The Challenge Facing African Countries
There is a growing sense of positiveness about the potential of the African continent to enjoy material progress in the twenty-first century. The notion of an African Renaissance, developed by President Mbeki in South Africa (Mbeki, 1999) but spreading through the continent, points to a new optimism among African leaders. This is replicated in the perception in development circles outside the continent that there are a number of positive political and economic examples to be found within Africa, such as Mauritius, Botswana, Uganda and Ghana. This optimism has also reached the discipline of economics, and papers and reports have begun to consider the evidence for an economic revival in all or part of Africa (e.g. Devarajan et al, 1999; Guillaumont & Chauvet, 1999; Killick, 1999; World Bank, 2000a).
On balance, it appears that the evidence for African economic growth is still limited in terms of its extent and likely sustainability. The number of Africans still in poverty is clearly unacceptable. Nonetheless, the positive sense of 'can do' regarding African development can be an important resource in dealing with the existing problems of poverty, infrastructure and structural distortions as well as the new challenges that will impact upon the continent in this new century.
At this point, it appears that the most pressing challenge for Africa is that of globalisation and related trends. The continent in general appears to be recovering somewhat from the economic crisis of the 1980s and has been able to regain some of its access to international markets. However, there is a clear danger that globalisation will once more turn the economic balance of power further in favour of those countries which are already wealthy. Increasing competition in global and domestic markets would seem to be most damaging for the continent that is presently the least competitive.
As we shall see in chapter 2, globalisation accounts suggest that competitiveness will increasingly be based on the knowledge possessed and utilised by individuals, enterprises and nations. This too appears to pose particular problems for Africa. Whilst the continent is producing more graduates than ever before at all levels of education, the overall situation remains serious, as we shall explore in further depth in chapter 4. Some statistics can help to illustrate the nature of the problem. Sixteen African countries showed falling primary enrolments in the first half of the 1990s, although Uganda and Malawi provided examples of major enrolment increases in the mid to late 1990s, and the trend is positive in absolute terms (Oxfam, 1999). Nonetheless, by 2015, on current trends, it is estimated that 75% of those out of school globally will be African. The average African child that entered school in the last year of the millennium is likely to get between 4 and 6 years of education, compared to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 15–17 years (Oxfam, 1999).
There are good reasons for questioning the desirability of globalisation, and the protests surrounding the 1999 Seattle Summit of the World Trade Organisation, and elsewhere, served to highlight several of the problems with the phenomenon. Nonetheless, our assumption in writing this book is that globalisation will have a significant impact on African peoples and economies for the foreseeable future. If this is true, then there is an imperative to ensure that strategies are developed that maximise equity and sustainable livelihoods and which empower individuals, communities and nations to survive and prosper under conditions of globalisation (DFID, 2000a). Our focus on enterprise and competitiveness is driven by these concerns.
In this light, African countries thus seem to face a very difficult challenge in achieving the necessary levels of competitiveness to perform well under conditions of globalisation. In chapter 4, we will explore the possibilities for education and argue that it is not just issues of educational quantity but also of quality that will need to be addressed.
As its core theme, this book will suggest that the development of a notion of learning-led competitiveness (Afenyadu et al, 2001) can help African countries in ensuring that the African Renaissance has real economic meaning and that the continent can successfully navigate the stormy waters of globalisation. It will explore in particular how learning systems can enhance individual livelihoods and enterprise success. Learning here encompasses schooling, institutional-based training, on-the-job learning and learning across enterprises. The concern with its relationship with competition arises from the impact of new processes of global competition on the struggle to achieve sustainable livelihoods. Across Africa, individuals, their communities and their nations are forced to compete in spite of unfavourable environments.
Although written primarily from the vantage point of educationalists, this book is also concerned about the possibilities for competitiveness at the level of the entrepreneur, enterprise and economy as a crucial element of any response to globalisation. It equally focuses on competitiveness at the level of the student, the learning institution and the society. In all this discussion, the primary focus of this book will be on the role that learning can play in promoting such competitiveness. It is assumed that there is broad sense in arguments which suggest that knowledge and skills are increasingly crucial factors of production and elements in competitive advantage, a discussion that will be examined in chapter 2. The book also considers the ways in which a focus on learning-led competitiveness allows new questions to be raised about the performance of education and training institutions and systems. It examines evidence about education and training performance in this new light and raises a series of important questions for future developments.
In what follows, we seek to explore how such a focus shapes our current understanding of the challenge facing enterprise development. Given the powerful arguments in favour of the relative efficiency of smaller enterprises (McGrath & King, 1996) and the preponderance of such enterprises in many African contexts (Mead, 1999), the principal focus here will be on micro and small enterprises (MSEs). This focus, however, cannot be totally divorced from a consideration of the health of larger enterprises. Indeed, relationships between enterprises of different sizes can be an important element of a learning-led competitiveness approach.
We do not want to overstress the notion of competitiveness. At the heart of the widespread activist critique of the World Trade Organisation is a perception that competition becomes the sole factor to be considered in developing policy and legislative frameworks. Moreover, there are growing concerns with overcompetition amongst MSEs. Importantly, the book also reflects the possibility of a creative tension between competition and cooperation. We shall also emphasise 'learning to cooperate', particularly through inter-firm linkages, as chapter 6 will illustrate.
There are cases in which competitiveness seems very far from reality. Nonetheless, it is the contention of this book that strategies to survive must increasingly become strategies to compete better in markets increasingly impacted upon by globalisation. At the core of the globalisation message is the argument that pockets of activity isolated from the global market are rapidly diminishing. It is essential, therefore, that policy interventions and projects that seek to help the poor survive better are closely intertwined with policies for competitiveness.
Our book will range across three sectors: education, skills development and enterprise development. Factors such as the international development architecture have tended to encourage separate thinking in each of them. However, at the heart of our approach is a stress on thinking beyond the sector. The current donor attempts to develop sector programme support almost necessitates a counterbalancing emphasis on the need to think supra-sectorally. The emphasis of this book is on an approach that sees connections between sectors.
To advocate the importance of thinking and acting supra-sectorally is not to underestimate the difficulties entailed. It is challenging in terms of structures. There is a danger of cross-cutting structures undermining capacity development in line ministries. It is challenging in terms of staff. Human resources in both donor agencies and Southern governments (not to mention civil society) are already stretched and a supra-sectoral approach would stretch them even further. Nonetheless, whilst supra-sectorality is challenging, it is the way forward. Moreover, there are signs of donor and government concerns in this area, including the World Bank's 'Comprehensive Development Framework' and 'Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper' approaches (see chapter 3). The supra-sectoral core of this book is the need to see crucial linkages between education, skills development and enterprise development. The importance of this connectivity is highlighted by current economic trends towards globalisation, post-Fordism and the knowledge economy. Globalisation highlights the importance of education and skills development and stresses knowledge for development (Reich, 1991; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean-United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation [ECLAC-UNESCO], 1992; World Bank, 1998), as we shall examine in chapter 2. Through its close association with post-Fordism, globalisation also highlights the importance of enterprise. This book argues that the challenge of globalisation for poverty eradication policies necessitates a stronger focus on the broad connectivities between education, skills development and enterprise. One crucial poverty challenge is the danger of exclusion of whole countries from the global knowledge economy (Oxfam, 1999).
The only aspect of education, skills development and enterprise featured in the International Development Targets set in Copenhagen, and restated in Geneva, is basic education. However, this book seeks to show that a broader vision of education, training and enterprise should inform social development strategies.
We have chosen to focus on the notion of MSEs rather the informal sector. This is done to signal a concern with connectedness amongst enterprises of different sizes. It highlights the growth potential of MSEs but also the limitations that their size can bring. It also helps thinking to move away from the duality and divisions inherent in the notion of an informal sector. Nonetheless, whilst we wish to keep the notion of connectivity in our sights, the reality of these enterprises is one of segmentation more than a continuum. The book has a concern with emergent entrepreneurs. This leads to an interest in what, in the present circumstances, makes for a successful transition to some notion of sustainable production. Ideally, this would be amongst the segments and in the niches that are thriving and enjoying higher average incomes than formal sector workers.
This book arises from work commissioned by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development: the 'Learning to Compete' project. The project developed a partnership amongst researchers in four countries: Ghana, Kenya, Scotland and South Africa, and this was reflected in the joint and collective authorship of the final project report (Afenyadu et al, 2001). This book draws on the 28 papers produced by the research team. We are also influenced by the discussions of a conference that linked into the project and to the debates that were contained in an edited volume that arose out of the conference (King & McGrath, 1999). Three project workshops, which brought together project staff, DFID advisers and other researchers interested in the issues raised by the project, also have influenced our thinking, as have opportunities to disseminate the project's findings subsequent to its official end. However, the book also seeks to move beyond the discussions that took place during the life of the project, particularly in the depth of its considerations of the impact of globalisation, post-Fordism and the knowledge economy on sectoral and cross-sectoral concerns. Moreover, its interpretations are those of two of the project team, not the whole group.
In what follows, we will draw upon a large amount of evidence gathered in the three countries that were the direct focus of the 'Learning to Compete' project. Whilst concerned to examine the broader salience of a series of core themes, we take the view that the contextual dimension is essential. Therefore, considerable use is made within chapters 2_6 of material from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, presented as a series of case studies. There is no attempt made to make these case studies tightly comparable and each theme will not necessarily have three case studies to illustrate it. Rather, we assume that national experiences are often quite disparate and themes are frequently of varied relevance to national debates. This reflects the strategy used in the 'Learning to Compete' project where national research leaders were asked to develop their own research programmes based on, but not tightly controlled by, an overall project concept. Choice of case study countries in this book is clearly important. Ghana, Kenya and South Africa can all be seen as comprising part of the 'Africa that works' (King, 1999a) for whom economic progress and partnership with donors appears plausible. Their experiences may be seen as rather distant from those of the other Africa typified by Congo Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Nonetheless, our intention in this book is to try to point to positive African attempts to respond to difficult economic challenges. In this light, the lessons of partial success appear to be the most useful area of focus.
It is also important to be clear about the types of data that this book utilises. Our focus ranges across levels of analysis, capturing the perceptions of students and entrepreneurs; analysing institutional strategies; and exploring policy developments. Each level of focus requires a particular lens that highlights certain features but makes others indistinct. It is intended that the different focal lengths employed will help to develop a complex account of reality that is analytically and descriptively superior to a single-level approach. The focus on policy is perhaps most in need of a health warning, particularly in a study that has concerns with informality and the micro and small enterprise sector. Much of what happens in terms of enterprise development, technological transfer and skills development that interests us occurs independent of, or in spite of, policy rather than because of it (King, 1996). Policies often exist as pronouncements and, frequently in our case study countries, are there as much to mobilise donor support as for the development of implementation programmes. Nonetheless, good, well-implemented policies can have a limited but important positive impact on livelihoods.
In developing both the case studies and the overall argument of the book, we have been aware of the methodological challenges of conducting cross-national research. Our decision not to have comparable national case studies in the narrow sense was based on a strong concern with preventing meaning being forced on to national experiences. We are interested in the salience of our arguments beyond the three case study countries. However, we are mindful of the importance of both historical and geographical variations in context and the impossibility of generalisability in the positivistic sense. Our findings are intended to be the stimulus to further consideration of the issues raised both in the case study countries and elsewhere.
The Structure of the Rest of the Book
This book brings together three areas: debates about the impact of globalisation on development thinking and practice; sectoral responses to globalisation in education, training and enterprise development; and national experiences related to all these issues in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. To mould these together, chapter 2 seeks to outline the core of current thinking about globalisation, post-Fordism and the knowledge economy, and chapter 3 presents international discourses and national debates in our three case study countries. Chapters 4_6 then take this context and link it to trends within and amongst the three sectors identified. Chapter 4 examines education and considers the appropriateness of current international education targets for broader challenges of economic growth and poverty alleviation. It argues for greater educational understanding of economic contexts and develops the concept of 'learning-led competitiveness' as a way of exploring possible educational responses to globalisation. Chapter 5 addresses skills development and the challenges and opportunities brought about by the forces analysed in Chapter 2. It explores the pressures on public provision and its possible contribution to responses to globalisation, especially in facilitating (self) employment in productive areas of the micro and small enterprise sector. It also considers the role of other providers, having a particular concern with analysing the contribution of apprenticeship systems within the MSE sector and the issue of intervention therein. Chapter 6 then shifts attention to that sector itself and explores the possibility for African MSEs to become learning enterprises and the constraints to this. It also addresses the policy process for enterprise development and its ability to address current and future sectoral needs. Although these chapters focus on each of the three sectors in turn, it is intended that they each reflect the interconnectedness of the three sectors. The chapters are thus primarily about how each particular sector interacts with the others and are not intended to be pure sectoral overviews. Finally, in chapter 7, some possible ways forward for policy, practice and research are identified.
 Both enterprise development and skills development may actually be subsumed under a number of different line ministries at the national level. However, in so far as they are areas with relatively clearly defined stakeholders, experts, policies, etc., they manifest key elements of sectorality.