Interview with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) Executive Director, William Lyakurwa

12/11/2009
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In this interview, the African Economic Research Consortium Executive Director, William Lyakurwa, explains why AEC is a must.  He focuses on major issues, including innovations in the current conference. He also outlines his expectations of the AEC, NEPAD and AERC. Understanding of Dr. Lyakurwa calls for careful reading of his answer.

Question: Could you explain to us what makes this conference different from the previous ones? What are your expectations of this conference?

Answer: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to respond to your questions. First of all, we have to take note of the fact that over the last two years, we have been going through a serious financial crisis and this conference is designed to help African countries come up with effective responses to the experience we had last year, and also it is not sequential in response to the specific situation which is the financial crisis which has metamorphosed into an economic crisis, which many initially thought would spare the continent. We are now, unfortunately, in the depth of it.

Secondly, the conference is organized by the AfDB and UNECA to bring together policy- makers, members of the academic community within Africa and those in the Diaspora, to deliberate and exchange views and how to get African countries out of this crisis.

Question: As a result of the fact that research is detached from the industry, the continent as a whole has not been able to build manufacturing industries to meet its needs. The continent rather relies on imports which sometimes are expensive for most Africans. What can be done to change the situation?

Answer: You are exposing a big issue of research being detached from industry. I believe, if we expand research to include not only economic research, but research and development, we cannot make that broad generalization that research is detached from industry. I believe there is research going on which is relevant to industrial development. But if we refer to economic research that is detached from industry, we again have to be careful so as not to over generalize. Economics as a discipline is not necessarily related to industrial development.

It is not because research is detached from industry that makes African countries not to build manufacturing industries. It is more in relation to the need for having extractive transformation or moving them from the dominance of natural resources to move into processing rather than manufacturing.

The debate is going on for African countries to rely more and more on agriculture in order to develop their economy. However, no single country we know of has fully developed only based on its agricultural development. There need to be an appropriate balance between agricultural development and industry. I think this is what is lacking rather than research being detached from industry.

In this context, it is therefore important for African countries to understand that there is a need for an appropriate balance between agricultural development as a means of aiding the transformation of the economy from purely agricultural to processing and onward manufacturing. I think that is probably the links we are talking about. I would also like to underscore the importance of research and development in order to inform policy-making communities as a whole, that what will be the appropriate structure of manufacturing would be income generating. And that is the road I will propose.

Question: Coming back to industrialization, infrastructure and energy, I would like to know if NEPAD is still effective. If not what has to be done?

Answer: The effectiveness of an organization is a broad question. It takes time to measure the effectiveness of any organization…

Question: But NEPAD is not less than ten years old to the best of my knowledge...

Answer: Of course! But we have to look at the organization’s problems and assess its efficiency in order to make a judgment as to whether it has been successful or not. I think, in NEPAD’s case, it is too early at this stage to make a judgment as to its effectiveness, at least not from my point of view because I have not studied NEPAD’s programs in details to be able to say, in a meaningful way that they are being efficiently implemented. Again, one needs to make a detailed assessment and measure the outputs and also see to what extent those outputs can be translated into outcomes in order to assess total effectiveness in NEPAD’s programs. 

Question: You are the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) Executive Director.  Could you update us on your institute?

Answer: You may have been aware; we last year celebrated the 8th anniversary of the AERC. The center has achieved its mandate and contributed in building capacity for economic policy research, based on the fact that in order to bring about economic development and change, we need to provide evidence-based information to policy- makers and AERC is in the process of conducting research that is relevant to policy- making, as well as building the capacity of individual programs to enable them make contributions to policy debates and policy analyses. Over the years, we have seen a gradual movement of the capacity built that is contributing to policy debates, not only in terms of assessing policies and analyzing them. As I speak now, there are several of AERC graduates holding key policy-making positions such as central banks directors, governors, parliamentarians, politicians, as well as middle-level directors in ministries of finance.

Question: Could you describe the relationship between AERC and the AfDB Research Department?

Answer: This is a very good question. First, the AfDB research department is, to a large extent, interlinked with AERC’s capacity building efforts. The Bank’s research group relies on the capacity that has been built by AERC. Many of the Bank’s experts have gone through AERC. Additionally, Bank experts are resource persons for AERC. So, there is an inter-link between the two institutions and also with wider networks. Additionally, AERC acts as broker for the Bank Group in terms of identifying qualified researchers to do work for the Bank. That is also what brings about the strength of the links between both institutions. Furthermore, we use AfDB research staff as resource persons for our network. The Bank has generally been supportive of our activities in making financial resources available to EARC.

Question: In the corridor, I heard a participant say: “This is another useless conference”. What do you think about this statement?

Answer: I don’t know where that sentiment is coming from, because there is no better avenue for bringing about and sharing knowledge other than this type of intellectual gathering. We can write papers and send directly to participants. They may not even read them. I feel it is only within the context of interactions like these that the dissemination of knowledge is possible. This is an opportunity to bring different policy-makers from different countries together. Through these interactions, policy-makers are able to gain new ideas.

Question: What is the innovation in this year’s conference?

Answer: First of all, the composition of this year’s participants is very different from that of last year. This time, we have participants who are experts on the financial crisis and its impact on African economies. This is a major difference. We have experts from ministries of finance and central banks. These are not necessarily the people we had in last year’s conference. Current participants are more concerned about the financial crisis. It is important for them to their share experiences in this regard. During the conference, they get the benefits of research. They even bring on board issues that cut across the spectrum of the global financial crisis.  So, bringing all these people who are dealing with various economic challenges for them to share their perspectives is a major step forward in our efforts to overcome the crisis.