African leaders discuss future of Africa beyond 2015
Africa’s development agenda beyond 2015 was at the heart of discussions at the 15th International Economic Forum in Africa: “Africa beyond 2015”, which took place in Berlin on 9 September 2015.
The high-level conference called for renewed momentum toward innovative development strategies that would allow the continent to chart a more inclusive and sustainable growth, particularly in light of new cooperation frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Financing for Development, the African Union Commission’s Agenda 2063 and its Common African Position.
The conference began by taking stock of the current socio-economic situation across the continent. Currently six out of ten of the fastest growing world economies are located in Africa and many African economies have positively weathered the repercussions of the global financial crisis and the downturn in global prices, notes the OECD in its press release. According to the OECD, Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2015 and 5 percent in 2016 after subdued expansion in 2013 (3.5%) and 2014 (3.9%).
“In the long-term, the stakes are high: transforming African economies, ending poverty, preserving the environment and ensuring well-being and prosperity,” the release highlights.
On the downside, however, participants agreed that poverty and hunger rates remain stubbornly high, progress in health and education is uneven, and huge inequalities persist between and within countries, and between women and men, it further remarks. Furthermore, low productivity and investment as well as weak or non-existent infrastructure are holding back economic and development progress.
Africa’s development agenda
During the first session entitled ‘Beyond 2015: Africa’s Development Agenda’, the discussion centred around the challenges and opportunities at the heart of Africa’s development agenda.
With the recent adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals and United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, panellists addressed the question of how Africa could play a more prominent role in setting the global development agenda as well as increase its ownership over the various post-2015 frameworks, converting the multitude of objectives into concrete action.
Currently it was emphasised that Africa ought to play an important role in the global development agenda with its “Common Africa Position” which currently highlights six priorities: structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; science, technology and innovation; human-centred development; environmental sustainability, natural resources management and risk management of natural disasters; peace and security and finance and partnership.
Climate change and agriculture
The second session, ‘Climate Change and Agricultural Transformation in Africa’ welcomed Kofi Annan as the guest of honour who argued that the future of the continent will depend on the quality of its leadership, on structural investments in renewable energy and agriculture, and on the forthcoming UN climate change conference in Paris.
“If left unchecked, climate change will turn vast areas of productive land in Africa into dust bowls, creating widespread hunger and mass displacement of rural populations,” warned Kofi Annan, President of the Africa Progress Panel.
“In fact, climate change represents an unprecedented opportunity for governments, investors, firms and citizens to work together to develop and deploy the low-carbon technologies, which can drive sustainable growth,” he then reiterated, before acknowledging that several countries in the region, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa, are among the world’s pioneers in climate-resilient, low-carbon development. Ethiopia has set an ambition to achieve zero-net emission status by 2027, he further emphasises.
On the issue of agricultural transformation, Annan notes that “every year, Africa spends around $35 billion on importing food”. He calls on Africa governments to implement policies that increase public and private investment in agriculture, and reduce risk, while at the same time urging developed countries to remove unfair trade barriers and eliminate harmful agricultural export subsidies.
Also forming part of the discussions were various policy options for making Africa’s agricultural sector more resilient to climate change.
The last session, tackling the question ‘Can regional development help Africa tap its demographic dividend?’, began with statistics telling that by 2050, Africa will be home to an additional 1.2 billion people, and more than 47 million young people entering the labour market annually. As a result, speakers attending the debate stressed that Africa faces urgent demographic and structural challenges.
Focusing on regional development strategies and local assets as one possible solution to these challenges, the panel discussed the effectiveness of special economic zones, economic corridors, strategies for lagging regions and slum upgrading, to mention a few policy options, for promoting regional development, overcoming spatial inequalities, mobilising local resources and creating productive employment opportunities.
The importance of the Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda “to speak with one voice and to act in unity to ensure that Africa’s voice is heard and is fully integrated into the global development agenda,” was also highlighted during the feature address of President Mahama of Ghana.
The conference, which has taken place for the past 15 years (although normally in Paris at the OECD Headquarters), was organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Centre, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the German Federal Foreign Office in partnership with the African Union.
Also present at the event were Stephan Kapferer, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, former German President Horst Köhler, Kofi Annan, President of the Africa Progress Panel and Chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as more than 500 Forum participants including OECD and African policy makers, private sector representatives, academics and civil society.
ICTSD reporting: “Africa Forum 2015 – High-level international conference in Berlin: leaders call for renewed momentum”, OECD, 9 September 2015; “Seizing Africa’s Energy, Agriculture and Climate Opportunities: Address by Kofi Annan at the Africa Forum 2015”, Tralac, 11 September 2015; “Africa: making growth more inclusive hinges on unlocking potential of local economies, says the African Economic Outlook 2015”, Tralac, 26 May 2015.