UN commends Africa’s developmental, digital efforts

The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms Amina Mohammed, has commended the developmental efforts and steady progress in digital technology across Africa, despite challenges and the need to do more.

She spoke on Monday at the formal opening of the Ministerial Segment of the 52nd Session of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

The conference, holding in Marrakech, Morocco, is themed: ‘Fiscal policy, trade and the private sector in the digital era: a strategy for Africa’.

Mohammed said Africa was on the move, especially when compared to progress in other regions.

“Africa is on the move. Africa is leading by example. Even where some part of the globe are sliding and getting complacent, Africa is emerging as the continent of hope,” she said.

Her segment attracted participants including Ms Vera Songwe,  the UN Undersecretary and Executive Secretary of the ECA, and Moustafa Yousif Holi, State Minister of Finance and Economic Planning of Sudan, who was also the chairman of the Bureau of experts.

Duvvuri Subbarao, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Hala El-Said, Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform of Egypt; and Omar Hilale, Vice President of the UN Economic and Social Council; among others, were also present.

Mohammed, however, cautioned that Africa simply cannot resist opportunities to enhance its inclusive growth efforts.

“We need to be creative and innovative in our methods.

“The (UN) Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) has assured that the UN is ever ready to help Africa surmount its challenges.

“We are going to work with everybody in ensuring that no one is left behind.

“The UN agencies on ground will continue to channel their energy in realsing regional integration and sustainable economic growth, just as the ECA is doing in Africa.

“In this regard, one must appreciate the efforts of Ms Songwe and her team for the admirable ways they have been going about in ensuring that desired goals are met in Africa.

“In our drive, we must ensure no one is left behind, especially young girls,” she said.

The former Nigerian Minister of Environment said that Africa must be conscious of the need to create about 250 million jobs in the next 10 years.

According to her, the digital world is moving very fast and the challenges faced require a multidimensional approach, while various ministers of finance, development and planning have a lot of job to do.

“The UN understands the challenges and we are going to assist in overcoming them. Some of these challenges would be addressed in September at the General Assembly.

“We understand the challenge and the weight you carry. These challenges are not exclusive to Africa,” Mohammed said.

She reiterated that the African Continental free Trade Area (AfCTA) is a great idea, which would ultimately deepen Africa’s regional integration.

The UN chief, however, pointed out that digital technology and e-commerce are reshaping the society faster than policy makers can keep pace.

“This shows that government alone cannot do it all. The involvement of the private sector, the civil society groups, the non governmental organisations are key.

“We have a unique opportunity to benefit from the digital era in enhancing inclusive growth; not only for the future, but also for now,” she said.

Other speakers spoke in similar light, with Ms Songwe expressing gratitude to the government of Morocco for a successful hosting of the 2019 events.

Songwe also praised ECA staff for hard work and diligence, while thanking other participants for their resolve to a common cause.

“Our gathering here in Morocco is testament to the long standing cooperation between the Government and people of Morocco, and the Economic Commission for Africa,” she said.

The Second session of the Conference of Ministers was held in Tangiers, Morocco, in January 1960.

Songwe said that ECA, as the Africa’s foremost think tank, would generate relevant knowledge and apply policy research to guide member countries in their path towards sustainable and inclusive.

She explained that the 2019 theme was informed by the need for resource mobilisation, job creation and inclusive growth.

Songwe said that the choice also focuses thoughts on the opportunities offered by rapid digitisation to address the issues.

“After a period of subdued growth, Africa’s growth prospects are beginning to improve. Growth in 2019 is expected to reach 3.4 per cent, up from 3.2 per cent in 2018.

“This is primarily as a result of strengthening global demand for African products, increasing oil production and rising oil prices, robust private consumption, and sustained infrastructure investment.

“Despite this positive trend, levels of growth vary significantly among the five African sub-regions.

“East Africa, which comprises a number of non-resource rich economies, is making the most significant progress: growth is projected to reach 6.2 per cent in 2019.

“On the other hand, Southern Africa, despite its recent economic recovery, is expected to see growth of only 2.1 per cent this year.

“It is also noteworthy that, even though some of Africa’s largest economies, including Angola, Nigeria and South Africa are rebounding, thanks to rising private consumption, overall growth levels remain low,” Songwe said.

She, however, noted that per capita growth rates in all sub-regions on the continent are insufficient to keep up with population growth rates.

According to her, growth levels on the continent remain below what is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. To achieve those Goals, Africa needs to triple its 2018 growth rate of 3.2 per cent.

Songwe said this would require an increase in investments and productivity.

“Moreover, GDP per capita growth at 0.6 per cent in 2018 is too low to make a significant dent on poverty and inequality,” she said.

The ECA boss said poverty levels on the continent remain shockingly high.

She said even though the proportion of Africans living in extreme poverty declined from 57 per cent in 1990 to 43 per cent in 2012, within the same period, the total number of people living in poverty in Africa increased from 287.6 million to 388.8 million.

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