Researchers, policy makers and development partners to refocus strategies on poverty reduction and inequality

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The 10th African Economic Conference was officially opened on November 2, 2015, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, by the head of the country's Senate, Léon Kengo Wa Dondo, who represented President Joseph Kabila Kabange.

Co-organized by the African Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Economic Conference brings together Africa's prominent researchers, policy-makers and development partners to brainstorm on various development challenges facing the continent. The 2015 conference theme, "Addressing Poverty and Inequality in the Post 2015 Development Agenda", examines Africa's unique challenges in light of the new global sustainable development objectives.

"Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, needs to address extreme poverty, as over 40% of its population survive on less than US $1.90 a day," Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, Vice-President and Chief Economist at the African Development Bank, said during the opening ceremony. "Indeed, 30% of the world's poorest people live in Africa."

He also noted that lack of adequate infrastructure, particularly energy, was a major constraint for reducing poverty and inequality in Africa. Kayizzi-Mugerwa said the inability of Africa's economies to absorb millions of young Africans entering the labour market every year is a serious threat to its social fabric, and undermines the continent's potential.

In response to these issues, Kayizzi-Mugerwa said, the AfDB's new strategic priorities are: lighting up Africa, with the recent launch of a New Deal on Energy for Africa that will strengthen and scale up current initiatives on an active portfolio of some US $10 billion. The vision also aims to feed Africa, industrialize Africa, integrate Africa, and enhance the welfare of its citizens. Above all, there is need for political will, Kayizzi-Mugerwa said.

"Africa rising" will not be worth much if not combined with credible national efforts to eliminate poverty and ensure more equitable distribution of income and opportunity, he said.

Africa must raise the welfare of its people, through employment creation and by eradicating gender gaps, Kayizzi-Mugerwa continued. To this end, the Bank will work with other partners to establish a $300-million facility for Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa - which will be used to leverage up to $3 billion from commercial sources.

"Africa's development is oriented in the right direction, but 'in order that no one will be left behind,' it should be accelerated and expanded," said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa.

"We have been called here today to make such choices of inspired and bold policies," Dieye continued. "In this context, particular emphasis should be focused foremost on sustainable management, conservation and rehabilitation of land capital, and high priority should be given ... to the empowerment of women, youth employment, rural entrepreneurship, social and collective entrepreneurship, as well as to eliminating prejudices and stereotypes that fuel discrimination, exclusion and marginalization."

For his part, Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary for the UN Economic Commission for Africa, said, "Eradicating poverty while stimulating prosperity is the most urgent challenge for Africa to date. We seem to show performance on the last point with an average economic growth rate of 5% well above the global average over the past decade. And yet the reality is, alas, much harder when you consider our performance in the fight against poverty."

Growth on the continent to date has not been shared, nor is it quality growth, said Lopes. Going forward, the priority should be on job creation, inclusiveness and reducing poverty.

"To reverse the situation, Africa should break with routine," he continued. The continent should focus on industrialization and increased investment to boost agricultural productivity, to take advantage of the demographic dividend and modernize economies currently too dependent on the informal sector.

In his intervention, the Congolese Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo applauded the AfDB's new vision for lighting up the continent. Without energy, he said, we cannot industrialize and transform the continent. He called for a paradigm shift in implementing strategies on governance, and for strengthened institutions as well as leadership.

Up to 300 delegates, participants and media are expected to attend the three-day conference, which concludes Wednesday.