The fortunes of Africa will determine the success of the Sustainable Development Goals

25/09/2015
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by Akinwumi Adesina

Much of the focus of the UN Summit to chart a way forward on global development will be on Africa. As the wider world looks beyond the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals to the new Sustainable Development Goals, poverty eradication remains a gigantic challenge for Africa. Over 400 million people in Africa live in extreme poverty – that’s about 4 in 10 of its population – comprising a third of the world’s poorest people. The success or failure of the New York Summit will ultimately be measured by whether the new Sustainable Development Goals are making a difference in Africa in the years to come.

Africa’s economies are growing at an average of 5% per year, yet inequality is increasing all over our continent. The success of the fortunate few is obscured by the sense of exclusion by the majority. Hundreds of millions of people are left behind. Most of them are women and young people. They do not feel the impact of economic growth in their lives. Our collective challenge is to drive inclusive growth – growth that will lift millions out of poverty.

The Sustainable Development Goals which will emerge from the New York Summit accurately reflect Africa’s development priorities. They target a comprehensive and ambitious development agenda. Our task is not just to implement them, but to respond to a continent’s aspirations, too.

In my new role at the helm of the African Development Bank, I am implementing a ten-year strategy designed to bring about nothing less than the economic transformation of this continent, built on growth that is both inclusive and green. The strong growth we have seen across the continent since the Millennium counts for nothing if it is neither shared nor sustainable.

Here are the five pillars of the vision I set before the Bank at my swearing in on the first day of this month.

First, we have to light up and power Africa.

Energy is the engine that powers economies and creates a prosperous society. We must do more to power Africa. Africa cannot stand by with such massive resources for both conventional and renewable energy and yet be known for the darkness, not the brightness, of its cities and rural areas. Factories lie idle for lack of power. The lack of energy has impeded Africa’s industrialization. Hundreds of thousands, especially women and children, die every year from the effects of smoke, simply trying to cook meals for their families. Potential is wasted on our streets as small businesses owners, all hard-working Africans, spend most of their hard-earned incomes paying for energy.

Second, we have to integrate Africa.

Our aspirations are to deliver more equitable, quality growth and development to see all Africans prosper. The Bank will foster regional integration through smart regional infrastructures, including development of regional energy markets, transnational railways and highways to link economic activities among countries. We must work with regional member countries to improve policies and regulations that will facilitate the deepening of regional financial markets. These actions will expand the size of Africa’s regional markets and reduce the costs of movement of goods, services, and people, sparking a phenomenal boost in intra-African and global trade, and reducing inequalities between regions and countries.

Third, we have to feed Africa.

It is inconceivable that a continent with abundant arable land, water, diverse agro-ecological richness and sunshine is a net food-importing region. We must transform the perception of agriculture, so that it is seen as a wealth-creating, viable business option. Through the development of agro-allied industrial zones, Africa can move away from exporting primary commodities, and transition towards producing value-added products. Africa will expand its ability to export processed cocoa not cocoa beans, processed coffee not coffee beans, and textile instead of cotton. Africa will move up the value chain of wealth, diversify its economies, expand foreign exchange earnings, and reduce food import bills, boosting the fiscal and macroeconomic stability of its countries.

Fourth, we have to industrialize Africa.

We must build the African private sector to create wealth. By developing financial markets and leveraging private capital markets, businesses will be able to access long-term financing crucial to invest in the machinery, equipment and working capital we need. Unlocking the potential of small, medium and large businesses, Africa will fast-track industrial growth and development. As businesses pay taxes, domestic resource mobilization will grow to support national and regional development from within Africa.

Fifth, we have to improve the quality of life of the people of Africa.

Africa must use the skills of its people to transform its “demographic dividend” into “economic dividends.” Africa is the youngest continent, with an estimated 60% of its population between the ages of 15 and 24. But by some estimates, more than half of Africa’s youth are unemployed, underemployed, or inactive. This serves as a stark reminder that Africa is rapidly losing its future growth by underinvesting in education and quality job creation. We must invest in Africa’s youth to build skills and encourage entrepreneurship, while providing access to the financial resources necessary to unlock their creativity and unleash the power of their enterprises. We will embark on innovative programs and financing approaches to accelerate job creation and unlock economic prosperity from Africa’s greatest demographic asset.

The High 5s, I call them. They are achievable. They are fundamental to Africa, and Africa in turn is fundamental to the SDGs. This continent is their testing ground.

Akinwumi Adesina is the new President of the African Development Bank.