Round Table of Benin’s Development Partners and Private Investors
Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region
June 17–19, 2014, Paris, France
As prepared for delivery
Mr. President of the Republic of Benin,
Madam Secretary of State for Trade,
Distinguished guests and participants attending in your various capacities,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here in Paris this morning and to participate in this important conference on Benin’s development in your distinguished company. This conference is taking place at a seminal moment for Sub-Saharan Africa and at a pivotal period for Benin.
After being known for several decades as the continent of armed conflict, rampant poverty, and endemic malnutrition, Africa is now experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt. Our 2014 projected growth rate for Sub-Saharan Africa is 5.2 percent—a 0.5 percent improvement over 2013, led essentially by greater investment in mining and infrastructure.
The continent’s strong growth is also attributable to the development of commercial agriculture, to the processing and added value work being done locally, as well as to robust household consumption that rose by almost 3.7 percent annually over the last ten years. Household consumption is also fueled by foreign remittances, which amounted to US$32 billion in 2013—a 6.2 percent increase that surpasses the 2011 record of US$30 billion. This is also reflected in the emergence of a middle class in many African countries.
Africa’s population is young and growing rapidly. Fifty percent of its population is under age 25. Each year, 11 million young people join the workforce. This strong demographic growth, if accompanied by proper training in science, technology, and math, should position Africa to become a global production center and sustainable development hub.
The bold reforms made by several African countries in recent years, including Benin, are fueling the robust macroeconomic performance we are witnessing. It is important to maintain this momentum so that growth can be even stronger and more inclusive. This is a prerequisite to enable countries and people to withstand various shocks, whether stemming from commodity price volatility or the effects of climate change.
For this reason, my institution is firmly committed to continuing to support Africa through transformative programs and access to innovative financing, with the aim of significantly expanding its production base for manufactured products and diversifying its economies, creating jobs, and eradicating extreme poverty.
To achieve this, it is imperative for us to resolve the energy issue, as this is central to our vision for Africa. Expanding access by the people and economic operators to modern, efficient, and low-cost energy services will be a key performance indicator for all the public policies and programs that we support.
Allow me to commend you on the progress made in recent years by Benin in the economic sphere. The successive growth strategies aimed at poverty reduction have contributed to the achievement of a growth rate of roughly 4 percent in the past decade. However, this rate is not enough to significantly reduce poverty owing, among other things, to strong demographic growth, which stands at 3.6 percent. We therefore support the goal set by the authorities in its new strategy to accelerate Benin’s pace of socioeconomic development by strengthening infrastructure and improving human capital, the supply of basic social services, and good governance, with a view to achieving robust growth projected at 7 to 8 percent in the years ahead. I therefore commend the Government of Benin for taking the initiative to organize this round table to mobilize the financing needed to implement this strategy.
We are pleased to note that Benin has come to this round table with specific projects and clear choices. Indeed, it must be stressed that public resources are limited while there is tremendous demand for public investment to develop the economic sector. Against this backdrop, priorities must be set.
I would like to urge the Government to continue the reforms necessary to improve the investment climate and promote public-private partnerships.
The flagship projects that will be presented at this round table, in particular the backbone project and the electricity infrastructure investment program in Benin are key, as they will impact various areas of the national economy. As you are aware, the World Bank is contributing to the development of Benin’s infrastructure by placing emphasis on regional approaches through such projects as the Abidjan-Lagos Trade and Transport Facilitation Project, the West African Power Pool (WAPP), and the West African Regional Communications Infrastructure Project (WARCIP), which should revolutionize the cost and speed of the Internet in Benin.
Lastly, I would like to note the importance accorded by your strategy to social issues. Strong demographic growth does indeed pose challenges in terms of the demand for education, health, nutrition, employment, housing, and urban management services. Benin must turn this demographic pressure into an economic advantage in the medium term and derive benefit from the demographic dividend.
Allow me to conclude by congratulating the Beninese authorities once again on this initiative and expressing my wish for the resounding success of this round table.