African countries have been called upon to build effective and pro-development states if the continent must become a new global pole of growth.
Delivering the Keynote address at the opening of the 5th Joint Annual Meetings of the African Union (AU) Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development Monday March 26, 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia said, with the window of opportunity now open for Africa to become the new growth pole, African countries must first and foremost build effective and pro-development states, massively invest in infrastructure, “adequately train our people, promote manufacturing, investment and technological capacity building and encourage growth and investment in agriculture.”
According to him, while it has become fashionable for Africa to be characterized as a potential pole of growth because of the continent’s enormous natural resources, its demographic advantages of the ‘so called youth bulge’, and better macro-economic management, these resources have always been there including the dark days of the last decades of the last century.
“The demographic advantage we talk of has also been there and indeed was until recently considered as an important source of instability and violence as the youth buldge was characterized by massive unemployment,” he argued.
He said “the reforms in economic and political governance which Africa carried out more than three decades ago has generated not growth and transformation but deindustrialization, the enfeeblement of the African state and the associated malaise that has characterized our continent for far too long.”
He touched on the various issues such as the shift in the global economy, the number of countries that have grown fast and become emerging economies, in particular the phenomenal growth of China and India each with over a billion people and how that has dramatically transformed the demand for and the prices of Africa’s natural resources, particularly mineral and agricultural resources.
Citing the economic development, industrialization in these emerging economies, the downside of these economies and what he describes as the massive global imbalance, he believes that this is Africa’s opportunity to become the next global pole of growth.
He said for Africa to achieve growth, “we have to liberate our minds from the neo-liberal ideological shackles that have improvised our thinking and hindered progress.”
“This bankrupt ideology,” he says, “insists that the African state should be enfeebled and limits its role to that of a night watch man. We are all agreed that we need an effective state that intervenes effectively and selectively wherever there is a market failure that hinders or slows down our growth. Such a state can only emerge if we discard the bed time stories of the ideology such as that of a night watch man state.”
He said there is agreement that Africa needs to make massive investment in infrastructure mostly through public investments. “That is how the infrastructure of nearly all of the fast growing countries and regions has been built,” he argued.
“We all agree that we need to educate and train our people to exploit this rare window of opportunity. The neo-liberal ideology tells us that as governments we should focus on primary education and to some extent secondary education. The rest is for the private sector to take care of and for individual families to finance. This is a recipe for failure and the perpetuation of unjust distribution of wealth,” he said.
In his statement, Abdulai Janneh, UN Under-Secretary and Executive Secretary of the ECA said over the years he has seen the increasing faith and abiding belief that Africa is on the rise both by Africans themselves and by the continent’s partners as reflected in various research reports and positive stories in the media. “These views,” he said, “are based on the credible performance of our continent such that it showed relative resilience to the global economic and financial crisis.”
He reiterated that this is the time to engage in a massive transformation of Africa with the objective of improving the lives and wellbeing of the vast majority of the African people.
According to him, since the Eurozone crisis and the global uncertainty have generated impacts on Africa’s prospects, it is evident that the issue needs to be analyzed more closely, “just as we need to look at how best to build on the momentum for attaining the MDGs as we move closer to 2015.”
He said to transform the continent, there is the need to deepen the governance agenda and Africa must continue to harness its resources with which it is endowed, for growth and development.
Dr. Janneh also called on African leaders to work to galvanise the dynamics of the continent’s youth by inspiring them and providing them with opportunities to contribute to the development and transformation of the continent.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia