Civil Society Forum 2019: engaging civil society to accelerate regional integration for Africa’s economic prosperity
This week, the African Development Bank celebrated its tenth annual Civil Society Forum, hosting more than two hundred representatives from civil society and international organizations as well as from governments from across the continent, at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan.
Organized by the Bank’s Gender, Women and Civil Society Department, this year’s Forum was unique: three days of discussions, presentations, breakout sessions and recommendations dedicated to civil society priorities in Africa. We chose a regional integration theme, so participants could explore the role of civil society in ensuring what we do is fully anchored in the needs of African people.
Regional integration is so important for providing economic opportunities – and a lack of intra-African trade is seriously holding back Africa’s growth and development. Intra-African trade, currently at about 15% of the continent’s total trade, is the lowest globally. Compare this to 54% in North America, 60% percent in Asia and 70% for the European Union. The advent of the African Continental Free Trade agreement, or AfCFTA, expected to improve the economic prosperity of African nations by removing trade barriers, like tariffs, is expected to accelerate the pace towards leveling the playing field. Now ratified and once in effect, AfCFTA is set to enable African nations to more easily trade beyond borders by creating an African Continental Free Trade Area – a single market – between African Union member states.
The Bank aims to increase intra-African trade to at least 23% by 2025 and make it easier to travel without visas across African countries. The Bank will be doing its part in financing infrastructure investments and in supporting African governments in their policy reforms and the development of the free trade area. Without access to larger markets it will be very difficult for Africa to achieve the scale needed to fully galvanize the power of its large, young and dynamic workforce, or the potential of key sectors like agro-industry. African countries need to work together, learn together and trade together. Africa needs to integrate. Inputs gathered during the Forum, applied to the conception, design and implementation of development programs, projects and policy is critical to ensure that a diversity of voices and concerns are heard and included.
“We all get out of bed for the same reason every morning. It is for Africa’s development.”
This process fosters transparency, accountability - and ultimately, ownership - by the communities we aim to serve. We are thrilled to be working with civil society organizations to ensure we are anchoring this whole process on the needs of African populations.
It is exciting to see how this process – and the Forum - are evolving in these increasingly digital-savvy times for Africa. Aside from traditional media coverage, this year saw more than a half-dozen social media influencers and digital activists attending, tweeting and blogging from the Bank’s Babacar Ndiaye Auditorium. A crucial voice and conduit between communities and development organizations, these youth masters of social media also shared their experiences and expertise when taking part in Civil Society Forum panels and breakout sessions.
When we convene such an inclusive mix of stakeholders, then task them to tackle tough development issues, there will be instances where we won’t all agree, all the time. Robust discussion, as seen in some of the Forum’s roundtables, is part of the process and I welcome it. If there isn’t engagement and interaction, its much more difficult to build and boost Africa’s more sustainable and inclusive development trajectory. It is important to remember that we all get out of bed for the same reason every morning - it is for Africa’s development.
Let’s continue to work together.
Bank Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Dr. Jennifer Blanke, also serves as Chair of the African Development Bank-Civil Society Committee. The Committee, consisting of Bank officials and civil society representatives from all of Africa’s regions, advises and facilitates Bank collaboration with civil society organizations.