How Africa urbanises will be critical to the continent’s future growth and development, according to the African Economic Outlook 2016. Africa’s economic performance held firm in 2015 amid global headwinds and regional shocks. The continent remained the second fastest growing economic region after East Asia. In 2015, net financial flows to Africa were estimated at USD 208 billion, 1.8% lower than in 2014 due to a contraction in investment, while official development assistance increased by 4%; and remittances remain the most stable and important single source of external finance at USD 64 billion in 2015. According to the authors, if harnessed by adequate policies, urbanisation can help advance economic development through higher agricultural productivity, industrialisation, services stimulated by the growth of the middle class, and foreign direct investment in urban corridors. It also can promote social development through safer and inclusive urban housing and robust social safety nets. Finally, it can further sound environmental management by addressing the effects of climate change as well as the scarcity of water and other natural resources, controlling air pollution, developing clean cost-efficient public transportation systems, improving waste collection, and increasing access to energy. Seizing this urbanisation dividend requires bold policy reforms and planning efforts, however, such as by strengthening local governance, tailoring national urban strategies to specific contexts and diverse urban realities and harnessing innovative financing instruments.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
Africa’s development agenda beyond 2015 was at the heart of discussions at the 15th International Economic Forum in Africa: “Africa beyond 2015”, in Berlin in September 2015. According to the OECD, Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to strengthen to 2016 but poverty and hunger rates remain stubbornly high, progress in health and education is uneven, and huge inequalities persist between and within countries, and between women and men. Furthermore, low productivity and investment as well as weak or non-existent infrastructure are holding back economic and development progress. A panel of African leaders suggested that regional development strategies and local assets provide possible solutions to these challenges, and discussed special economic zones, economic corridors, strategies for lagging regions and slum upgrading for promoting regional development, overcoming spatial inequalities, mobilising local resources and creating productive employment opportunities. The importance of the Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda “to speak with one voice and to act in unity to ensure that Africa’s voice is heard and is fully integrated into the global development agenda,” was highlighted.
African leaders have signed an agreement to set up a massive free-trade area to improve regional integration and boost economic growth across the continent. The deal to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was signed at an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda by representatives of 44 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states. The agreement commits countries to removing tariffs on 90 percent of goods, with 10 percent of "sensitive items" to be phased in later. It will also liberalise trade in services and might in the future include free movement of people and a single currency. AfCFTA will now have to be ratified by individual countries. Nigeria pulled out of the signing ceremony. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had warned government against signing the agreement, calling it a "renewed, extremely dangerous and radioactive neo-liberal policy initiative". A further protocol, the Protocol on Free Movement of People has to date been signed by 27 countries.
African Union ministers of trade and agriculture gathered in early December 2012 at a joint conference in Addis Ababa to discuss their growing and increasingly overlapping work agendas. Agriculture remains the key source of income and employment for most Africans, while efforts intensify across the continent to liberalise intra-regional trade. In this blog, the authors summarise the main resolutions from the summit, while the final outcomes document is being drafted. Ministers agreed to accelerate implementation of the Plan of Action for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade in both agricultural commodities and processed food products. This is hoped to lead to an early deal to liberalise key regional food staples markets, as part of the continental free trade area. They also identified the national and regional compacts and investment plans of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) as the main instruments to define and operationalise trade-agriculture collaboration, while strengthening the capacity of relevant institutions and producers to effectively participate in these innovative practices and monitor their impact at country level. While they acknowledged the need to work at national, regional and continental levels to remove trade barriers in agricultural commodities, they emphasised that without immediate follow-up, food security will remain uncertain.
At the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) diplomatic conference on 9-10 August in Swakopmund, Namibia, the protocol on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Folklore was signed by African nine states. ARIPO currently has 17 member states. Nine states signed the protocol and the remaining eight states will have to accede to the protocol. Some states have already initiated the process for the ratification and accession, according to a spokesperson for ARIPO, Emmanuel Sackey. The protocol will enter into force after six contracting states have ratified or acceded to it, Sackey said. The organisation is expected to take initiatives on traditional knowledge and link its initiatives with those undertaken by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) through its active involvement in the WIPO activities in this field. The protocol is meant to ‘protect creations derived from the exploitation of traditional knowledge in ARIPO member states against misappropriation and illicit use through bio-piracy,’ according to ARIPO. The protocol should also prevent the ‘grant of patents in respect of inventions based on pirated traditional knowledge (…) and to promote wider commercial use and recognition of that knowledge by the holders, while ensuring that collective custodianship and ownership are not undermined by the introduction of new regimes of private intellectual property rights.’ The United Nations has warned against the application of western legal and economic principles to collectively owned knowledge in traditional communities.
Inter-African trade, which is high on the agenda at the upcoming African Union (AU) summit, will not remain the AU’s only priority in 2012. According to this report in Africa Review, the ambitious list of priorities consists of efforts to boost the continent’s global role, and plans to review the AU’s international partnerships in order to ensure they bring greater benefits to Africa. Peace and security continue to be a major concern, and AU intends to push its member states to strengthen democracy and good governance, an area closely linked to security concerns. The AU will take steps to establish food reserves and to secure access to markets and competitive prices for farmers. A free trade zone across the continent is envisaged to boost commerce between countries. At present, less than 15% of African trade stays on the continent - the rest is sold abroad.
The African Union (AU) has announced it will proceed with the establishment of a Pan-African Intellectual Property Office (PAIPO), despite misgivings from civil society and development economists about the potential impact on local economies. There is currently no intellectual property (IP) office for Africa. The AU has requested a meeting of all stakeholders dealing with intellectual property before the May 2013 AU Summit. According to the author of this article, public information is difficult to obtain from the African Union, and nothing further is known at this time. He argues that signing up to the global IP system, in which nearly all of the IP rights are owned by non-African entities, clashes with the development objectives of the African Union, which are to promote African sovereignty and equitable development.
At Workers University in Cairo, a mid-May gathering of 100 trade union leaders and intellectuals from across Africa adopted surprisingly common radical language, exhibiting a pent-up desire to jointly fight global neoliberalism. The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) has been an extraordinary network for 5000 members who are the continent's core of progressive academics. The article provides a detailed recount and discussion of the various arguments and perspectives presented.
African countries have called for greater voice in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including not only an increase in formal voting power and representation at its decision-making bodies but also in the diversity of its staff members, to better represent their interests at the institution. In statements during the IMF’s Annual Meetings, African finance ministers and central bank governors have reiterated their calls for at least a tripling of basic votes as an outcome of the current quota and voice reform process to protect the voting shares of low-income countries. They also called for a meaningful and expeditious increase in their representation at the Executive Board, including an amendment to the Fund’s Articles of Agreement to enable Executive Directors representing large constituencies to appoint more than one Alternate Executive Directors.
Much has been written about Africa’s so-called ‘resource curse’, whereby natural resources disrupt an economy and create incentives for wide-scale corruption and even conflict. The effects of the resource curse need not, however, be viewed as inevitable, the author of this article argues. Political choice is key. Botswana has used its mineral wealth to develop into a stable, middle-income country. More recent producers such as Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone appear to be making good governance decisions so far. Emerging markets, especially China, continue to ramp up demand for the continent’s commodities, offering a once in a millennium opportunity for African governments to lift millions of people out of poverty. African leaders and the international community, big business and civil society must assume responsibility, the author argues. The most practical and credible form of becoming ‘transparent’, she says, is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which requires governments to explain clearly and openly the revenues flowing from its extractive sector so that any party can see how much the country in question receives from oil, gas and mining companies. So far, ten African governments have been judged compliant.