Representatives of 30 African countries have been working this week to map out ways to stop the continent’s mass rural exodus at the Forum on Rural Development in Yaounde.
Emmanuel Afessi works on his desk top at Odja center in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, where he is training 30 youths on information technologies at the center he created when he returned from the United States a year ago.
"Africa needs to produce its own knowledge, its own equipment and that is why we want to train people within the continent," he said. "ICTs help close the gap between the developed and the developing world much faster than any technology including the motor vehicles. It is a large contributor to most African countries GDPs today. Think about just the whole aspects of internet and mobile phone. That is a huge multi-billion dollar market."
The 33-year-old Afessi says he was unemployed and fled to Paris and then the United States, where he was denied refugee status. He says he could not find work and decided to return home, sell his fathers piece of land, and open the ICT center.
Afessi was part of Africa's rapidly growing population of emigrants. The U.N. Refugee Agency reports estimates this year nearly 47,000 migrants have reached Italy, the vast majority of them Sub-Saharan Africans.
A representative of Kenyan civil society organizations at the Forum on Rural Development, Vitalis Abbasi, says many of the migrants are highly educated, but unemployed and are travelling from rural areas in search of opportunities.
"If the roads were good, the energy systems was well, we could also access information and communication technologies, a lot of people will stay in those areas," said Abbasi. "We could lift people up in those areas by pulling agriculture production up. So once people get a bit more money in their pockets, it is now easier for the rest of the economy to grow because when a lot of rural people have a bit more money in their pockets, even up to $2 per day average, they start consuming industrial goods, also manufacturing our own goods, rather than always depending on importing."
Experts from 30 African countries adopted what they call the Yaounde declaration that invites Africa to invest more in the rural areas youths are deserting. They say Africa is losing its trained human capital if current trends continue.
The head of program implementation at the New Partnership for Africa's Development, Estherine Fotabong, says governments should have the political will to create enabling environments with the private sector and civil society groups.
"We still have the majority of Africans living in rural areas, despite the rapid urbanization rates and from different studies the projection is that up to 2035 that will still be the case," said Fotabong. "We still have most Africans employed in agriculture and we still have lots of land in our rural areas, so why not invest in social amenities, in infrastructure, in better education systems, in industrialization in rural areas so that youths will not see any reason to leave the rural areas to go to the cities."
The Yaounde declaration is accompanied by a call for action that requests African heads of state to support the implementation of an action plan being developed to stop Africans from having to make the dangerous trip to Europe.