Addis Ababa, Ethiopia played host to the sixth-annual African Economic Conference from October 25 to October 28th this year. This conference, titled “Green Economy and Structural Transformation,” was a joint effort of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Economic world leaders convened to examine Africa’s capacity for promoting sustainable development to boost economic productivity, labor productivity, agricultural sustainability, and human capital development through green growth.
In his opening keynote address, H.E. Mr. Meles Zenawi, prime minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said, “It seems to me that structural economic transformation and green development in Africa not only go together but are virtually inseparable. Our topic today is therefore very timely and appropriate.”
But is it?
Let’s look at the last few weeks in the world.
- The death of Libyan President Colonel Qaddafi
- Massive Occupy demonstrations, in cities such as Oakland, California and New York City, where frustrated people gather in the streets in civil protest
- Germany’s President Merkel ushered in a eurozone deal to with Europe’s major banks to save troubled economies such as Greece
- The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) officially announced the launch of the State of World Population 2011 report as the world population reached seven billion on October 31
Our world is facing serious political economic, resource depletion, and population issues right now. Where does Africa fit in?
During the final plenary session of the conference, chief economist and vice president of the African Development Bank, Mthuli Ncube, said “The only way for Africa to reduce poverty is by focusing on economic growth which is strong, which is sustained, which is inclusive and which is green- and all those are consistent. And this type of growth can be financed domestically, can be financed obviously using international resources. There is great opportunity in the infrastructure pillar of this kind of structural transformation so required.”
I agree. Africa is at a critical stage of infrastructure development – all within the confines of restricted industrialization, subsistence agricultural economies, arid soil, rich natural resources, which some may consider a curse, and lack of strongly implemented economic unification. This is not to take away from growth pole star economic countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, and Angola.
Africa almost has no choice but sustainable green development. But with the pressures of the Kyoto Protocol and Millennium Development Goals targets coming in 2012 and 2015, Africa is nowhere near the mark. The Manager of Climate Change and Energy at African Development Bank, Kurt Lonsways, said, “We all have a lot of work to do. And everyone has a role to play in a more efficient and economically sustainable manner. We haven’t arrived at all of the answers. (We are here) to educate ourselves on what a green economy means – economically, technologically, and socially. Africa’s challenges are poverty, education, energy, access to potable water, health. What does a green economy mean to this? It means we need long term sustainability.”
The conference examined Africa in the past, present, and future. Having examined economic data from the past few years, seminars delved into hot topics such as climate change, agriculture development, and sustainability, soil degradation, food security, gender inequality, human capital development, government capacity building, good governance, poverty reduction, urban migration, and growth. One conversation that was noticeably missing was China’s impact on African economic development and growth, a topic that was the buzz at many African conferences in the past couple of years.
The conference’s concurrent seminars and six plenary sessions provided a platform for world economic academics and practitioners to share their power points, papers and reports, and most importantly, for these reports to be improved through discourse from discussants. Most critiques grappled with the author’s economic analysis – sample size, regression models and analysis, statistical significance, value chains, definition of terms, dependent and omitted variables, and robustness of results. Some questioned the necessity for economic data to support certain findings, such as climate shocks in rain stability increases food insecurity in developing countries.
Given the academic tone, it is clear that this conference is a dry-run, giving academics time to tweak their work in time for two upcoming world conferences on sustainable and green development: the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9, 2011) and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from June 4 to June 6, 2012).
Some of the conversations seemed reminiscent of conversations from past conferences, which begs the question: When will the data collection, analysis and policy recommendations finally turn into action?
What Africa needs now is implementation. The conversation needs to grow from economic data and policy recommendations to discussing ways of reducing donor organization duplication of efforts and poor program evaluation in service delivery, in-country capacity building, and financial support.
The conference left me questioning. How can we form links with the bottom of the pyramid to ensure a better, quality of life in basic needs particularly related to green economic development? While the role of the public and private sectors were considered, What is the role of community based organizations and NGOs?
And most importantly, are we okay with this model of African industrialization? While the US, China and Europe had the opportunity to develop with little concerns about the environmental impacts, Africa now has to function within green development. What are the next immediate steps that will lead to African economic prosperity and not invest in green technology that will be outdated in 25-50 years?
Guess we have to wait until the Durban and Rio Janiero conferences to find out.
About the author: Over the past six years, Chevelle Dixon has worked in both the private and public sectors focusing on the socio-economic development and empowerment of
disadvantaged people in urban neighborhoods. Chevelle graduated from NYU Wagner School of Public Service in 2010 with a Masters of Urban Planning (International Development specialization), and from Harvard University in 2007 with a joint A.B. in Economics and African Studies.