Looking at the post 2015 debate from an African perspective. Interview with Bartholomew Armah (UNECA).

In this interview Bartholomew Armah - Chief Renewal of Planning at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Ethiopia) - shares his personal insights about the Post 2015 process from the perspective of  Africa's structural transformation agenda.

Issues at stake

Looking at the African common position, the most critical issues for Africa are industrialization, science innovation and technology, people centered development, the environment and natural resource management, peace and security and financing and partnerships. Peace and security is one critical area where divergences of interests and positions are more likely to emerge at national level. Countries like Brazil and China for instance consider it as an internal issue that the global agenda should not step in.

From the ECA perspective the issue of transformation is the most critical because it facilitates economic empowerment, minimizes dependency and contributes to affirming the idea that all countries are equal parts of the economic  development discourse be it about trade, jobs, export, etc.

Transformation has to do with economic empowerment and economic sustainability: countries need to be able to diversify the sources of their development financing and strengthen domestic resource mobilization, particularly in an era of fiscal consolidation by development partners and declining ODA.

The inequality and sustainability nexus

Inequality and sustainability are strictly interconnected. The argument of sustaining developmental gains is relevant from both a moral and economic point of view.

The structural transformation agenda is linked to this through job creation and expansion of fiscal revenue. In a situation where the benefits of growth accrue to a small minority disparities in access to economic assets and livelihoods are exacerbated and inequalities increase. Too often the production process is controlled by the corporate elite producing capital intensive commodities (oil for instance) with little employment of people. Looking at the GDP of some African countries, the situation may look fine; however, if one looks at the quantum of revenues retained in the country - the situation is less rosy: the GNP  is lower than GDP because the production is dominated by primary products the production of which requires very little interaction, inputs or linkages with the rest of the economy. In effect, most of the value of that production process resides outside Africa. The situation is compounded by the incidence of illicit financial flows out of Africa which dwarf ODA receipts. Incidentally, illicit flows are concentrated in the extractive sectors which ironically are the least employment generating sectors per unit of output.

A transformation programme that optimally engages the bulk of the labor force in the production process is critical for shared growth and economic empowerment. Clearly, one must be careful that the transformation agenda does not exacerbate inequality. Active policies  are required to protect and capacitate minorities the vulnerable and women to take advantage of the economic opportunities arising from the transformation process. This requires regulations including Affirmative Action, social protection mechanisms (i.e., coping mechanisms to protect and include the weakest and marginalized communities), and investments in  human capital  (in order to train and include in the production process those who lack the required skills).

Thus engaging the active labor force  in productive employment and entrepreneurial activities requires complementary investments in human capital (particularly improving access and quality of health and education services) to improve productive capacities. By expanding economic and employment opportunities structural transformation widens the fiscal space and policy space of a nation and strengthens the capacity of the state to finance its development priorities thus lessening dependence on ODA.
Moving from negotiation to implementation…

The question of implementation is a tough one. The capacity to exert pressure on governments and hold them accountable to deliver will be critical to a successful implementation of the agenda. Despite the absence of a formal accountability mechanism, the MDGs process have contributed to increase the sensitivity of  governments around some key areas. It is thanks to the MDGs for instance that many governments have felt the pressure to prioritize investments in primary education, gender empowerment and health. I think that the combination of internal pressure,  global advocacy and effective monitoring can definitely help to produce some positive outcomes .

The Common African position has been endorsed at level of African Heads of State and government. African leaders are involved through the functioning of a high level committee that includes 10 African heads of states (2 from each sub-region). At the same time you have also the civil society involved in the process, who can be the fire that keeps the heat on political leaders to be accountable and deliver.

The middle class engagement in the post 2015…

Obviously not all classes have the same level of interest and engagement in the post 2015 agenda. But by virtue of its size, voice and collective political clout the middle class can play an important role in the framing and implementation of the post 2015 development agenda. The middle class is nevertheless a heterogeneous group with diverse interests. However, the glue that binds them together is probably the aspiration or desire to maintain and improve their economic status. This objective is what is likely to drive their engagement in the process. Indeed, at the heart of this economic interest is a common concern about decent jobs,  livelihoods and predictable access to basic social services. While this is equally true of the lower class, the middle class has the economic clout and sophistry to exert pressure on governments to meet their demands.

Interview by Angela Zarro

*The interview was made in Bonn during the EADI 14th General Conference (23-26 June 2014). Bartholomew Armah was invited as speaker for the SID Panel Session on Tackling inequalities and promoting structural transformation in Africa' (26 June 2014).

See related articles here

Photo: Deutsche Welle/Flickr (Ghana)