AfDB Seminar Participants Concerned by Africa’s inability to Tackle Emerging Challenges

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Africans need to recognise the legitimacy of self-interest and stop blaming everybody under the sun for the failure of their economies to be competitive with the rest of the world, a panellist at the 2012 Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group said on Tuesday.

“We know what we want but what is getting in the way of execution of our development programmes? What comes out of development dialogues always is that Africans don’t understand themselves,” said Nkosana Moyo , who chaired a high-level seminar on Emerging Issues in African Economies, held on the sidelines of the meetings.

Mr. Moyo, a former Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the AfDB, said the African continent needs right policies that would make it more productive and competitive.

“We cannot depend on foreign investors to come in with everything. Investors always want to take an upper hand and we end up losing. Governments should concentrate on making the right policies to protect national and African interests, otherwise outsiders will go away with our wealth,” suggested Moyo, founder and executive chairman of Mandela Institute for Development Studies.

Another panellist, Ali Mufuruki, wondered why some African governments spend a lot of time making policies and, in spite of the best efforts they do, their economies keep sliding. Yet, investors see such countries as places to put their money.

Mufuruki, executive chair of Infotech Investment Group in Tanzania, said Africans should ask themselves what they should do for their own countries instead of letting foreign institutions and firms “to decide what is right for us. That is one aspect of getting smart.”

Reflecting on current trends in global trade, Mufuruki asked: “Are we ready to harvest the rising commodity prices or are we waiting to say that was another lost opportunity?”

Some participants expressed dismay to see African resources, especially minerals, exported to be refined elsewhere and then brought back for sale to the continent at high prices.

“We have to break this huge cycle and come up with innovative instruments to safeguard Africa’s interests if we are to eliminate poverty in this continent,” said Terence Sibiya, director and head of global markets sales with Standard Bank.

The AfDB organised the session to provide an overview of some of the significant forces that could shape Africa’s future and to explore critical public policy choices that could be taken at country and regional level.

“All policies we make must be based on empirical ground and not on perceptions by other people,” Mufuruki suggested, adding: “Africans haven’t prepared themselves for what is happening in the global economy.”

According to some participants at the seminar, what generally came to people’s mind on emerging economic issues was the global economic crisis and climate change in terms of food security. But, does the common man in Africa, for instance, see the Greek situation as an indicator of problems that can arise in this continent?

“In the global context, it is important to look at emerging issues in terms of their impact on human development and physical development of Africa,” said David Luke, senior trade advisor and coordinator with the UN Development Programme.

Underlining the importance of looking for partners in development rather than for aid and charity, Luke said it must be a partnership for mutual benefit. “We need to look at more inclusive partnership in relationship to sustainable development.”  

He said growth of African economies must lift the people out of poverty and creation of employment for the youth.

“We need to put unemployment at the top of this agenda on emerging issues. If we don’t have proper policies, the youth will become a burden rather than a dividend,” he noted.

Urging African countries to break away from aid dependence, Njuguna Ndungu of Central Bank of Kenya called for creation of strong institutions to lead the continent out of poverty.

“Emerging issues have been with us for a very long time. We need to roll out public investment in an innovative way and develop intra-African trade. Poverty is a product of institutional failure. Have we changed the development paradigm? We haven’t, “ Mr. Ndungu added.

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