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Africa’s impending global impact could touch students with a variety of majors
Kenya’s Ambassador to the United Nations Martin Kimani, center, in suit and tie, with, immediately to the left, former United States Ambassador to Singapore Steven J. Green, benefactor and namesake of the hosting Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, and students. Kimani visited campus for a lecture to students followed by a gathering with Steven Green; Kimberly Green, namesake of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center; and members of the school's administration, among them Interim Dean Shlomi Dinar. Immediately right of Kimani, in the back row, is Mark Medish, founder of a nonpartisan civic education organization, who helped facilitate the ambassador's visit.

Africa’s impending global impact could touch students with a variety of majors

The African continent is poised to wield greater influence on the world, says Kenya's ambassador to the UN, who spoke to students about keeping peace, improving food security and launching new businesses

January 19, 2023 at 9:31am

On a campus with clear connections to Latin America and Europe came a powerful reminder this week: Africa poses huge opportunities for those who educate themselves.

Kenya’s Ambassador to the United Nations Martin Kimani spoke Tuesday to students in the Green School of International and Public Affairs during an in-depth, wide-ranging lecture that put into perspective why ignoring the continent is a mistake.

“Africa is going to be at the center of how the world changes and develops for the next few decades,” Kimani stated. 

Anyone aspiring to work in agriculture or engineering or with a mind to start a business should look at the possibilities in Africa, agreed Professor John Clark, an Africa expert who brought his class to the ambassador’s talk. 

“There will be opportunities to go design roads that can stand up to tropical conditions or design new, different kinds of energy systems,” Clark said of coming infrastructure needs. “[Kimani] alluded to all the business opportunities that were going to come with development. East Africa is developing, and it is developing rapidly. They actually manufacture cars in Kenya. I'm not talking about GM building a plant or Volkswagen building a plant. They have indigenous Kenyan car companies making cars. Nigeria is doing that too.” 

Among the facts that Kimani said will impact global considerations in the coming years: 

An exploding population. Africa’s current 1.34 billion people will grow to an estimated 2.5 billion by 2050. (The rise will be due to native births and not, as is the case in many Western countries, due to immigration.) 

An embrace of democracy, which is advancing, albeit slowly, across the continent, with Kenya a leader.

Rapid “urbanization.” By 2050, the majority of Africans will live in cities. But their fate will be very different, Kimani says, from that of people elsewhere who typically have gravitated to urban areas for jobs: informal employment networks and high unemployment are expected as a population of young people contends with unmet expectations. (Clark sees the potential for foreign entrepreneurs to capitalize on a steady stream of able labor should they want to open, for example, manufacturing plants or service centers.) 

A trove of mineral reserves. Rich in natural resources needed for the coming transition to green energy – such as up to 90% of the world’s cobalt and chromium – Africa will play a vital role in the ability to respond to climate change. (It also holds 80 percent of the world’s natural gas, 12 percent of oil reserves and the world’s largest reserves of diamonds, platinum and uranium.) 

Kimani is a seasoned statesman and diplomat. Most recently, he had a hand in ending the two-year Tigray War in Ethiopia that took an estimated 600,000 lives through violence and famine. 

He emphasized that other countries on the continent will have to work to prevent conflict by promoting vibrant civic society while also meeting the aspirations of young people who too often cannot find meaningful work. 

“If they don’t get the livelihood, what will they do with themselves?” he asked of the FIU students. “They consume the same media you do. They're on TikTok and Instagram like you are. They want the lifestyles of South Beach. So the expectations are high, the means are low but the weapons are plentiful,” the latter a reference to the pull of Muslim extremist groups in North Africa. 

In a further testament to Africa’s interconnectedness to the rest of the word, Kimani addressed the war in Ukraine, which Kenya immediately denounced as a breach of sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

“We knew that the war would have some impact on our people, but we didn’t even know how much,” he said. “Before last summer, I did not understand fertilizer and wheat as geopolitical forces, as drivers of the way that the world actually works. Suddenly, our farmers had to pay four and five times the [previous] price of fertilizer” as Russian and Ukraine together generate 28% of the world’s production. 

Kimani spoke of the huge potential, moving forward, for investment in agriculture – as Africa has vast tracts of arable land that could produce food much-needed for the continent and to export to China – as well as in other industries.  

The regional intergovernmental organization known as the East African Community comprises seven partner states and represents a sizeable, and growing, economic block. “We are going to be a market of close to 400 million people,” Kimani says of the group. “The infrastructure has to be built, the houses, the banks, the consumer goods, the services.”

Clark says that, to date, the United States has “squandered” the chance to “make investments that would pay off. So if you're in a business school, you should be thinking about this,” he added.

Addressing the students who attended as part of political science and international relations courses, Kimani suggested that they develop the tools of diplomacy critical for the coming times: a greater understanding of economics, including job creation and the levers of development; cutting-edge technology – AI, in particular – that can be employed for better analysis to improve decision-making; and, not least, strong ethical foundations that involve listening and compassion. Finally, he encouraged deepening negotiating skills.  

Sophomore Ibiza Delany appreciated the chance to hear firsthand from someone who works for the United Nations as she studies history and participates on FIUs Model United Nations team, which regularly takes up discussion of peace and security issues in preparation for collegiate competitions. 

“We do have these conversations daily,” she said, “It’s so important to understand what’s going on outside of the United States. I want to do Peace Corps [volunteer work]. I have to know what’s going on, what’s happening, if I’m protected when I go over there, what's happening to the people over there.”