After a decade of strong growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cameroon was compared favorably with fast-growing East-Asian economies. This fame came to a sudden stop in the late 1980s when the country experienced one of the world’s deepest and most protracted recessions, triggered by large fall in the terms of trade and appreciation of the real exchange rate. Debts - previously at reasonable levels - mounted, banks failed and poverty increased. A 50% devaluation of the CFA Franc, a currency Cameroon shares with other former French colonies, in January 1994 pushed the foreign-currency denominated debt to increase to over 100 percent of GDP, triggering the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief process. Cameroon successfully exited HIPC in 2006. Since then, the authorities have set the goal to become a middle income country by 2035, anchoring their growth strategy on building infrastructure. After some initial success, with real growth steadily increasing from 1.9% in 2009 to 5.9% in 2014, the country is facing again some fiscal strains and risk of its debt distress has risen from low to moderate to high, in just 3 years.
In Ghana, coastal erosion and rising seas are burying some seaside villages, like Fuveme, which is now completely under sand. As in neighboring countries, hydrocarbon exploration is well underway not too far from the shore, and coastal urban areas are expanding. The fish stock has declined dramatically, and formerly thriving fishing communities are in trouble.
The Earth’s temperatures are rising and it’s no secret. As an African, originally from Cameroon, I have personally witnessed the damaging effects and know that my continent and my people are significantly at risk if major steps are not taken to bring down the heat. While solutions and concrete actions exist to fight against climate change, they are only half the battle. The other half lies with the appropriation of these solutions by youth and future generations.
Consider this stunning fact―only 1 in 3 Africans has access to electricity on the continent.
And that is why too little electricity is one of the biggest challenges I see standing in the way of Africa achieving steadily higher growth rates, better education for its children and teenagers, good quality health services that work, farms and agribusinesses that can grow enough cheap nutritious food for Africans to eat, just to name some of the transformational priorities which can happen when we turn the lights on across Africa.
I confess I am passionate about lighting up homes, schools, businesses, clinics, libraries, and parliaments across the continent. As a child growing up in Senegal, I knew first-hand about power shortages. More power for Africans will allow them to transform their living standards and turn the continent’s growth into tangible benefits for all.
Energy security is a key priority for my work as World Bank Vice President for Africa, and my team is moving ahead relentlessly to put power infrastructure in place to plug regional communities into cross-border power pools, more irrigated land to grow food and create jobs, galvanize more trade and commerce within the region, and to unlock all the other development potential that electrical power makes possible.
More often than not, “we” criticize the “system” for being corrupt; yet it is simply a reflection of what we make of it. For example, what would happen if “we” decided never to collect bribes from users in our health service system? Or if we implemented and respected the rule of ‘first come, first served’ instead of paying or collecting bribes for faster service delivery? What would happen when it is brought to our knowledge that there are irregular practices operating within our health centers?