Africa at a time of circular economy. Not the growth-at-all-costs time, but rather the one of economic renewal that it could inspire to the rest of the world.
Africa, like everywhere else, has to put itself at the time of the circular economy. An economy of collaboration and adaptation to societal, economic and environmental constraints. But is it new in Africa, a continent that has always experienced all kinds of constraints and has innovated throughout its history in order to improve the daily life of its citizens?
Africa is today at a leverage point that no one can contradict. Like India in the 1990s, or even China in the previous decade, the countdown to economic growth is triggered. From Ethiopia to Côte d’Ivoire, growth rates pale former economies. But this race towards growth-at-all-costs, is it really where Africa must go? Towards an economic model that is deteriorating the most powerful global markets? Towards a model relying on energy-intensive growth and on the depletion of fossil resources? These issues are significant for a continent where half the population is below the 25-year threshold.
But as Africa has always known, it is in the impasse that the most beautiful innovations are created.
Let’s dream a little. Europe is at the stage of a so-called circular economy, where resources are managed responsibly from the design of products, with the aim of offering them as a service in order to stop generating waste. This approach is good news for the continent. Less, if not none, of European waste to be reprocessed in Africa is the good news of this so-called “future economy”.
Let’s go a little further. And what if Africa does not follow the obsolete model of growth at any price, having proved to have been a global failure, exhausting natural resources, jeopardizing our biosphere, and creating an increasingly unequal world?
Let us take a closer look at the advantages of the continent that no other can avail: a young and dynamic people, weak infrastructure still having limited effects on the biosphere, the world’s lowest per capita footprint (even if it has exceeded the critical threshold in 2015), and a collaborative society. The sharing models and survival strategies, developed to address the multiple challenges of African societies, have made the continent one of the most innovative. I was among those who saw one of the only telecommunications companies to have adapted to the societal needs of citizens: Mr. Mo Ibrahim’s Celtel International was behind the social innovations in telecoms that have helped Africa communicate and reinvent itself. From the “Street Payphone”, this pre-paid or post-paid mobile phone available on the street and managed by women feeding their families thanks to the paid salary, through the free roaming zones common to more than ten countries (ability to communicate beyond borders at no extra cost), are part of the keys to African renewal, because they have been able to adapt to the needs of people, according to their economic standard of living.
Collaborative and sharing economics have always existed here. Considered the enviable new benchmark in Europe, Africa could specialize in collaborative innovation services to develop business models still unrecognized over there. But the subject and the opportunity is much more extensive than that …
With the new African leaders and visionaries who are setting up their theory of a winning Africa, the continent has an unexpected shooting window: to become the model of an inclusive circular economy based on the collaborative economy of which it is an expert, of economic advances that create a model of access to resources in an equitable way, allowing it to benefit from an economy that would remain under the enviable international threshold of 1.8 global hectare per capita.
Because the only place in the world where the billion people have in their DNA the notions of socio-economics collaboration coupled with the implementation of a model that preserves nations from going beyond the critical threshold of resources – of a planet consumed before December 31 of each year – is much easier to achieve than anywhere else on the globe.
Of course, visionary politicians and entrepreneurs must be at the rendezvous. But with a dynamic youth where many of them want to fight with the old monolithic powers, hope is now for this continent showing us the path of a future common to all.
Article written by Alexandre Lemille, co-founder of the African Network for Circular Economy (ACEN)