Can a new generation of young entrepreneurs retool Africa?

Africa is the ultimate conundrum. Many countries across the continent are plagued with dizzying infrastructure, security, and corruption challenges. Yet, the regional economy has climbed steadily over the last decade and is accelerating at an annual rate of approximately 5 percent a year. Government debt is low as are inflation rates, and the United Nations human development index shows that several African nations have been climbing the charts—a significant quality-of-life indicator.

Sloan Fellows Program SF13 Portraits“You often hear in the media and in development circles that Africa is rising,” says Ezekiel Odiogo, SF ’13, a native of Nigeria, “but I disagree. Africa has risen.” Odiogo, a principal investment officer in the Transport and ICT Department of the African Development Bank Group, supports his assertion with the fact that several African nations rank among the fastest growing economies in the world—in fact, they dominate Business Insider’s “Top Thirteen” list. “The overall balance has shifted to where we see an increasing number of check marks on the positive side of the ledger,” he says.

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The Singapore Miracle: Is it sustainable?

One of the world’s smallest countries, Singapore is also one of its great economic powerhouses. That dichotomy is frequently referred to in the business press as the “Singapore Miracle.” Often voted the best global city in which to do business, Singapore has a state-of-the-art infrastructure, a well-oiled and corruption-free bureaucracy, and a forward-thinking environmental policy that has made the country one of the world’s greenest places to do business.

Kiren KumarKiren Kumar, SF ’12, Director of InfoComms & Media at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), says that Singapore is determined not to become a victim of its success. Over the last 50 years of Singapore’s independence, he says, it has attracted investment and jobs by being cheaper, better, faster. “We were a perfect host for many companies’ manufacturing headquarters. But we’ve also been aware of the fact that we can’t maintain this particular value proposition indefinitely.”

One of Kumar’s jobs is to change how Singaporeans look at Singapore. “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved,” he explains, “but there’s a risk in becoming too comfortable in the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves—especially when the pace of change in our region is accelerating so rapidly.”

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Reinventing the battle plan for the war on drugs

Of all the continents on Earth, Africa is particularly blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and resources. Often, it is heralded as the cradle of civilization. There is no dearth of human talent in any sector of this, the world’s second largest and second most populous continent. But for all its vast potential, Africa seems to be beset by the greatest number of challenges, one of which is the war on drugs.

kofi-annan-thumbKofi Annan, SF ’72, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, questions whether Africa should be waging a war on drugs—or a war on the war on drugs. At least as that war has been fought for the last generation. After years of witnessing the escalating drug crisis, Annan, a native of Ghana, is convinced it should be the latter. “The ‘war on drugs’ strategy, which focuses heavily on the suppression of drug shipments, has not enabled West Africa—or any other region of the world—to meet and overcome the drug threat,” he said recently in an official statement.

Pointing to a United Nations report that estimated cocaine trade through West Africa at $1.25 billion a year, Annan notes that the sum is higher than the combined government budgets of several countries in the region. The situation, he says, threatens to corrode institutions and the culture itself, undermining economic progress and democratic practice in a region that has only recently emerged from decades of violent conflict and instability. “The region’s political and security institutions are struggling to respond to these threats,” he points out, “and are not always well equipped to mount adequate preventive measures.”

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