Global Mega Trends and Africa

Posted by on Jul 21, 2014

Global Mega Trends and Africa

One of the critical challenges of strategic policy making is to strike a balance between the short term issues facing the society and the long term challenges and opportunities. The former typically preoccupies the politicians who have to survive the rough and tumble of day to day politics. The electoral cycle further reinforces this tendency. The latter forces, however, are more subtle and yet as relevant for the society’s long term prosperity. But more often than not they are largely neglected in policy and public discourse. In part it is because the long term structural trends are much less visible, often appear speculative and their impacts surface over a period way beyond the terms of office of those in power! These so called mega trends ultimately shape the political economy structure within which power assumes meaning and evolves over time.

 

Currently, there are three major global mega trends at play, namely, the demographic factor, the environmental issues, and the changing nature of work place. Jointly, these trends are bound to reshape the national socio-political structures the world over and exert substantial influence on the international geo-political configuration. The medium to long term success of countries would much depend on the degree to which their public policies are alive to the impact of such forces.

 

The demographic mega trend is possibly most subtle and potentially disruptive insofar as it exerts influence on many fronts including the inter-generational dynamics within the societies, and the issues of diversity management across nations. Political and business organizations are affected by this mega trend in many diverse ways. The power base of the political organizations and the market structure of business corporations are profoundly shaped by this mega trend. The spatial configuration of the global population also affects the international geo-politics.

 

The environmental mega trend is most visible, and increasingly recognized as a force that requires much higher degrees of international coordination than countries are used to thus far. The threats emanating from this mega trend transcend the defence capabilities of all the nations, weak and strong alike! Not only the submerging of some island states in the Pacific Ocean, but also recent weather-induced events in New York, USA, in Australia, in China, in Philippine and in Europe are but examples of the damage that environmental forces can exact on any country. More subtle and no less destructive effects of the environmental mega trend may be seen in prolonged draughts and sustained flooding of various regions- which in turn affect land fertility and crop production worldwide.

 

Possibly the least talked-about mega trend is the changing nature of the workplace and its potential consequences for social welfare. The fact is that the digital technologies have gradually but irreversibly changed the nature of the workplace. Over time the workplace has become much more skills and systems intensive. Whilst the labour-intensity of business operations has declined steadily, the production process has become a great deal more automated and spatially segregated. Historically labour-intensive activities such as farming and mining operations have been particularly affected by these trends. Mechanized fruit picking and sorting, as well as crop spraying via drones are becoming common place in many commercial farms across the world. Likewise in the mining sector technologies exist that can obviate the use of unskilled labour almost altogether.  The effects of technological and digital changes in the services sector are equally profound. The spatial fragmentation of the workplace and the production processes is under way.  In effect, the workplace is evolving rapidly with material impact on social welfare. In particular, if the education systems, or more broadly the human resource development policies, are unable to equip the workforce to keep up with the technological change, the social welfare loss could be considerable. Equally, if the industrial relations and other regulatory environment are out of sync with the evolving changes in the workplace, the society can incur massive losses. This is even more so for societies that already have high unemployment rates.

 

The above mega trends, I submit, are bound to reshape both the power base at the national level and geo-politics on the global scene. Their consequences for Africa and many of its countries are profound. Yet the short term socio-political issues seem to dominate the political economy stage in the continent. Whilst this is understandable, it is nonetheless regrettable. It is high time that African leadership (in politics, business and general society) pays due attention to risks and opportunities arising from these critical mega trends.