5 November 2012

Rwanda Tips Africa On Sustainable Development

The seventh African Economic Conference closed in Kigali last week with President Kagame telling experts that while their textbook economic policies are first-class, they need the backing of good politics to achieve sustainable growth and inclusive development.

"In Rwanda, we understand that politics and economics go hand in hand and we have made a conscious and deliberate choices of inclusive development based on our political reality. By and large, they have produced positive results," he said. "Growth has been consistent and poverty levels considerably reduced by 12% from 56.9% to 44% in five years."

Kagame stressed that efforts of both leaders and technocrats should not only result in economic growth as presented in figures but should see the creation of jobs, reducing of poverty and improving the welfare of citizens. "That is what inclusive development should be about," the President noted.

Participants attending the conference were told that Rwanda was chosen to host this year's event because it has indeed not only sustained the growth of its economy over the past years but also turned around the fortunes of its people as seen in the remarkable reduction of poverty over the past few years.

"We have an opportunity to learn from Rwanda and see whether we can adopt best practices in our own economies," noted Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank, (AfDB).

Experts running African economies are keen on finding a way to buffer their current growth to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in an age of economic uncertainty. But the same conference heard that while African leaders might have the power to correct homemade approaches to steer their economies forward, they are not entirely in control of their own destiny as it is always the influence of the international donors that has set the agenda to follow.

"We need strong leaders to lead their people using African solutions to solve African problems," Kagame remarked.

The President particularly condemned the fact that while the country is praised for sound macroeconomic policies that have enabled them to register success acclaimed in various international reports, some shadowy elements within the international community have found space to turn around and accuse Rwanda of being undemocratic using the same basis to delay development aid hence indirectly slowing down growth.

"While we are elected to be accountable to our people, Africa has to deal with the problem of these invisible forces that want to dictate what they think is right for us. This calls for strong leaders," noted Kagame.

Kagame highlighted the ongoing crisis in the DRC where he said the failure of the Congolese government to effectively administer the country coupled with the international community's own failure in its attempts to address the problem, has caused the current crisis yet somehow the blame has been shifted to Rwanda and has been a justification for some development partners to hold back their aid.

Secure investment destination

Speaking on the role of good governance in sustainable growth, ex-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that inclusive development must comprise equity, equality, popular participation not only in politics but also in the economy itself and, "of course there must be transparency, and all those things that make the governed believe and have confidence in those who govern them."

Finance Minister John Rwangombwa for his part told journalists that if Rwanda has achieved a lot with little means, Africa can achieve double digit growth if they did a few things right.

"We must present ourselves as the most profitable and secure destination of investors' funds who are scared of the problems in the Western markets. It is worrying to know that Africa attracts less than 9% of foreign direct investment. We need as much as possible to continue reducing the uncertainties about the evolution of our economies," advised Rwangombwa.

But in order to be attractive, the conference heard that African economies need to urgently prioritize investment in infrastructure, energy and human resources. Donald Kaberuka underscored the need for long-term solutions research on how African countries could internally finance their development, and learning from what has gone wrong globally to redesign their policies.

Kaberuka added that Africa must invest in quality education in order to stop poverty being passed down from generation to generation.

'People most important'

This was echoed by UNDP expert Helen Clark who said that countries need to translate growth into higher human development using deliberate policy measures and targeted investments in especially energy and infrastructure needed to make growth not just fast, but also inclusive and sustainable.

Clark observed that while Africa has weathered the economic crisis and achieved considerable advances in the area of poverty reduction and human development, the region is still characterized by high levels of poverty, hunger, unemployment and inequality in political voice and access to resources.

"People are the most important. Youth and women have a great role to play and their potential should be enhanced by programs which seek to develop their skills and capacities to do so," she said.

While the 2012 African Economic Outlook report says six of the world's ten fastest growing economies between 2001 and 2010 are in sub-Saharan Africa, employment opportunities are still not favorable for young people on the continent, with only an average of between 10 to 12 million young people entering the labor market each year.

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