The eighth annual African Economic Conference ended this week, calling on development and business leaders to turn Africa into a hub of business and development excellence.
The conference, jointly organised each year by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), brought together 500 decision-makers and development practitioners.
Over the three-day forum, intense discussions were held on issues including the facilitation of trade; the mobility of people, goods and services; political will and government leadership in harmonizing macroeconomic policies; and the role of the private sector in the continent’s regional integration.
On the closing day of the conference, the AfDB chief economist and vice-president, Mthuli Ncube, focused on knowledge and capacities, saying knowledge, strong institutions and the management of skills and talents should be at the core of the integration agenda.
He adds that political leaders should double their efforts to make sure Africa becomes a tightly integrated growth pole.
Emmanuel Nnadozie, director of the macro-economic policy division of ECA, recalled the modest beginning of the AEC, which today gathers young African researchers and has become a key platform for knowledge-sharing. He also stressed the importance of the platform for building the capacity for economic analysis on the continent.
“We aspire to help young people to be part of that analysis,” he says.
Focusing on the human development impact of integration, Pedro Conceição, Head Economist for UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, says: “There is a need for mechanism of solidarity within Africa, countries needs to share resources as well as knowledge and other aspect of growth.”
Speaking two days earlier, AfDB President Donald Kaberuka says regional integration has well-known benefits but isn’t advancing as quickly as it should.
“Progress to date is encouraging, but highly variable. Where the pace is right, the results are beginning to show: almost everywhere tariffs are no longer the big issue, but non-tariff restrictions remain a real impediment.”
Abdalla Hamdok, deputy executive Secretary of ECA, says: “Economic transformation will ensure that Africa makes optimal use of its human and natural resources, bringing about a shift in the sectoral composition of its economies, in favour of high productivity sectors, especially manufacturing and modern services.”
African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma says: “Leadership on regional integration should therefore happen, not only at the government level, but at all levels of African society and all institutions – whether business, civil society or private sector.”
For his part, the South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan emphasised the need for African countries to assert themselves in the ongoing global power shift.
“Too often we are in these global meetings, but with minor voices and inability to project with a common agenda for what we want to achieve ourselves and in the global agenda,” he says, calling for deeper regional integration.
Gordhan says the continent has an opportunity to offer alternative models of development and can create development models that are appropriate for their respective countries.