Building capacity to help Africa trade better

A renewed global partnership for Africa


A renewed global partnership for Africa

A renewed global partnership for Africa
Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District (Compfight)

Between 2000 and 2009, eleven African countries grew at an annual rate of 7% or more, sufficient enough to double their economies in ten years. Because Africa’s collective GDP of over US$2 trillion is roughly equal to that of Brazil and Russia, and larger than that of India, it can be seen as a vibrant frontier market and an emerging pole of growth.

Africa’s social and political indicators have also improved with achievements in increasing primary school enrollment and tackling gender disparity, as well as declines in HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and maternal deaths. However, unemployment remains high, particularly among young people, and while successes in HIV/AIDS and malaria alleviation have been driven by access to vertical funds, nearly half the population is still considered poor, and Africa’s overall MDG progress is below par.

Global partnerships can provide the impetus for tackling the socioeconomic development challenges that Africa is facing. For example, India’s development performance is one of the most spectacular in the past 50 years. The country went from being one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in the mid-1980s to a net donor, with aid constituting less than 0.3% of its national GDP. Now a member of G20 and BRICS, it led an agricultural revolution and became a net exporter of food, doubled its life expectancy and halved its poverty rate.

Global partnerships, therefore, can work for Africa if they are aligned with the strategic vision of the continent and supported by a unified continental voice. The mixed results of MDG8 on the one hand, and Africa’s ambition of fostering sustainable transformative growth on the other hand, requires that we think global partnership anew. The nearing end of the MDG era therefore provides this opportunity, in a way that is mutually beneficial and sustainable.

Global trade patterns are currently not in Africa’s interest and efforts to increase its share through Aid for Trade and market access initiatives have had mixed results. Also, disbursements have fallen short of commitments and the proportion of developed country imports from Africa (admittedly duty-free) has stagnated, which is unfortunate since trade is an important mechanism for promoting economic growth and employment.

That being said, we need to keep the heterogeneity of African countries in mind. The continent is home to least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS). The special needs of these countries, as acknowledged in the Millennium Declaration, must be reflected in the next global partnership framework, which has to go further in terms of financing options for the most vulnerable countries.

What could be some desirable features of a new global partnership framework?

Global partnerships remain fundamental in addressing global concerns like climate change, conflict and insecurity, financial instability, illicit capital flow and health threats.

A new global partnership must be mutually beneficial, promote the autonomy of African states and address Africa’s developmental priorities. And while these priorities are country-specific, most African countries prioritize structural transformation and the development of capacities to sustain this. A new partnership must avoid the donor-recipient logic of MDG8 relating to global partnerships, promote fair trade and foreign direct investment and forge cooperation with the private sector.

In parallel, Africa must have greater ownership of its development agenda, for example by developing resource mobilization strategies and restoring the accountability of the state to its people instead of to development partners. This will require special attention and support for official statistical systems and information systems.

The new framework must take account of each country’s initial conditions, because we cannot repeat the mistake of assuming that every country departs from the same point. Therefore, mutual accountability, enforcement mechanisms, mechanisms that foster the compliance of multinational firms with international norms and standards should be essential features of this framework.

Finally, a future global partnership should include new sets of actors: the private sector, parliamentarians, private foundations, civil society, women and young people. Youth in particular must have a voice in the world’s youngest continent.

As we make the transition to the successor development agenda, we must be united in our commitment to negotiate a global partnership and a financing architecture that are respectful of Africa’s development priorities, promote the mutual interests of developed and developing countries, and hold all sides accountable for their actions. If we would fail to do so, we will also fail in our duty as leaders of our institutions, communities and countries.

Carlos Lopes is the eighth Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).


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