Africa is Going for Smart Solutions

Kodjo E Mensah-Abrampa

Too often, progress made across Africa’s many and varied countries goes unrecognised.

In Europe or the United States, the continent only makes headlines when a country is in crisis or people are in need.

Negative narratives overshadow the continent’s many advances – including policy breakthroughs and approaches that would inspire the world.

Many African countries have experienced significant economic growth over the past two decades.

Africa’s GDP growth is outpacing the global average, driven by increased foreign investment, improved governance and a growing middle class.

Entrepreneurs and innovators are driving change and creating opportunities: Several hubs have emerged for technological innovation, particularly in the mobile and fintech sectors.

Mobile money services in Kenya and Ghana have revolutionised financial transactions and increased access to banking services for millions of people continent-wide.


Africa’s young population presents a demographic dividend, with a large, growing workforce that can drive economic growth and innovation.

Many governments are investing more in education and skills training to harness this potential.

There have been notable improvements in healthcare and education outcomes in some African countries.

Increased access to healthcare services, improved sanitation and hygiene and efforts to combat diseases like HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis have contributed to longer life expectancy and improved quality of life.

While Africa still faces numerous challenges, including poverty, inequality and conflicts in some regions, it is important to recognise the significant progress made and the immense potential for further development and prosperity.

As African nations strive to progress faster, it is crucial to focus on areas where policies can be most effective.

No nation, rich or poor, has the resources to achieve all good things at once.

Unfortunately, the international approach that the world needs to address all issues at the same time, at full speed – while well-intentioned – has not been helpful.

In the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world has promised everything to everyone: To fix hunger and poverty, tackle corruption, climate change and war, improve education, provide jobs, healthcare and opportunities, along with a bewildering array of major and minor promises such as developing more urban gardens.

While all these policies are desirable, not all are equally achievable with limited resources.

That is why we have worked together with the Copenhagen Consensus think tank and many of the world’s leading economists to ask which policies across all these many promises could achieve the most good.

Thomas Chataghalala Munthali and Bjorn Lomborg


We asked the same question in country-focused projects in Ghana and Malawi.

Researchers found exceptionally effective policies that deliver huge benefits at low cost and these can help inspire countries worldwide.

In Malawi, for example, economic research by the National Planning Commission revealed that using Technology Assisted Learning to improve education is one of the most effective policies, delivering 106 kwachas of social good for every kwacha spent.

This is one of the reasons why Malawi’s government scaled up foundational skills, teaching and learning through cost-effective tablet-based adaptive technology.

This has already reached almost half a million children.

The goal is to get adaptive learning on tablets to all 3,5 million children in standards 1 to 4 over this decade.

In Ghana, research pointed to the power of digitisation to streamline bureaucracy and cut down waiting times and uncertainty for citizens.

Ghana’s metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) – responsible for infrastructure and service delivery – still depend on central government transfers to fund their development, generating only about 20% of their total budget through own resources.

Streamlined, digitised revenue collection has the potential to improve their autonomy.

Digitising property and business fees can make tax collection more efficient and will help municipalities provide the best possible services to citizens.

Calculating time and money saved, the total benefits of the implementation calculated for an average MMDA are GH¢ 4,3 million, which means each cedi spent yields a return nearly nine times higher.


Across Africa, more countries need to identify and prioritise policies that will deliver the most bang for the buck.

The current focus on achieving everything for everyone embodied in the SDGs, though well intentioned, is not really helping.

Even the UN admits that these goals are failing. Promising everything means nothing is a priority.

Continent-wide, countries are tapping into their huge potential for growth and development. We can speed up that progress by first focusing on the most effective policies.

  • * Kodjo E Mensah-Abrampa is director general of Ghana’s National Development Planning Commission. Thomas Chataghalala Munthali is director general of Malawi’s National Planning Commission. Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus and author of ‘Best Things First’.

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