunity and promise because of the abundance of a youthful population.

• Every African child born today must survive to celebrate their fifth birthday.

Children.
Children.
Image: FILE

Africa’s large and youthful population is its greatest asset as well as its Achilles' heel. Africa’s median age is estimated at about 19 years. In some countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, nearly 78 per cent of the population is aged below the age of 35.

The future of the continent is here and present. How this abundance of youthful energy is nurtured and prepared for life and work will determine Africa’s place and standing in the league table of major global regions. Such preparation comprises education and development of skills. Such preparation must begin with a solid investment in early childhood development.

We must ensure that all children, from the first 1,000 days – period between conception and the child’s second birthday­ – have access to good nutrition and a decent care environment. Decent care environment means the child’s mother has access to quality antenatal and neonatal care.

But this is not the case. About 200,000 maternal deaths occur in Africa annually. Moreover, early growth failure robs millions of African children of their future. Africa is the only region in the world with a growing number of stunted children under the age of five.

However, if we stay on this blissful highway of business as usual – poor nutrition, limited access to quality education and lack of access to quality health – this generation, with all the promise and the opportunity will be lost.

Stunting erodes, irreversibly, a child’s chances of success in school. Cognitive impairment results in depressed incomes and limits the capacity of stunted children to live healthy and productive lives. Diminished cognitive impairment has consequences for human capital and is estimated to inflict a penalty of up to 10 per cent in GDP growth, according to recent World Bank estimates.

About 25 per cent of children globally are stunted. It is estimated that Africa loses $25 billion (Sh2.6 trillion) annually due to child morbidity or mortality, cognitive or physical impairment caused by malnutrition. This veritable carnage of human potential is both shameful and unconscionable.

Moreover, most Africans do not have access to essential health services and the poor lack social safety nets. What we see in many African communities is a vicious intergenerational poverty trap that is maintained by poor health and economic outcomes.

African governments must step up to the plate and grapple with what I think is a shameful, sordid condition of the African child. Every African child born today must survive to celebrate their fifth birthday.

Every child should attain the quality of life necessary to accumulate the requisite human capital to thrive and contribute to their societies, while raising families of their own who are poised to thrive, thus breaking the vicious carnage of human capital.

The challenge is huge and made more ominous by the inexorable youth bulge. Africa stands on the warm threshold of opportunity and promise because of the abundance of a youthful population.

However, if we stay on this blissful highway of business as usual – poor nutrition, limited access to quality education and lack of access to quality health – this generation, with all the promise and the opportunity will be lost.

Human capital is a central pillar to Africa’s quest for sustainable growth and prosperity. We must make critical investments in people, especially the youth.