An optimistic future for sub-Saharan Africa, with higher levels of human development, is possible through greater engagement with other regions of the south, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator Helen Clark underlined during a side event at the African Union Summit. 
Discussing the 2013 Human Development Report, Clark says the theme of the AU Summit, “African Renaissance”, bolstered the report’s conclusion that the countries of the south are transforming themselves and the world around them.
“UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report addresses the ‘Rise of the South’, and argues that a significant number of developing countries – including in Africa, have transformed themselves into dynamic economies with growing geopolitical clout – radically reshaping the world of the 21st century,” she says.
“Africa and the world are more interconnected through trade, investment, migration, mobile phones, and new communications technology – than ever before and sub-regional and regional entities such as the African Union, have contributed to this reality,” she continues.
“Importantly, co-operation between countries in the south is rapidly increasing. The Report stresses that the rise of the south is not just about the world’s largest countries. It puts forward more than 40 developing nations which have notably accelerated their human development progress in recent years.”
Released in March, the Report and its accompanying Human Development Index (HDI) show the Africa region as having the second highest growth after South Asia over the past 10 years.
Compared to other regions, however, sub-Saharan Africa still has the lowest average national HDI – yet of the 14 countries in the world that recorded HDI gains of more than 2% annually since 2000, 11 are in the region.
These top-performers on the HDI include a mix of countries with or without resources as well as diversified and high-performing agriculture-based economies like Angola, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda and Uganda, with Sierra Leone showing the second-highest HDI improvement in the world since 2000.
New lessons and experiences from outside Africa and increasingly from within the region itself, have been used to generate new opportunities for the poor.
For example, Asian-built mobile phones have made cellular banking cheaper and easier, while leading to better market performance and increased profits by small farmers, as seen in Kenya, Niger and Uganda. Kenya’s experience with M-PESA has transformed the banking sector in the country, given broad sections of the population access to financial services.
Delegates at the side event heard how many African success stories are themselves reshaping ideas and strategies on how to attain higher levels of human development. The Report argues that these advances are best achieved in countries with strong leadership, openness to trade and a focus on innovative social policies.
To sustain or accelerate HDI improvement in sub-Saharan Africa in coming decades, countries in the region must strive to reduce inequalities, with a particular focus on youth, women and marginalised populations, the Report says.
As the region’s population continues to grow strongly, emphasis should be placed on translating economic growth into job creation. This also requires an investment in young people’s education and training and especially empowering women so they can take an active part in their countries’ economic and development gains.