For the first time in history, the International Economic Forum on Africa did not take place at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s headquarters in Paris but in Germany. The event was held in Berlin, not far from historical landmarks that shed light on some of today’s challenges of Africa’s development beyond 2015.
Where once a wall was built to keep people from leaving their country, discussions on the current refugee crisis remind us that no wall or barbed wire will help find the adequate answers so that people do not have to leave their homelands in search of security, prosperity and peace. Historical references were also made to the common cruel past of colonialism and exploitation regulated during the Berlin conference in 1884-85.
The 15th Africa Forum focused on three main themes: the Agenda 2063, climate change and agricultural transformation, and regional development approaches. High-level speakers held thought-provoking speeches and pointed to the challenges ahead, while being at the same time critical and sharp in their analysis. They included Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, Germany’s former president and member of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda Horst Köhler, and former U.N. Secretary-General and President of the Africa Progress Panel Kofi Annan.
Three main takeaways emerged from a day full of discussions and keynotes:
1. Greater recognition of Africa’s diversity, opportunities and potential is needed: “Africa is by and large stable.”
As the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller pointed out, Africa needs differentiation and is a “continent of opportunities and growth.” Ghana’s President Mahama also stressed only 5 percent of its population lives in crisis and war zones, so it is by and large stable. There is a growing middle class, every second country is a middle-income country, while six of 10 of the world’s fastest-growing economies are on the African continent.
The prospect of industrialization, creating jobs and income based on for example better infrastructure, is one of the main pull factors that will keep the people in their countries, explained African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha and U.N. Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes. But at the same time, there is a need to get rid of the image of Africa being a place where investors should not invest due to perceived risks that are actually not there or far less present.
2. Political will and leadership as factor for success or failure of the SDGs and Agenda 2063: “There is no lack of money.”
The sustainable development goals and its 169 targets are what was necessary to make a compromise between all countries, and the principle of universality serves as a basis for this agenda, which makes “all countries developing countries,” as someone put it.
Since a compromise is by definition not ideal, it will need political determination to implement the agenda. Ghana’s president reminded us of the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the faithful years — as much needed now as in the past — based on trust and cooperation among the leaders as well as mutual sympathy as people. Also, the concept of development cooperation might need an overhaul based on humility and transformation everywhere. There is no lack of money but rather of political will and leadership to trigger change.
One has to acknowledge though that the world is interconnected and interdependent between countries and challenges; tackling problems in Europe will benefit African countries and vice versa. The post-2015 development agenda will therefore only be a success if all heads of state and government take bold actions in providing the right answers to today’s challenges, such as migration, fragility, terror and climate change.
3. Climate change should finally be considered a priority for collective action, so that agriculture can tap its potential: “If you want to go far, you have to go together.”
With reference to the latest Africa Progress Panel report, Kofi Annan delivered an inspiring speech on climate change and Africa’s agricultural transformation. As climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, there is no choice but to join forces to combat it.
The SDGs is a social contract for this century between people and with nature. Unless action is taken on climate change, sustainable development and the 2030 agenda will not be achieved. Climate-smart agriculture, a low-carbon transition and rural development bear significant opportunities for development and prosperity for Africa’s population. Regional approaches to development are key to tap into the demographic dividend but they need to be cross-sectoral and pluralistic to overcome structural challenges and foster regional growth.
But climate change and inaction put that at risk, combined with a lack of electricity and funds — only 13 countries comply with the Maputo declaration of spending 10 percent of the national budget on agriculture.
Shortcomings of this year’s forum
Despite the highly relevant topics and discussions, there was hardly any mention of why all these things haven’t worked so far and more importantly how to change that. There is nothing new about the importance of industrialization, infrastructure, agricultural transformation and rural development, combating climate change and leadership — just to name a few of the factors to achieve sustainable development.
But what about the political economy of the constraints still in place? How can we combat illicit financial flows and abolish fossil fuel subsidies to unlock financial means? How can we avoid that processes are derailed and captured by vested interests and ruling elites?
How are we able to remove the obstacles in terms of concrete policy actions and strategies? How will we translate those goals and targets into regional and national policies? These are the questions that will determine the success of the agenda. It seems that there is often a big disconnect between those talking about all these issues and those making a difference on the ground, by removing some of the constraints.
However, dialogues, such as this year’s Economic Forum on Africa, and frank and open discussions on these issues are needed and useful in terms of preparing the ground for cooperation based on trust, mutual recognition and partnership.
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