AfDB launches African Economic Outlook 2015 report in Nordic capitals

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The African Development Bank has just concluded three back-to-back African Economic Outlook 2015 information seminars in the Nordic capitals of Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki. The seminars followed an invitation extended to the Bank’s Development Research Department in June by a visiting Danish delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch the AEO 2015 report in the Nordic countries. The AfDB mission included Heikki Tuunanen, Executive Director for Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and India; Abebe Shimeles, Acting Director, Development Research Department; and Anthony Simpasa, Principal Research Economist, Networking and Research Partnerships.

The first of the three events was held in Oslo on October 6, followed by Copenhagen on October 7, before concluding in Helsinki on October 8. The Bank team was joined in Denmark by Henri-Bernard Solignac-Lecomte from the OECD Development Centre, one of the partner institutions for the AEO. In Helsinki, the event was hosted jointly with the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UN-WIDER), while the Oslo seminar was held at the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs. All three events were attended by high-level government officials.

In his keynote speech, Morten Høglund, the State Secretary of Norway, underscored his country’s commitment to Africa’s development, noting the Bank’s strong leadership in this process. Africa has made tremendous progress, but more needs to be done to translate the gains into meaningful development outcomes, especially employment creation for the youth, he said.

In Copenhagen, Birgitte Markussen, Head of the Africa Department at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lauded the strong partnership between the Bank and her country, noting that Denmark remains committed to promoting Africa’s development and will strengthen its collaboration with the Bank under the leadership of the new Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina.

The theme of the AEO 2015 Report – “Regional Development and Spatial Inclusion” – could not have been more appropriate in addressing Africa’s spatial inequality, Sinikka Antila, former Finnish Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania, observed. Echoing opening remarks by Pekka Puustinen, Director General at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Antila noted that African countries need a concrete development model such as the one outlined in the report and Finland provides some valuable lessons on best practices. Like many African countries, Tanzania has enormous development potential, she said, but this has not been fully exploited, due in part to the lack of a coherent development strategy and weak institutions.

AfDB Executive Director Heikki Tuunanen explained that the Bank’s interventions can only be as effective as the strength of the countries’ political and governance institutions, and development interventions must be informed by evidence-based research. The Bank is therefore both a “Development Bank and a Knowledge Bank”, he emphasized throughout the tour of the three Nordic capitals. He further noted that the African Development Bank has one niche – “it is an African Bank working for Africa’s development” and three words – “Inclusive Green Growth”, sustainable growth that is good for the environment and is felt by all – define the Bank’s central mandate.

In the presentations, the Bank team highlighted the profound impact of global headwinds and regional factors on African economies. In particular, falling commodity prices have had an economic impact, especially in commodity-exporting countries. This is likely to lower Africa’s growth in the medium-term. These problems have been compounded by China’s slowing growth, prolonged economic challenges in Europe and prospects of a rise in interest rates in the United States. Across Africa, pockets of conflict and poor governance could also hold back Africa’s growth in the medium-term. Participants also raised concern on the potential danger of a debt build-up in selected African countries facing macroeconomic imbalances such as sharp depreciations of their currencies.

The key message arising from the report presentations was that regional development in Africa must be holistic in nature, addressing problems presented by changing demographic dynamics, including high youth unemployment and spatial inequality. Infrastructure development must be accelerated and local assets will remain crucial to addressing Africa’s localized poverty and inequalities.