Interview with AfDB’s Lead Counsel and Adviser to the General Counsel, Godfred Awa Eddy Penn

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For many experts, “Inclusive growth” in the 2011 Annual Meetings is seen as a development strategic issue worth discussing. As part of the growing interest in the meeting’s agenda, experts at the African Development Bank (AfDB) have individually or collectively joined their voices to express the importance of the issue. Godfred Penn has also made it a point to pass his opinion as the Legal Counsel and Adviser to the Bank’s General Counsel.

Question: “Inclusive growth” is the overall theme at the AfDB’s 2011 Annual Meetings in Lisbon. How do you link Law and this agenda?

Answer:  Thank you for seeking to share my views and opinions on the upcoming 2011 Annual Meetings and especially their overarching theme. Such a theme is both timely and opportune. As you might know, and as I am sure most of your readers will agree, the origins of the theme of inclusive growth can be traced to John Locke’s theory of natural rights. He defined these rights as the rights to life, liberty and property. These subsequently became the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with contributions from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Social Contract”.

You will notice certain provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, notably Articles 17, 22 and 23, deal with the right of every person to own property, to be entitled to social security as well as exercise economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his or her dignity and free development of personality or have the right to work and a free choice of employment as well as just and favorable conditions of work and protection against unemployment.

These, in my view, are the legal precursors of the issue of inclusive growth which simply implies the duty of every society and government to ensure that economic growth in any given country inures to the benefit of the majority of the population and is inclusive. We have all seen through recent events in the North Africa and Middle East Region how ignoring these essential rights of individuals can lead to social upheaval. It is thus, in my view, not only relevant but right that international financial institutions such as the Bank Group should take an abiding interest in the issue of inclusive growth for all.   

Question: Poor governance and corruption have undermined Africa’s development and hampered its progress towards more equality. What do you think of this affirmation?

Answer: As a lawyer, I do not believe that there is an accurate barometer for measuring governance either as good or bad. But having made that observation, there seems to be enough empirical evidence to suggest that governments that act in total disregard of the good of their populations and dissipate their resources through various means including corruption cannot be considered under any reasonable standard to be practicing good governance.

The African continent is replete with natural resources that can foster the growth of individuals and society at large if they were exploited and their proceeds were used to engender equitable growth.

There seems to be growing evidence on the continent and the world at large that those in positions of government who ignore this essential fact do so not only at their own risk and peril but may endanger the well-being of entire societies and nations.

Question: What do you think could be the contributions of Laws in the AfDB’s new agenda for inclusive growth?

Answer: As we noted in one of the responses above, both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights contain solid foundational principles which are indicative that no society can do well without good laws. Good laws foster economic growth and help in the equitable distribution of the fruits of that growth.

Thus to reach inclusive growth, we need to have relevant and well-thought out social security laws, investment laws that encourage both domestic and foreign investment; good banking laws that ensure more entrenched and equitable spread of banking services in societies; laws that encourage savings and investments; laws that favor fair labor standards; as well as laws that ensure equitable taxation and the provision of essential, but also good quality public services.

This is not meant to be a complete inventory of the types of laws and legal instruments that would make life suddenly become a paradise on earth, but my view is that they form good bedrock for beginning and entrenching the foundations of equitable and inclusive growth in most African societies.

We must not forget that the prime mandate of the Bank Group is to foster economic and social development on the African continent. This is why I believe that a focus on inclusive growth on the African continent during the upcoming 2011 Annual Meeting is both timely and opportune.