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"The AfDB has got a very strong convening power", said Louis Kesekende, the African Development Bank Group Chief Economist in an interview he gave to the Bank Group’s internal newsletter, Bank in Action. He expressed his satisfaction with the high turnout of researchers from Africa and the Diaspora at the African Economic Conference, which is taking place in Addis Ababa from 15 to 17 November, 2007, at the United Nations Conference Centre where more than three hundred researchers, policy makers and academics converged.
Question: The AEC is currently holding in Addis Ababa, and it has brought together researchers, economists and policy-makers to discuss development issues on the continent. What, in your view, are the constraints on Africa’s development efforts?
Answer: In terms of constraints on Africa’s development, one of the things that have come out very strongly in the presentations is the role of capable states. Capable states facilitating choices, capable states managing the budget, providing support to competing needs, capable states providing a good environment for investments. So where a capable state is lacking, that turns out to be a major constraint on development. Two, it is the whole issue of skills development, capacity building in Africa. We have invested heavily in capacity building over the past several years. AfDB itself has played a major role to support capacity building efforts. Donors have been supporting these efforts across Africa. But this still keeps coming out as a major constraint on growth and development in Africa. It almost points to whether we should begin to rethink capacity building. Apart from capacity building, there is the whole issue of skills and skills mix for purposes of development. The third issue is that of Africa’s marginalization. When you compare Africa, especially with Asia, what comes out is that Asian countries have been able to integrate the global trading environment, while Africa has lagged behind, and this is turning out to be a major constraint on growth and development in the region. There are some emerging issues that we need to grapple with. Climate change and its effects on growth in Africa are turning out to be a very big issue.
Question: Many people say this conference is an important gathering. What makes this conference important?
Answer: When the whole idea of a conference was mooted, one of the key objective was to provide a forum where African researchers and policy-makers interact. Besides the interactions, we also wanted to see that we build partnerships with the rest of the world. What sort of research on Africa is going on in the rest of the world? Looking at the second African Economic Conference, I think we have gone a long way in terms of meeting our key objectives. The first thing that has impressed me is that we have not only been able to reach out researchers within Africa, there have also been very good and effective representations by Africans in the Diaspora. Africans in the Diaspora are looking at the challenges of growth and development in Africa, and they are seeking to provide solutions. So, the conference has now built a bridge between these researchers, academics, and policy-makers on the continent with the continent’s Diaspora. That is one. Two, the conference is also bridging of the gap between policy-makers and researchers. It has been very interesting to see policy-makers pointing out that they need more research to provide more evidence that will guide policy-making in Africa. Another objective of the conference was to see that we promote more evidence-based policy-making. And I think we are making headway. There are very many areas that have emerged just from the first presentations. I think we need to sit down and prioritise those areas; we need to go to the breakout sessions to reflect further on these areas so that we do not spread out ourselves too thin. We have to focus on some major areas.
Question: What is your last word regarding development issues on the continent?
Answer: I think before I even make the last word, I need to touch upon a point – the role of the Bank Group. What role has been designed for AfDB? One thing that came out of this conference is that the AfDB and, especially AfDB in partnership with UNECA, has got a very strong convening power. It is something that we need to develop and exploit. Exploiting in terms of bringing policy-makers closer to researchers. Two, we need to build the bridges between the AfDB and research institutions, universities, because one of the things that we have always said and is included in our own strategy is that we cannot do every thing within the Bank Group. And just listening to the discussion here it comes out very clearly that we cannot do all this research within the bank. We need the research result to inform even the work that we are doing in the Bank, to inform the policies and country strategy papers that we are preparing. This bridge also provides good opportunity for the AfDB to look out for research. The third one I think is the whole issue of dissemination. If we do research and it is not disseminated, it is as good as nothing. This is a conference that is providing us with the opportunity of disseminating our own research products that is as African Development Bank. It is also providing the researchers and the rest of Africa an opportunity of disseminating the research results. I think in terms of a message, I would like to say that there are numerous development challenges in Africa; it is possible for Africa to grow and develop. We may not catch up in the short term, but it is possible for Africa to grow. We just need to focus on the right things that can accelerate the growth and development of Africa.
Interview by Joachim Arrey (firstname.lastname@example.org, +216 71 10 27 59) and Magatte Wade (email@example.com, +216 71 10 22 44)