Addis Ababa — "Governance is the reason why some nations and societies do better than others," Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared as he welcomed delegates to the 12th edition of the African Economic Conference taking place at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa.
Hailemariam, whose country has had growth averaging over 10% for almost a decade, said it is the quality of governance that drives transformation.
"The question is, what kind of governance leads to transformation and which one to stagnation; or even worse, regression," the Prime Minister asked, echoing the theme of the meeting: "Governance for structural transformation".
The annual three-day event - jointly organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) - brings together government officials, researchers and development practitioners from Africa and other parts of the world.
During the opening ceremony, Hailemariam enumerated development, democracy and equity as the continent's priorities. "As such, for African countries to structurally transform themselves rapidly and inclusively, the better viable option is for them to have strong, activist, developmental and democratic state", he said.
Various speakers emphasized the need for structural transformation – which encourages the reallocation of economic activity across the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sector.
"Governance, as you know, determines which public policies get adopted and how they are implemented," said Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of UNECA.
She told the audience that bringing the two concepts together to form this year's theme was very deliberate, "because of their centrality in moving our continent towards the development trajectory envisioned in both the 2030 development agenda and Agenda 2063" – the sustainable development plans adopted by the United Nations and the African Union.
Songwe said governance and structural transformation can be "mutually reinforcing", reminding delegates of the progress the continent made in this regard for over a decade and half:
"Africa experienced the longest period of growth from 2000- 2013. Debt to GDP ratio levels dropped; fiscal deficits decreased… the percent of people living below the poverty line dropped to below 50 percent for the first time," she said.
But she cautioned that that rapid growth, whereby the continent grew at five percent per annum, was not "job-rich, sustainable and inclusive", noting that a majority of African workers were still trapped in the informal sector.
Organizers say principal aims of the conference are to:
- foster dialogue that promotes the exchange of ideas and innovative thinking;
- encourage research on economic and policy issues;
- and promote knowledge management "as an important driver of policy dialogue, good policy planning and implementation".
Like the last one in Abuja, they say this year's gathering will include presentations of research papers by established academics as well as emerging ones. One of the distinguished presenters is Professor Richard Joseph, who served as the keynote speaker for Monday's opening ceremony.
Joseph identified what he says are opportunities and challenges that are vital for African countries to advance "politically and economically' in an uncertain global environment. He called on governments to reduce welfare, promote institutional efficiency, enhance electoral integrity, and scale back on corruption.
"The time has come to establish a transnational center for the studies of governance and development," he said in his keynote address. "We need a new wave of policies, analyses and prescriptions grounded in African reality".