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Despite Setbacks, Africa Seen as Key Player in Future

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 22 2010 (IPS) - As the international community commemorated Africa Industrialisation Day last week, United Nations officials expressed mixed emotions about a beleaguered continent plagued by a rash of political, economic and military crises.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that a continuing global economic crisis has not only reduced the demand for African exports but also constricted foreign aid and hindered the flow of remittances to the cash-strapped continent.

As a result, Africa’s share of the weakened global economy remains “disproportionately low”, he said.

The U.N. Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) pointed out last week that Africa has been hit by major supply-side constraints primarily because of the global food, fuel and financial crises.

“The continent has suffered from low productivity, a lack of appropriate skills, a lack of infrastructure, a high cost of doing business and a lag in agricultural production – all of which contributed to a flagging economy,” George Assaf, UNIDO’s director and representative to the United Nations, told reporters Friday.

“Africa needs to integrate more efficiently into international markets, and achieve market niches internationally,” he added.


But despite the gloomy scenario, there is still hope, says Eckhard Deutscher, chair of the Development Assistance Committee at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

He said foreign direct investment in Africa last year amounted to 88 billion dollars – twice the level of official development assistance. At the same time, remittances to Africa grew from 11 billion dollars in 2000 to 40 billion dollars in 2008.

“Africa will be an important player in the future without any doubt,” Deutscher told reporters last month.

On the negative side, the United Nations points out that 45,000 jobs were lost in South Africa alone in 2008 and 2009, where manufacturing output fell by 25 percent.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about 100,000 workers were made redundant in 2009 due to smelter closures.

And in the Zambian mining sector, about 6,000 lost their jobs in November 2008 alone.

The unemployment rate in Lesotho increased from an already high 23 percent in 2008 to 29.4 percent in 2009, according to an assessment by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, chief executive officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), claims Africa’s per capita income was higher than that of India.

But he warns that the most challenging issue for Africa’s leaders in the next 50 years would be youth employment. That lingering issue was “a political bomb” on which African leaders were sitting, he told reporters last month.

He said NEPAD’s two priorities were agriculture and infrastructure building.

And NEPAD’s strategic focus was on two key issues: the promotion of closer cooperation with the regional economic communities in Africa and the promotion of better cooperation and harmonisation between NEPAD’s activities and those of the African Union Commission.

“Although resources were important, the question of political leadership and managerial capacity to implement objectives was much more important,” Mayaki added.

He said African leaders believed the best way to reduce poverty was to increase economic growth. If economic growth was not increased, poverty could be not be reduced significantly, he declared.

Listing the significant progress made by African countries recently, UNDP points out that Nigeria’s National Special Programme for Food Security has contributed to a doubling of production and income of farmers in that country.

A national input subsidy programme has helped Malawi achieve a 53 percent food surplus in 2007, from a 43 percent national food deficit in 2005.

In Rwanda, contraceptive prevalence increased from 10 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2008.

A new report titled “Economic Diversification of Africa: A Review of Selected Countries” presents new development strategies highlighting diversification and also transport corridors between countries and hubs related to telecommunications and science and technology.

The study, jointly produced by the U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), NEPAD and OECD, provide case studies of five countries from different subregions with different development processes: South Africa, Kenya, Tunisia, Angola and Benin.

 
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