UN report urges new development plan for Africa to consolidate recent gains

The report, Transforming Africa’s Economies, states that Africa has averaged growth rates of 4 per cent annually in recent years, compared with only 0.5 per cent in the early part of the last decade. For the first time in many years, several countries sustained double-digit growth. Exports nearly doubled over the decade as the demand for African manufactured goods increased in Europe and the United States.The report, produced by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), says that this good news masks several disturbing trends. The number of people living on less than $1 a day increased from 217 million in 1987 to 310 million in 1999. At the same time, natural disasters like the floods in Mozambique, external shocks such as the recent increase in oil prices, and cross-border spillovers of civil conflicts as evidenced in Sierra Leone, have undermined the recent recovery.The report is based on an innovative set of indices developed by ECA, including the Economic Sustainability Index. Based on that Index, the report concludes that most African economies have not yet developed the capacity to produce outcomes that are consistent with long-term structural change. Of the 47 countries ranked, 24 scored below what is regarded as sustainable.Against this backdrop, ECA is proposing a new “pro-poor” development agenda, based on the need for a structural transformation of Africa’s economies. The agenda entails a renewed emphasis on modern agriculture as a basis for resource-based industrialization. It also calls for investments in education, as well as efforts to harness the benefits of information and communication technologies and narrow the digital divide. In addition, the agenda requires measures to tackle diseases that deepen poverty, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.The report places good governance at the centre of Africa’s efforts to reduce poverty. It argues that high-quality governments are better able to design and implement effective policies, are more transparent, manage national finances soundly and provide citizens with peace, security and the economic freedoms for markets to flourish.Transforming Africa’s Economies was released on the eve of the Ninth Session of the Joint Conference of African Ministers of Finance and Ministers of Planning and Economic Development, which opens tomorrow and runs through 10 May. The event, organized by ECA, is being held in Algiers.