Reflections from 2019 World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC

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The main topics discussed were The Digital Mooonshot for Africa, Human Capital and Fragility in Africa.

In a round-table meeting with all the Blog4Dev winners, Steven Shalita – the AfREC (Africa Reseach and Engagement Centre) manager- the Digital Moonshot was explained to embody the ambitiousness of President John Kennedy in beating the Russians on being the first on the moon.

The goals are so ambitious that they seem unreal, I love it because it coerces us to gather our will and accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Among opinions shared concerning the discussion with other Blog4Dev winners was that the civil service might not be happy to go digital because it will complicate corruption. I agree with this opinion because digitisation is bound to reduce the amount of cash in the hands in the civil service. If not, it will provide transparency that will deter corrupt transactions.

There is still a challenge of electricity and internet access. This point is also valid, people need electricity and internet access to go digital. Most parts of Africa are in the rural areas, posing a challenge in both electricity and internet access. 

Steven admitted that it was prudent to consider all those gaps and they were being addressed. He warned that if we waited for conditions to be perfect, we would never get anything done. It was our first day and we were already bringing compelling arguments to meetings.

Having critiqued the Digital Moonshot among ourselves, we got to see a panel of accomplished leaders talk about in the MC Preston Auditorium. The setup was that of a popular TV show. Tasteful seats forming a friendly arc with the moderator somewhere in the middle. The Digital Moonshot was discussed at length by the panel.

Eventually, questions were open to the floor. There was a concern about the significance of agriculture and how going digital will not matter if people are hungry. One of the panellists hammered in how much going digital would actually be manure to agriculture.

Farmers connected, sharing advice, solutions and eCommerce opportunities. I nodded to the response, as much as poverty can be reduced by agriculture, going digital would bring many gains to farmers and consumers. 

On Human Capital.

I took a picture of the definition of Human Capital from within one of the World Bank Visitor’s Centre. 

It narrates that it is the health, knowledge and skills people accumulate throughout their lives. It enables them to realize their potential and become productive members of society.

An important fact to make Basotho proud of is that our king is a champion for several good causes, including Human Capital. He stood upright, oozing confidence and composure. The spacious Preston Auditorium teaming with people, mostly seated had their eyes trained at him. The room fell so silent one could hear a feather drop on the floor.

He did his salutations and the speech flowed naturally to the very end that was full stopped with ovation. It was a pleasure to see him deliver a speech with unparalleled candour live, right in front of my eyes, so far away from home. I felt well represented.

Light is shone on the fact that Africa is the youngest continent. With the full use of its human capital, it can make tremendous development leaps. The star concern was that of supporting the girl child to reach her fullest potential. It was brought to our attention that young girls are forced into early marriages.

The above brought an interesting analogy that a bird can fly well with both wings, meaning that girls should be given a chance. Think of it, women constitute at least 50% of the African population, how are we to accomplish our developmental goals without them?

The discussion was so heated that it was stated that by educating a girl, you educate a village because women give so much of themselves. As the floor was open for questions, I got to ask mine. 

“What more could be done to ensure that the patriarchal society starts seeing the girl child as a resource?” 

From the panel, the possibility of compensating families for not marrying off their girls and having a debate about the sour issue was given. I felt like we needed something a bit more sustainable to ensure that empowering the girl child becomes an endless fashion trend in Africa.

The panel took turns answering questions from the floor until mine got its turn. The lady and I made eye contact as she responded. She enunciated that in order to see this happen, we need to start having discussions of how the mostly patriarchal society should start seeing women as a resource at family and community level. I nodded in agreement because I understand the value of communication. The more we talk about empowering the African girl child, the more it is likely to be absorbed as part of our culture.

Even the moderator was so moved that she shared a story of how she was almost given away in marriage at the age of 14 after completing high school. Fortunately, she managed to convince her father that the plan was college. 

Fragility under the discussion microscope revealed itself to be the opposite of peace and prosperity. Africa’s Pulse Volume 19 unpacks with an interesting acronym, FCV, which represents Fragility Conflict Violence. Need I elaborate? I will leave you to flex your thinking muscle.

The future of jobs

Among interesting news was the visit of the World Bank to Silicon Valley. It was discovered that we are going to change jobs a lot more regularly than generations before us.

Moreover, it was highlighted that we should be committed to lifelong learning because everything is constantly changing and we have to keep retooling to level up. The other exciting insight that was shared was how India has a population of 112 Million, roughly the same as the African continent. 

Wait for it, so companies in Silicon Valley find it easier to invest in India because there is a huge population and one regulation, isn’t it about time we had a United States of Africa? Won’t it be easier to solve FCV and capitalize on investment opportunities? 

My highlight of the event

My highlight of the event was the Social Inclusion Hero’s performance of the song Malaika. It was during our award receiving ceremony, there were just a few World Bank staff with us. He began with a poem that had me snapping my fingers as chills ran down my face. There was something so original and pure about his performance. He was not trying to impress us. He was simply sharing an important message through poetry and song.

The song was in a language I did not know yet it made my eyes well up with tears. I live for moments I can’t put in words, Tresor Mpauma, aka Menes la Plume gave me that. It was a warm embrace to the soul as much as it was a tickle to the ear.

As we were chatting one time, he told me about how he ended up laying on the ground to out bow a devout fan that was bowing at him because he did all he did out of love, not to get praises or appear superior. Very funny and informative, that was the nature of our conversations. 

I asked him to explain the song and he tutored me about how it was a love song. A guy was in love with a girl and at the verge of losing her because he had no resources to pay for her dowry. Tragic. To me, it was more about the struggle towards reaching your destiny and how its so tough. It was a lesson on grit. 

Among many intellectual spoils from the World Bank Spring Meetings, the main one was to be a Pan African Optimist. With that in the open, allow me to say, AFRICA CAN through its youth for we are the present, not the future, the glaring present and we better start acting. Yes, this is a call to action. Whatever positive action. 

I cannot fully conclude without saying something about the Founding Mother of Blog4Dev, Diarietou Gaye. She explained that she saw negativity from the youth and wanted to give them something positive to focus on. 

We thank her for her thoughtfulness to have started something that has shed light on the youth of Africa. It is through such initiatives that the world becomes a better place.

This is just a tip of the iceberg, follow World Bank content for the gist.

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