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Conference of Ministers 2017: Growth, inequality and unemployment


Conference of Ministers 2017: Growth, inequality and unemployment

Conference of Ministers 2017: Growth, inequality and unemployment
Photo credit: Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters


The Tenth Joint Annual Meetings of the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Finance, Monetary Affairs, Economic Planning and Integration and the Economic Commission for Africa’s Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (together known as the Conference of Ministers) will be held as part of Africa Development Week 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, from 23 to 28 March 2017. The conference will be preceded by a technical preparatory meeting of the Committee of Experts. 

The Tenth Joint Annual Meetings will deliberate on the theme of “Growth, inequality and unemployment”. The theme builds on the understanding that the sustained reduction of inequality requires a holistic understanding of the interrelated issues for coherent policymaking. The Meetings offer the opportunity to discuss the nexus between issues of economic growth, inequality and unemployment. They will address strategies for enhancing inclusive growth and promoting employment, especially for women and young people. The conference will also explore measures for reducing inequality and extreme poverty on the continent in order to achieve the targets of the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan (2013-2023) of Agenda 2063 and the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Committee of Experts will meet from Thursday, 23 March to Saturday, 25 March 2017. The Committee will analyse the theme and make recommendations to the ministers for adoption. In addition, the Committee will review the state of economic and social conditions in Africa, consider other statutory issues relating to the work of the African Union Commission and the EC A secretariat and make appropriate recommendations for consideration at the Conference.

The Conference of Ministers will take place on Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 March 2017. The plenary sessions of the Conference will commence with a high-level policy dialogue on the 2017 theme, followed by a series of plenary sessions on various sub-themes. The discussions will draw on the concept note and technical background materials, which synthesize the results of recent research on the subject. It is expected that seasoned and high-level panelists from within and outside Africa will build on the overarching theme towards an outcome that will have important implications for Africa’s future.

The proceedings will feature a number of significant high-level side events and other meetings, including the eighteenth session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Africa (RCM-Africa), as well as the annual Adebayo Adedeji lecture on a topical issue of importance to African development.


Africa has achieved impressive economic growth over the past 15 years. Average growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) increased from close to zero in the 1980s and 1990s to a robust 4.5 per cent a year between 2001 and 2014, with large variation across countries. Since then, growth has been more moderate as the decline in commodity prices in recent years has put severe strains on many of the largest economies on the continent. Still, many countries continue to register growth in excess of 5 per cent and even higher, especially those with ongoing infrastructure investment and strong private consumption.

The period of sustained growth in Africa has been accompanied by high income inequality. Of the 10 most unequal countries in the world, 7 are in Africa. While African countries have made steady progress with gains in education, health and living standards, the pace of progress is slow and hampered by high levels of income inequality which weaken the impact of growth on poverty reduction and limit work opportunities.

Africa is a youthful continent. More than 60 per cent of the total population is under the age of 25, and in 15 countries half the population is under 18. Africa has more people aged under 20 than anywhere in the world. In 2015, Africa’s youth population (15-24 years) was 226 million, comprising about 19 per cent of the global youth population. It is expected to more than double by 2050. Already the world’s youngest region, Africa will be home to 38 of the 40 youngest countries in 2050, with a median population under 25 years old. This youth bulge can be a huge asset, and offer an opportunity to mobilize this reservoir of human capacity towards economic and social transformation. Countries with growing working-age populations can potentially benefit from increases in productivity through higher savings and investment and overall economic growth. Alternatively, the youth bulge can be a source of instability if the continent fail s to harness the potential of young people by designing and implementing appropriate policies that unlock new economic opportunities.

Economic growth is a necessary condition for employment generation, and employment is a pathway out of poverty. The economic growth witnessed since the turn of the century has failed to create the number of good-quality and decent jobs necessary to absorb the more than 10 million young people joining the labour force each year. Furthermore, the majority of the continent’s workforce, particularly women and youth, remain trapped in the informal economy and the rural sector, which suffer from low productivity, low incomes and low social protection, if any.

There is an imperative need for African countries to adopt coherent strategies and national development plans t hat promote structural transformation and address the challenges of growth, inequality and unemployment within the context of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Conference of Ministers 2017 will provide a platform for dialogue and exchange of experience on the theme by engaging high-level experts and other stakeholders, including member States, academia, civil society and agencies in the United Nations system.

Thematic issues

The theme of the 2017 Conference goes beyond a sectoral focus on employment and aims to address the issue holistically by locating it within a larger discussion on the nature of economic growth and its role in reducing both poverty and inequality. The theme is underpinned by the recognition that inequality is one of the most pressing social, economic and political challenges of our times. The issue of providing employment opportunities is seen through a “demographic” lens. Access to reliable data is considered central for evidence-based policymaking and monitoring progress.

The 2017 Conference offers an opportunity to draw attention to the need to forge a socially cohesive society in Africa in the framework of AU’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Participants will be able to discuss the interrelated issues of economic growth, inequality and unemployment so as to devise suitable strategies for enhancing inclusive growth and promoting employment, especially among young people and women. The Conference will also explore measures for reducing inequality and extreme poverty on the continent and achieving the targets of the 2030 Agenda and the first 10-year plan (2014-2023) for the implementation of Agenda 2063. In particular, participants will address the following thematic issues:

  • Strategies for sustained, sustainable and inclusive growth

    • What strategies, complementary actions and institutional arrangements are required to sustain both the quantum and the quality of growth momentum achieved by African countries?

    • What factors contribute to the fact that some countries show stronger growth than others?

    • What can policymakers do to better redistribute the benefits of growth?

    • What are the relationships between growth, integration and regional inequalities? How can we address cross-country inequality through regional economic integration?

    • What are the impacts of government spending on economic growth and available options to finance sustainable and employment-friendly economic growth?

  • Priorities for addressing inequalities at the national and regional levels.

    • What are the challenges for policymakers at the national level in addressing different inequalities, especially gender and horizontal inequalities?

    • What are the trade -offs among growth, inequality and redistribution that need to be managed by member States to ensure an inclusive and sustainable development agenda?

    • What policy tools have successful countries applied to reduce inequalities while fostering economic growth? What lessons can be learnt from their experience?

    • What is the role of government spending on social infrastructure (such as education, health and social insurance) and other budgetary policies in reducing inequalities?

    • Are the drivers of inequality different across countries? What are the policies and programmes that are relevant for specific groups of countries in Africa (such as resource-dependent, aid-dependent, emerging, post-conflict and fragile)?

  • Policy approaches for promoting sustainable and inclusive employment through a stronger role of the private sector and resilient labour markets

    • What steps can be taken to develop a multidisciplinary approach towards tackling unemployment particularly that which affects young people and women? How should these be prioritized?

    • How can the quality of education be raised in member States to equip young people with the necessary skills needed by the private sector and the jobs market? What is the role of technical and vocational training in Africa's educational system?

    • How can the mandate of the Africa Mining Vision be implemented to promote job creation through investment in associated sectors closely related to the mining sector?

    • What policies do member States need to adopt to encourage the sound development of the private sector for the creation of inclusive and productive jobs, especially for you ng people? How can public-private partnerships be improved?

    • What policies are required to build strong and resilient labour markets in Africa?

    • What reforms are needed to boost growth and create employment? What are the experiences regarding the coordination of monetary and fiscal policies in the times of crisis or big drops in world commodity prices?

  • Strengthening the data value chain for designing better policies and monitoring implementation to reduce inequalities

    • What should be done to ensure that opening up official statistics and data does not compromise the fundamental United Nations principles governing official statistics, including that of maintaining privacy and confidentiality where necessary or appropriate?

    • How can national statistical offices play their expected leadership role in open data initiatives in member States?

    • What steps can be taken to make official statistics open and timely by default in member States?

The Conference of Ministers is expected to result in Ministerial endorsement of policy guidelines and recommendations for developing a common framework to address the problems of lack of inclusive growth, inequalities and unemployment among member States in Africa; and guidance on the mechanisms for developing such a common framework.

Background documents

ECA Statutory documents


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