AfDB Research Department Brainstorms: “How do We Build a Stronger Continent Now?”

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has played a key role in helping Africa adequately respond to the global financial crisis. Now that the crisis is over, how does the future look like for African countries and what role will the Bank knowledge activities play in building stronger African continent? What should be the role of research at the Bank to ensure that it becomes more relevant to the institution?

AfDB’s Research Department on Friday 16 April, 2010 in Tunis, met to brainstorm on some of these issues. During the meeting chaired by the Department’s director, Leonce Ndikumana, and other experts made a catharsis of their activities, thus considered their own strengths, challenges and opportunities.

The meeting also served as an opportunity to discuss on how the Bank could better disseminate its knowledge products to ensure that it reaches the intended beneficiaries and find application in program and policy formulation in accordance with the Bank’s development mandate. In this regard, while being cognizant of the need to cut costs, AfDB’s Research Department acknowledges that some of its target audiences have difficulties in accessing the Bank’s diverse knowledge product.

Such difficulties range from having limited or no access to computers, persistent power cuts, intermittent availability of electricity and slow internet speeds. “Limited print copies shall be made available to such people and institutions. In this process, the increasing presence of the Bank in regional member countries  and the established network institutions will continue to be used widely in distributing hard copies of the research products,” Research Director Leonce Ndikumana underscored, adding that “efforts to widely disseminate research outputs are meant to strengthen the dialogue process among researchers, development practitioners and policymakers…  In this context, careful targeting of policymakers during in-country dissemination events will provide an enhanced dialogue process, thereby maximizing the policy impact of the Bank’s knowledge products.”   

With regards to the particular issue of Bank’s response to the financial crisis, AfDB research experts underscored that the institution played a key role in helping its member countries that were hit. While the global recession has ended, AfDB research experts strongly expressed: “The outlook for Africa’s short-term growth, albeit positive, faces downside risks. The Bank’s March 2010 projections forecast 4.5 percent real GDP growth in 2010 and 5.2 percent in 2011, in line with the global recovery.”

However, it remains to be seen if the recovery in advanced economies, which is a precondition for Africa’s economic revival, is sustainable. And even with the steady global recovery, continued timely and adequate financial assistance is needed to keep Africa’s recovery in line with the global momentum. “On the positive side, Africa’s closer trade and investment links with developing Asia, which is leading the global recovery, should help the continent’s performance in the coming years,” Bank Group experts reported. They also pinpointed various reasons for optimism about continent’s longer term outlook.

In that regard, the Bank’s researchers explained that the continent would need to stay the course on reforms, and strengthen it in key areas that have hindered its development in the past.  In particular, the need for further structural reforms was underscored, so as to encourage development of the manufacturing sector and higher value added services. “Africa also suffers from infrastructure bottlenecks and inadequate supply of basic services such as health and education. Drivers of long term growth such as the rule of law, as well as technology adoption, including ICT, and innovation, could be strengthened, including through improvements in the quality of human resources,” stressed the Research Division Manager, Abdul B. Kamara.

It is no secret that the AfDB’s knowledge activities also played an indispensible role in the area of human resources, both through helping the Bank deliver higher quality products, providing policy advice to governments, and directly impacting African people.

On the policy advice, the AfDB was instrumental, jointly with the African Union and UNECA, in coordinating Africa’s responses to the global crisis and creating the Committee of Ten Ministers of Finance and Central Bank Governors (the C-10). The C-10 became instrumental in monitoring the crisis and reporting to the Heads of State on how the crisis is unfolding. Subsequently, the February 2010 C-10 Meeting in Cape Town entrusted the Bank with the responsibility of hosting the Secretariat of the Committee.

Through continued analytical support, the Bank helped the C-10 identify Africa’s strategic position and priorities during the crisis, such as increasing the African voice in the G-20 and international financial regulatory frameworks and institutions. In addition to its operational responses and analytical support to the C-10, the Bank also contributes to and coordinates Africa’s unified voice consultative process on the new international financial regulatory framework.   

“While we recognize the long way still ahead, we cannot afford to downplay the significance of the Bank’s achievements in providing knowledge and analytical guidance that led the continent through turbulent economic periods such as the one just behind us”, Leonce Ndikumana concluded.