INTERVIEW-Education revolution needed to spur African leadership

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 20 November 2017 18:41 GMT

A pupil prays inside a classroom ahead of the primary school final national examinations at Kiboro Primary school along Juja road in Nairobi, Kenya October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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"Our curriculums and education systems really have a lot of hang-ups from the past"

By Adela Suliman

LONDON, Nov 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Progress in improving Africa's education has nearly ground to a halt and nothing short of a complete overall can create a system good enough to underpin leadership and growth on the continent, said Sudanese billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim.

Launching his foundation's annual scorecard of governance across 54 African countries on Monday, Ibrahim called for new curriculums incorporating data, engineering and digital skills to satisfy the demands of modern economies.

"We need a revolution in the education system," the self-made telecoms magnate told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in London.

"Our curriculums and education systems really have a lot of hang-ups from the past," said Ibrahim, referring to education systems set up under British and French colonial rule.

On a continent where about 41 percent of the population is under 15, the index found poor progress in education, with Morocco and Botswana showing worrying declines in standards.

One in four young people are unable to read in sub-Saharan Africa and 33 million children are out of primary school, more than half of all those in the world, according to the United Nations.

Poor education in turn feeds unemployment, radicalisation and migration - with thousands of young people joining militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria or risking the deadly journey across the Mediterranean in the hope of finding jobs.

A booming young population could destabilise countries across the continent and challenge economic growth, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said in a report earlier this year.

"That is a serious challenge for us, because we are a continent of young people ... Where are the jobs?" he said.

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) scrutinises the quality of leadership across African nations, judging them against criteria such as security, human rights, economic stability, free elections, corruption, health and education.

The Seychelles, Namibia and Tunisia were among the best performers, while progress accelerated in Ivory Coast and Nigeria, it found.

Conflict-torn Libya, Central African Republic and South Sudan languished at the bottom of the index.

"Misrule always produces revolts and armed conflicts," said 71-year-old Ibrahim, adding the failure of veteran leaders to hand over power to the younger generation was hurting progress.

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe's refusal to step down is "sad", he said, saying he should have followed the example of South Africa's Nelson Mandela who willingly handed over power.

While President Joseph Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo had failed and should make way for new leadership.

"It is so sad to see such a rich country with extremely poor people misgoverned and looted," said Ibrahim. "Kabila ... failed, his time is up so why is he hanging on to power?"

Hopes for better governance now lay with Africa's youth, he said.

"The young generation is better equipped than our generation," he said, adding that access to social media and more news sources made young people harder to censor.

"My hope is that the next generation are going to be far better than us."

(Reporting by Adela Suliman; Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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