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Emerging Paradigm Shift in African Development Discourse

Developmental discourse is dynamic and requires contextual and realistic calibration. The debates at the 55th Annual Session of the Economic Commission for Africa(ECA) conducted under the theme: “fostering recovery and transformation in Africa to reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities”, held from 15-21 March 2023in Addis Ababa, showed that there is a palpable paradigm shift in the development thinking among African policy makers and professionals alike.

Africa is endowed with abundant resources-human and natural-that could be used to achieve sustainable development. However, the expectation for rapid socio-economic progress in post-colonial Africa has not materialized as yet.

In 1970s and 1980s, a number of African countries crafted forward-looking National Development Strategies intended to go beyond the narrow objective of poverty reduction to encompass objectives such as accelerated growth, employment creation, structural transformation and sustainable development, with strong local ownership and domestic prioritization. However, it was short-lived.

Most countries relapsed to a development trajectory primarily based on development assistance.   The cherished socio-economic transformation thus remained elusive, as the economy was principally based on export of raw natural resources—fossil fuel, minerals, unprocessed agricultural commodities, forest products etc…

Indeed, in many respects, post-independence development experience witnessed the entrenchment of colonial legacy of “modernity without development” and dependence on the former colonial powers for development assistance.

This development paradigm miserably failed to transform or change the livelihood of the African peoples. The primary and central reason for such a failure is usually attributed to outward looking rather than inward looking development thinking. The African continent failed to craft economic models aligned to the dynamics and context of its own realties and potential. The economic models Africa has adopted were dictated by the ˝one-size-fits-all˝ prescriptions of the Bretton Woods Institutions. Persistent poverty, inequalities and infrastructure deficiency beset Africa’s economy. Traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) based on donor-recipient relationship could not transform the livelihood of the African peoples.

The current economic reality of the continent remains gloomy. At the above-mentioned session, the ECA Secretariat highlighted that the global economy in general, and African economies in particular, are facing multifaceted socio-economic shocks: Covid-19; climate change; and intra and interstate conflicts with geopolitical implications.

Nonetheless, Africa’s overall GDP growth is expected to rebound to 4.1% in 2023 as the GDP growth declined from 4.6% in 2021 to 3.6% in 2022; high fiscal deficit, high inflation rate estimated 12.8% in 2022 and 8 African countries were in debt distress and 13 at the risk of debt distress, Africa’s debt-to-GDP ratio is estimated to reach 61.9% in 2023. The rising borrowing costs and debt services burdens pose a significant challenge moving forward and making it harder for most African countries to invest in measures to ensure resilience from multiple shocks.

The discussions held at the session among African intellectuals, policy makers and practitioners, indicated that Africa needs a paradigm shift from traditional dependency and economies shaped by an international system. Many of the panelists underscored that in light of the realities on the ground and emerging new world order, it was high-time to rethink Africa’s development policies, from donor−recipient development assistance to a self-help development approach within the context of a fluctuating global power balance.

The deliberations at the session emphasized on the urgent need to foster people-centered approach to development. The meeting in particular warned that ever worsening and persistent poverty and inequality are likely to undermine prosperity, peace and security in Africa unless governments embark on innovative and people-centered development models. They further stressed on the need to adopt measures to mitigate economic and social vulnerability, reduce economic inequality, foster inclusive and resilient growth and accelerate poverty reduction in Africa.

Overall, the discussions by panelists and delegations revolved around the central idea of the need to craft home-grown development strategies and policies to development based on sustainable and inclusive strategies based on industrialization, economic diversification, value-added agricultural production, hard and soft infrastructure development, promoting intra-African trade and digitalization, promoting local creativity and innovation, curbing illicit financial flows, prudent public resources management (both financial and human), domestic resources mobilization…etc.

The deliberations also stressed that African countries need to design and implement credible macroeconomic frameworks to build production capacity and enhance value addition, job creation, and structural transformation.

A number of African countries shared their national experiences, for purposes of benchmarking and best practice, of using innovative self-financing instruments, such as pension funds, and providing risk-mitigating guarantees to support the development projects needed for their economic recovery and to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). In this vein, Ambassador Albert Muchanga, AUC Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining stressed that ‘Development is Do It Yourself’, which must be based on a people-driven wholesome development agenda and an inclusive, sustainable industrialization and economic diversification.

Various presentations made at the session stressed the imperative of establishing a credible and sustainable financing mechanism that is predicate, and focuses, on domestic resource mobilization.

Some of the Institutional tools devised include the establishment of the African High-Level Working Group on Global Financial Architecture.  Other innovative instruments mulled relate to the urgent need for the reform of international financial institutions, practices and priorities to ensure better alignment with Africa’s development priorities as well as the launching of a sustainable debt coalition initiative.

The Ministerial Statement adopted at the end of the Session reiterated the urgency of transforming Africa’s economy, with higher focus on industrialization and economic diversification.

The Economic Commission for Africa and other institutions expressed their willingness to support the continent’s emerging strategic thinking and new perspectives on ways and means of bolstering the quest for rapid growth and prosperity as well as for speeding up the process of realizing the objectives of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

In a nutshell, there were indications of the resurgence of an Africa-centered approach to Africa’s self-development. The approach fosters entrepreneurship; encourages creativity and innovation; and leads towards value added local production, industrialization, economic diversification and job creation.

The emerging paradigm-shift at the continental level is aligned with Eritrea’s long-held national development strategy which is anchored on self-reliance in its broadest sense, and which obviates debilitating dependency and implemented through mass participation for the benefit of all the population equitably.

Press Section,

Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Addis Ababa

Addis Abeba, 8 May 2023

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