It’s a pleasure to be here to open this event, which is going to discuss an issue of fundamental importance to Africa – how to move from growth to transformation.This is an issue that I am extremely concerned about, and I am very pleased that ACET has taken it on in a structured way, and has come up with a comprehensive report.
I am also pleased that we are able to meet today to discuss it from a policy perspective and to hear from policy makers who are struggling with this issue on the ground.
There is no doubt that Africa has made very meaningful progress in recent years, and the growth levels of many countries on the continent are impressive. The growth is even more impressive because in large part it is due to sound policies, better macroeconomic management, better governance and increased incentives for the private sector. For all that, Ministers of Finance and Economy need to be congratulated.
But, high levels of growth are not enough unless they also produce jobs and result in increased economic opportunity and diversifcation. That is the problem we currently face throughout the continent. Most countries are still dependent on primary commodities. Only one or two have internationally competitive manufacturing sectors. Low productivity of both individals and firms is widespread. There is little application of cutting edge technologies or new innovations.
This is what must change if the continent is to achieve its true potential. Economic diversification, higher productivity and competitiveness, expansion of employment, and greater use of technology are all necessary.
This is what ACET means by economic transformation. It has identified five attributes for transformation: diversification, export competitiveness, productivity, technology, and human well-being.
These attributes are central to the process of fundamentally changing economies and creating the basis for sustainable growth that benefits society as a whole, not just a few. I would just like to make comments on two issues that I see as essential to transforming African economies.
One is education and skills. Basic education is essential, but we have to go beyond numbers to look at the quality of education. This is a problem in a lot of countries. Children go to school, but they don’t learn much, and what they learn doesn’t equip them with what they need to make a living.
But I also think we have to go beyond basic education. We need highly qualified and skilled workforces. This means we have to provide quality higher education. The quality of higher education institutions on the continent has declined, and we have to rebuild it.
We also have to look at the skills that are needed to the 21st century. Science and technology are essential for industrial development, manufacturing, extracting and processing natural resources, developing infrastructure, providing health care, and a whole range of other things on which our lives depend.
But science and technology have been neglected throughout much of the continent, and it is a development imperative that we start to focus on them now.
The other issue is infrastructure. It simply is not possible for the continent to achieve its development targets with the current state of infrastructure. Energy in particular is a game changer. Access to energy literally changes people’s lives. It is unacceptable that 600 million people on the continent do not have access to electricity.
I could make many more points, because this is a topic that I care passionately about, but I will conclude with just one more comment. The World Bank has defined two overarching goals—to eliminate extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. Achieving those goals in Africa will not be possible simply with growth, however high the level. Structural change—or in ACET’s terminology, economic transformation—is needed.