As Africa comes together to deliberate the next step forward
By Kelechi Anyanwu
This year’s annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB), which is the 48th meetings of the Bank and 39th meetings of the African Development Fund (ADF), is unique in many respects. Not only is the AfDB annual meetings back in Morocco 39 years after the country first hosted it, it is taking place at a time Africa is having a serious discussion with itself on the need to take its destiny in its hands. Interestingly, the gathering in Marrakech is coming few days after African leaders converged on Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital to continue the search for solutions to the continent’s development challenges.
Themed “Africa’s Structural Transformation,” these meetings, while addressing the kind of growth Africa needs to make a real dent on poverty, will assess the Bank’s 2012 operations, its 2013 development funding portfolio, and the challenges of climate change, infrastructure, private sector and governance.
Many see the Marrakech meetings as very auspicious in that it will provide the ample opportunity for heart-to-heart talk on how to jump-start continent-wide economic growth that is sustainable and equitable. Evidently, the time has come to change the way the continent does business in terms of political and economic governance.
The AfDB meetings will give the thousands of delegates and other participants the opportunity to see the awesome city of Marrakech whose history dates back to thousands of years, and experience the legendary hospitality of Moroccans. The Bank’s Executive Director for Morocco, Mohamed Mahroug describes it as a melting pot of Arab, Berber, African and European cultures. The city will equally provide the much-needed space for African leaders to consider some very bold proposals they have been mulling in the last few years, especially on infrastructure. One key proposal will be the Africa Infrastructure Fund, a Special Purpose Vehicle to raise money in the markets for high return infrastructure projects that will help Africa to unlock its potential.
Indeed, Bank President Donald Kaberuka has noted that infrastructure upgrade is inevitable and imperative. Addressing African leaders few days ago at Addis Ababa, Dr Kaberuka said Africa’s rising population and urbanisation have huge implications for the continent’s infrastructure.
According to him, “the massive discovery of new mineral resources, gas and oilfields will demand a huge scale in infrastructure from rail, maritime ports, mass transit systems etc. These will provide large opportunities for jobs and higher productivity for the economies as a whole. These are things which will require attention’’.
Albert Ngoya, an investment banker from South Africa, says this is indeed going to be the busiest week in the African calendar this year given the quality of the topics lined up in the over six High Level Seminars. These seminars reflect the various areas the Bank believes attention should be given in Africa—financing infrastructure; inclusive growth; urbanization; natural resource management; global value chains; demographic dividend, among others.
Top on the agenda of these meetings is the Bank’s Ten-Year Strategy (2013 – 2022), which among others focuses on sustainable inclusive green growth. According to a statement posted on the Bank’s website, the Strategy reflects the aspirations of the entire African continent, firmly rooted in a deep understanding and experience of how far Africa has come in the last decade, and where it wishes to go to in the next.
“Africa has embarked on a process of economic transformation. This process has seen solid and sustained growth over a decade, but it has been uneven and without a sufficiently firm foundation. It is not, by any estimation, complete,’’ the statement says.
The Strategy is designed to place the Bank at the centre of Africa’s transformation and to improve the quality of Africa’s growth. It aims to broaden and deepen the process of transformation, mainly by ensuring that growth is shared and not isolated, for all African citizens and countries, not just for some. It also aims to bring about growth that is not just environmentally sustainable, but also economically empowering. As the Bank notes, “when growth is inclusive as well as green, it creates the jobs that the continent needs now and that it will need in ever greater numbers as millions more young people enter the job market, with energies and aspirations to match”.
Already, participants have been presented with the 2013 African Economic Report. Produced annually by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the OECD Development Centre, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP,) the report was made available on Monday, May 27.
The continent’s economic outlook for 2013 and 2014, it says, is promising, confirming its healthy resilience to internal and external shocks and its role as a growth pole in an ailing global economy. Africa’s economy is projected to grow 4.8 percent in 2013 and accelerate further to 5.3 percent in 2014. The report, however, shows this growth has been accompanied by insufficient poverty reduction, persisting unemployment, increased income inequalities and in some countries, deteriorating levels of health and education.
Mario Pezzini, Director at the OECD Development Centre agrees. He says “growth is not enough. African countries must provide the right conditions for turning natural resources into jobs, optimise their resource revenues through smart taxation and help investors and locals to make the most of linkages”.
Emmanuel Nnadozie, Director, Macroeconomic Policy Division at the ECA, notes that “access to markets is fundamental to structural transformation based on natural resources. Regional integration and better access to the markets of large partners could open new opportunities for all”.
For authors of the report, “now is the time to step up the tempo of economic transformation, so that African economies become more competitive and create more gainful jobs. Widening the sources of economic activity is fundamental to meeting this challenge”.
The 2013 African Economic Report suggests that African countries must tap into their natural resource wealth to accelerate the pace of growth and ensure the process can benefit ordinary Africans.
But African countries will have to create the right conditions for such a transformation to take place, including infrastructure, education and the creation of larger and more competitive markets.
Prof. Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the AfDB sums it up: “Now is the time. After 10 years of improved stability, sound macroeconomic policies and blossoming trade links, growth has made African nations freer than ever to choose their own development paths and implement active policies for economic transformation.”