The 2012 African Economic conference was held in Kigali, 30 October-2 November 2012. It was another opportunity for senior African economic experts, researchers and policy-makers to find away forward for Africa.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Rwandan president Paul Kagame urged a group of senior African economic experts, researchers and policy-makers gathered in Kigali to think outside the box and come up with new ideas for an economic model that responds to the needs of the African people.
The seventh annual African Economic Conference was hosted by Rwanda for the first time, and was jointly organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The conference had drawn around 400 participants including economic experts and decision-makers from across Africa, to discuss critical issues in African development as a way to ensure economic growth, poverty reduction and inclusive development.
The Rwandan President stressed that despite the growth rate witnessed by some countries on the continent, there was also a need to learn lessons from past experience in order to ensure that the benefits of growth reach all people, especially the most vulnerable, read a statement from the conference website.
African countries among the fastest growing economies
According to the 2012 African Economic Outlook, a joint publication produced by the African Development Bank , United Nations Development Program, Economic Commission for Africa and the OECD Development Center, between 2001 and 2010 six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa.
The AEO report shows that Africa`s economy was undermined last year by the Arab uprisings. The report revealed that the continent`s growth fell back from 5% in 2010 to 3.4 in 2011. However, growth across the continent is expected to accelerate to 4.5% in 2012 and 4.8% in 2013 with the recovery of North African economies and sustained improvement in other regions.
The report indicates that Africa has the world`s youngest population that is rapidly growing. Africa`s youth is not only growing rapidly, it is also getting better educated. The report stresses that based on current trends, 59% of 20-24 year olds will have had secondary education in 2030, compared to 42% today. To turn this rapid growth in human resources into an opportunity, Africa needs to tackle youth employment.
The youth came to mind as the Rwandan president Paul Kagame was urging African economic experts to devise solutions that will impact the most vulnerable. Young people are full of energy to work but it is disappointing that Africa`s growth was not sufficiently inclusive to meet the need for jobs of a fast growing population, according to the AEO report.
For his part, AfDB President Donald Kaberuka emphasized the importance for Africa’s economic experts to suggest internal solutions in order to finance their respective economies.
“But inclusive development is impossible without energy access, broadband connectivity and adequate mechanisms to boost infrastructure for economic growth and other trade investments,” he stressed.
Regional integration to boost FDI
Experts at the African Economic Conference in Kigali agreed that Africa would need to strengthen regional integration in order to boost increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) on the continent, because it creates larger domestic markets and stimulates trade, two elements that can attract FDI, according to the statement from the website`s conference.
“At a time when China, India, Brazil and other large emerging markets are taking on such a prominence in the global economy, we must surely focus the minds of African policymakers, particularly from smaller, landlocked countries, on the importance of pushing forward the regional integration agenda”, said Andrew Mold, a senior Economic Affairs Officer of ECA.
Policy makers at the conference showed a wide consensus that regional integration in Africa is the way to go. John Rwangombwa, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning said that in the continued uncertainties of the global economy, Africa must present itself as the most profitable and secure destination of investors’ funds that are scared of the problems in the Western markets.
“It is worrying to know that Africa attracts less than nine percent of FDI. We need as much as possible to continue reducing the uncertainties about the evolution of our economies”, said Minister Rwangombwa.
According to the 2012 African Economic Outlook, Africa needs to attract more productivity-enhancing FDI to diversify its economy, develop its private sector and benefits from technology transfers and spill-over effects.
African countries need to diversify their trading partners within and outside the continent. Pursuing deeper regional integration will improve the low levels of both intra-African and internal trade according the AEO.
Do we learn lessons, can we learn lessons?
In his opening speech, President Paul Kagame asked whether African experts can learn lessons from the past. “I think that is another weakness. We meet in the room; we have experts. They tell us the right themes which contribute to that and we fail to put that in the wider context of lessons of the past that have led to many failures that we continue to witness today and therefore likely to repeat in the future,” said the Rwandan President.