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Launching a $500Million Fund As the First Step to Lift 200Million Africans Out of Poverty

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In New York City for the UN General Assembly, an Anglo African hanging with my African American and African brothers and sisters, I am truly taken by the way that we are talking about Africa as a place whose time has come. Fifty years ago the creation of the African Union and its sister institution, the African Development Bank, signified the accession of African independence from centuries old colonialism. Fifty years has also passed since Dr. King proclaimed: "Now is the time to make justice for all God's children". And it's 150 years since Abraham Lincoln freed so many millions of our people. With Africa aspiring, Africa rising, no longer a hopeless continent of poverty amongst oceans of prosperity, in Obama's Presidency; it is time to forge a new relationship between Africa and America.

We are celebrating these 50 years passed with the launch of the first stage of the Africa50 Fund on 26th September 2013 with an opening of the Nasdaq in New York. The Fund represents Africa's largest and most important infrastructure delivery vehicle created to date and will include two sub-vehicles: Project Development and Project Financing. The first of these will be a $500mn fund to be launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB) with my Made In Africa Foundation supported by the fund expertise of Capri Capital, based in Chicago and set up by African American fund manager Quintin Primo III.

I formed the Made In Africa Foundation (MIAF) last year with the highly successful Nigerian entrepreneur, Kola Aluko, and the lawyer, Chris Cleverly, when we worked out that just a few hundred million dollars of investment in the project development, feasibility studies and financeable plans for the infrastructure projects that will power, connect and enable African growth would create the opportunity for $100bn of project financing to build these plans and the continent. This in turn could lift the continent's GDP by 2% and bring 200 million people out of poverty.

Within a year of our advocacy, it became clear that Donald Kaberuka, President of the AfDB, was thinking along the same lines. Namely that, amidst the growth created by rising commodity prices and mobile telephony, infrastructure was the key to permanent continental growth.

The African Union and the African Development Bank were created to promote the unity and solidarity of African States and act as a collective voice for the continent. But unity was not a concept that could be developed by political will alone. Unity is not the meeting of states and leaders but the movement, social and economic, of its peoples. It has no meaning unless it is the ability of the coal miner in Botswana to power a plant in Angola or the farmer in Uganda to export fruit to those short of food in Northern Kenya.

It is often said that Africa is blessed with 60% of the world's uncultivated, arable land but this will only be a blessing once the land has actually been cultivated and the produce from that land transported to its markets. It matters not that Lake Kivu in Rwanda is host to a gas supply that could double the amount of electricity in the region or the Congo's Inga hydro-electric project could power Southern Africa if the distribution infrastructure is not available.

It was railways that opened up the prairies of North America and the Steppes along the Trans Siberian Railway, uniting the States and federating the Russians, and bringing grain to feed their conurbations and coal to power their industrial growth. It is this that inspired China, the latest superpower, to implement a $250billion domestic rail investment. And Africa will follow their example.

As I emphasized in my short film "Our Future, Made in Africa":

In 2010 China ranked first in exports to the world market with merchandise export sales of more than $1.5trillion and a world market share of 10.4%. In 1998, China had less than 2% of the world market. Africa has presently 3% but with 15% of the world's population, 60% of world's uncultivated arable land and a fast growing proportion of the world's discovered valuable natural resources. Africa's potential for growth over the next 10 years is greater than China's over the same period.

Over the past decade the simple unweighted average of global country growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia. Over the next five years Africa is likely to take the lead. In other words: the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart. Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist of Renaissance Capital estimates that Africa's GDP will increase from $2trillion to $29trillion (in today's money) by 2050. Africa will produce more GDP than the combined economies of the US and Eurozone do today.

Presently, however, lack of an adequate transportation ecosystem adds as much as 60% to the ex-farm-gate cost of African agricultural products. In practical terms this means the farm-gate price of palm oil in Sierra Leone is more than double the world market price. Intra-African trade remains highly external in its orientation. This lamentable feature of Africa's trade means that trade between African states stands at only 10% of all trade, compared to 60% in Europe.

Of course it is not only lack of infrastructure that has created this state of affairs: restrictive customs procedures, administrative and technical barriers, and lack of trade finance have played their part. But on a continent where 13 countries still lack a functioning railway system, lack of adequate infrastructure - let alone state-of-the art stock and track such as China is currently laying down - is a huge impediment. And so Made In Africa has made infrastructure their tenet for advocacy.

In short, we sought to galvanise a donor development mentality that had grown giddy on the feel good of quick fixes and guilt remediation. Africa's history has been characterised by the deployment of foreign munitions and charitable aid. Neither of which have worked. At best they have been a bandage on an endemic trauma. Regional integration through coherent infrastructure strategy is the key to peace. As the Americans proved when their Marshall Plan (named after then Secretary of State George Marshall) to rebuild Europe, after World War II, modernised Europe's defunct infrastructure, removed trade barriers and made Europe prosperous again, thus ensuring peace in the region for 65 years.

Once countries and people share interests and assets in common, it is much harder for them to go to war with each other. They have a mutual desire for the other's survival as their economic well-being becomes balanced with the one another.

The peoples and continents of the world are not separate, they are part of the same social and economic system: a system that must return to balance and harmony. Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa are like four horses pulling a carriage. Starving one horse may mean that the others are fuller but the carriage won't get anywhere fast. By letting each and every horse feed, heaven knows what horizons we might cross together.

The growing populations of Africa are part of the solution to the world's problems; they not the demographic time bomb that doomsters like Dan Brown in his novel Inferno would have you believe. As a designer I have to look for solutions; I do not have the luxury to indulge calamities as fiction writers do. As we invest in Africa's growth and the wealth of the people increases, like in Asia, the birth rate will decrease dramatically. South Korea's birth rate decreased from about 4 children to 1.9 in the space of a generation. Rwanda's birth rate has already decreased from 6.1 to 4.5 over 5 years.

If the world economy is to get beyond boom and bust, it requires African creators, farmers, workers, industrialists and leaders to be given the tools and the opportunities to play their part for the good of all. It requires an efficient use of the world's resources where processing plants and factories are sited near the raw materials and energy sources. It requires the positive growth of a strong African middle class of consumers of global goods and access to a life worthwhile for all.

Consequently, this well-being and economic gain extends across the globe, as peace enables the industrialised nations to invest in Africa's growth paying fair prices and due taxes. The world population will plateau, within another 50 years, settling at our optimum population. And then our distributed intelligence - our cloud humanity - will have to dream new dreams for our common goals; the older ones of inequality foreseeably satisfied.

Virtuous behaviour creates more virtuous behaviour; it's not rocket science. A report based on statistics compiled between 2010 and 2012 by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has not surprisingly found the world has become "...a slightly happier and more generous place over the past five years", and this will grow.

A decade ago we were still blind to this shift to a benevolent momentum. The Economist magazine called Africa "The Hopeless Continent". In particular, it damned Sierra Leone as an exemplar for the continent's misfortunes:

"Sierra Leone manifests all the continent's worst characteristics. It is an extreme, but not untypical, example of a state with all the epiphenomena and none of the institutions of government. It has poverty and disease in abundance, and riches too: its diamonds sustain the rebels who terrorise the place. It is unusual only in its brutality: rape, cannibalism and amputation have been common, with children often among the victims... In itself, Sierra Leone is of no great importance. If it makes any demands on the world's attention, beyond the simple one of sympathy for its people, it is as a symbol for Africa."

By 2012, with peace enshrined, the IMF had estimated that with GDP growth of 35%, Sierra Leone had the fastest growing economy in the world. And now an analysis by The Economist reveals that over the ten years to 2010, six out of the world's fastest-growing economies were in Sub Sahara Africa.

Reality is a combination of what is there, what we think is there and what could be there.

It is almost impossible for humans to describe what is actually there: there is too much information for them to digest, too much opportunity for omissions, to great a reliance on perception. And as for what is actually there, well that's too laden with prejudice, too inward looking to be useful in creating anything much more than inertia.

It is wiser to concentrate our vision of Africa, instead, on what could be there. To change the continent we must overlay our perception of it with its potentials and possibilities. To create an Africa of clean water, homes worthy of the name and lights that never grow dim, we must choose amongst those alternative futures of Africa, the most positive. This is leadership - to strive for the best.

To choose, without fear or compromise, from those Africas which could exist, those that would be best for all of our people, for its environment and for the globe. Back in 2007, before we set up the Foundation, myself, Chris and Prince Hassan Kimbugwe of Uganda first conceived of Made In Africa by co-hosting the state banquet for the African Union in Ghana, my motherland, before 53 African presidents, setting before them a vision of a better Africa that seemed a naïve and impossible dream.

But don't all radical dreams - whether political or economic, right or left - require us to make bold steps and throw caution to the wind? As African revolutionary, Thomas Sankara said:

"I would like to leave behind me the conviction that if we maintain a certain amount of caution and organisation we deserve victory. You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invest the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to act with extreme clarity today. We must dare to invent the future"

Ozwald Boateng is an internationally renowned designer and founder of Made In Africa Foundation
The Made in Africa Foundation is on Facebook and has a YouTube channel and a website.

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