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Interview with ECA’s Trade, Finance and Economic Development Division Director, Emmanuel Nnadozie
“In the past decades, African countries have actually made significant progress in many areas of development, especially in the area of economic growth. Unfortunately, this growth has not necessarily translated into a significant improvement in human welfare….,” says Emmanuel Nnadozie.
Question: How important is the African Economic Conference?
Answer: Just like previous African economic conferences, this year’s conference is very important. This year’s conference will be held on the theme: “Fostering Development in an Era of Financial and Economic Crisis.” The theme is very timely and pertinent given the global and regional realities that we are facing today.
The conference will offer an opportunity for experts, scholars and policy-makers, to come together and look at various dimensions of African development and find ways of addressing the challenges that Africa is facing because of this global financial and economic crisis.
This meeting will not just provide a platform for sharing original research, but will also provide an opportunity for knowledge-sharing so that more people will become well informed about what is happening in different countries and economic sectors, how policy-makers are coping with the crisis. The conference will also look at how to prevent future crises and how to make sure economies are managed in such a way that should another crisis erupt in the future, the impact will not severely damage economic and social foundations of the societies.
Question: How has Africa performed recently in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction?
Answer: In the past decades, African countries have actually made significant progress in many areas of development, especially in the area of economic growth. Unfortunately, this growth has not necessarily translated into a significant improvement in human welfare, significant increase in the levels of employment or significant reduction in the levels of poverty on the continent.
This has made it important for policy-makers to begin to think about ways of bringing about growth that will be friendly to human development or that can bring about transformations of societies and human welfare.
Question: How is the global financial and economic crisis affecting that performance?
Answer: The recent global financial and economic crisis worsened that situation and created huge problems from the economic and social point of view. There has been a reduction in trade levels, capital flows to the continent and remittances from Africans living abroad have also declined, reducing the abilities of countries to meet their social needs because of budgetary constraints on governments. There was therefore a need for African countries to find ways of not only dealing with this crisis but also think about long term development.
Question: Does this mean all our recent efforts have been laid to waste?
Answer: If one looks at this in a critical way, the global financial and economic crisis does, in so many ways, present opportunities for African countries to go back to the spirit of their fundamental institutions and fundamental socio-economic development frameworks such as NEPAD. The central principle is that Africans will take charge of their development agenda and look at priority sectors and mobilize resources - both internal and external – as well as partnerships to be able to bring about development.
So this crisis does provide an opportunity for Africa to go back and look a these things and try and diversify their economies in order not to depend too much on primary commodities which are subject to price fluctuations that can cause havoc to their budgets.
In a sense, this is a time to intensify regional integration as it is the number one pillar of Africa’s development agenda as determined by the African Union. The understanding being that regional integration will increase the ability of countries to trade with each other and widen the market space thereby making Africa a more attractive investment destination. Also, it will reduce some of the huge transactions costs that businesses currently encounter.
Question: What can be done to make regional integration more successful?
Answer: One of the things that can be done is to ensure that regional economic communities (RECs) are known and have the capacity they need to be successful building blocks of regional integration. They should have the capacity they need in order to accelerate the integration agenda at least at the sub-regional level before we have a continental integration. We have to find ways of making sure that institutions of higher learning as well as all research centres and centres of excellence, including individual professional experts from Africa and abroad, are working together to develop research projects and research outputs that help in dealing with some of these problems.
Question: What can African researchers do to promote regional integration?
Answer: Of course, many of these problems also affect other countries, whether in terms of building institutions or building capacity - both institutional and human - or in terms of infrastructure development, which of course, is one of the key factors in regional integration to occur. If research is done in this area, and this is problem-solving research that will come up with policy recommendations and policy options that can be adopted at the national and regional levels, it will help in addressing the challenges the continent is facing.