“Green growth” strategy viable for African economy

June 12, 2009

michael_keating -Michael Keating is director of the Africa Progress Panel. The opinions expressed are his own.-

After a decade of solid progress Africa is now facing the daunting task – at a time of economic crisis – of maintaining stability, economic growth and employment, addressing food security and combating climate change. No country on the continent is escaping the impact of volatile fuel and commodity prices, the drop in global demand and trade.

The global economic crisis, however, is serving as a wake-up call for both African leaders and their international partners. The Africa Progress Panel’s 2009 report, launched Wednesday in Cape Town by panel members Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and Linah Mohohlo, argues just this.

Africa is rich in potential and there is an, often overlooked, opportunity to be seized. More investment is needed in Africa’s real economy, particularly infrastructure, renewable energy, agriculture and communications. The explosion of mobile telephony and spread of financial services to the poor have shown the potential for innovative development models.

There is also an opportunity to set a low carbon growth and development agenda, investing in the Africa’s vast solar, hydro, wind, thermal and biomass resources. A continental “green growth” strategy might attract the financial and technological support of richer countries, not least as Africa can contribute solutions to the global climate change challenge. Investment in such initiatives will not only generate jobs and boost trade in Africa, but also create markets for the world.

To cope with crisis and to seize these opportunities, Africa needs determined and accountable leadership at the national level and concerted presence and negotiation capacity on the global stage. Sceptics see both in short supply and fear that crisis will unravel progress on governance and accountability.

But this does not mean that the rest of the world can walk away. Whilst the primary responsibility rests with African leaders, businesses can play a key role, as can Africa’s trading and donor partners.

Many of Africa’s problems, including financial instability and rising temperatures, have been imported. Her partners share responsibility for tackling them. They also have an interest to do so: social tension and political instability in Africa have clear international costs and consequences. One way they can offer their support is by ensuring that global deals, whether on trade, climate change, health, migration or financial regulation, take Africa’s development needs into account.

Additionally, at a time when other financial flows are faltering, more and more predictable aid can help governments meet urgent social needs and reinforce practical capacities, including to attract investment, strengthen fiscal and accountability systems, including for revenues from the extractive industries.

International organizations can catalyse public-private partnerships to fast forward infrastructure and clean energy projects that create jobs, strengthen market access and intra-regional trade. Governments can also do much more to put policies and incentives in place to encourage entrepreneurship.

While progress depends upon partnerships, shared responsibility and responsible use of revenues, the critical ingredient is leadership. A number of countries, including some emerging from conflict, have shown what is possible. But can these individual examples be replicated? The future of Africa may depend on it.


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