Harare, 30 Oct 2017 (ACBF) – A recent call by global stakeholders on the IMF and World Bank Group to commit to a “strong, sustainable, balanced, inclusive, and job-rich growth” and to promote policies and scale up capacity development that will help poorer countries “unlock their growth potential and enhance resilience to shocks,” reinvigorates the gospel of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF): that of prodding Africa produce Skilled People and Strong Institutions for the continents’ transformation.
Led by its Executive Secretary, Prof Emmanuel Nnadozie, the Foundation strongly participated in the IMF/World Bank Group Annual Meetings of October 2017 in Washington DC, where actors of various committees of the convening institutions made the call. ACBF’s work caught the attention of the Annual Meetings Daily, which has been a successful comprehensive ‘journal’ of the event for several years now.
In the following interview granted to the said publication in Washington DC, Prof Nnadozie succinctly replays ACBF’s journey of the past 26 years, says why the Foundation is more relevant to Africa now than ever before and beckons on African States and development partners to support the Foundation to play its role as the AU’s Specialized Agency for Capacity Development in helping to raise the continent to a level where it is capable of achieving its own development.
Annual Meetings Daily: Why is capacity development key for Africa’s transformation and what are the challenges in carrying out this crucial task?
Prof Nnadozie: Africa's development efforts are being hobbled by severe capacity deficits often in the form of shortage of critical skills, deficits in leadership, inhibiting mindsets and weak institutions. This has severely hampered the ability to implement existing policies and development strategies across the continent. This persistent implementation gap has resulted in good development strategies and policies not translating to desirable development outcomes, including sustained economic growth, structural transformation, employment, reduction in inequality and eradication of poverty. Identifying and addressing capacity deficits, especially implementation capacity deficits will require considerable effort in developing leadership and critical skills, catalyzing mindset change and building or strengthening key institutions at country, regional and continental levels and in the state and non-state sectors.
African countries wish to transform their economies from primarily primary commodity-dependent to industrialized economies and they have articulated this in their national development strategies and in the continental Agenda 2063. However, the reality is that the manufacturing sector remains relatively small in Africa compared to other developing regions. It accounts for 11% of GDP, lower than comparable ratios for other developing regions such as East Asia and the Pacific (23%), South Asia (16%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (14%).
Africa has long suffered from sluggish productivity growth and low export diversification. While some countries such as South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mauritius, etc. are broadening their range of industries and products, overall, Africa has faced the challenge of weak value addition in the manufacturing sector and limited research and development and technological advances. Despite enormous efforts made by ACBF and others in the post-independence period to build Africa’s human and institutional capacity, the lack of adequate capacity remains a critical constraint for sustained economic growth, structural transformation and sustainable development.
If you look back 50 years since many African countries gained independence, you will realize that almost every country has developed, in one form or another, strategies for economic development. Many have visions to become emerging economies and middle-income countries. The reality is that albeit the notable progress made in many fronts, often, these great plans and strategies have not fully delivered the expected development outcomes. This is not always because of lack of finance but mainly because of weak human and institutional capacity to implement these strategies. We also see that even development finance received by these countries from the development finance institutions are not fully utilized because of low absorptive capacity. Hence capacity is the missing link.
ACBF stands ready to continue supporting African countries and their institutions in their effort to develop or strengthen human, institutional and soft capacities and will continue to mobilize resources, provide grants, deliver capacity development services and leverage knowledge and learning to enable them to achieve their development objectives. The Foundation will ensure that capacity development receives the attention it deserves and will continue to emphasize innovation, capacity retention, capacity harmonization, capacity utilization and sustainable capacity development as the guiding principles of its investments and interventions in capacity development across Africa.
What are the critical skills needed for Africa’s transformation and what level of awareness and engagement is there from African countries to invest in these skills?
The first ten-year plan of Africa’s development blueprint, the Agenda 2063, lays the foundation for Africa’s transformation from a continent that is heavily dependent on primary commodity exports to one that is more competitive, driven by manufacturing, industry, value addition and effective participation in the global value chains. ACBF’s work has demonstrated that critical to this effort is the capacity in science, technology and innovation, which requires considerable effort in promoting the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Unfortunately, such capacity is currently woefully inadequate. For example, it will require about 2.4 million engineers and 1.3 million agricultural scientists to achieve the objectives of the first 10-year plan of Agenda 2063.
At the rate at which these critical skills are being produced, it doesn’t take an expert to know that national and continental development objectives are unlikely to be met. It is important, therefore, to pay attention to how to massively develop these critical skills.
In June 2014 African Heads of State and Government adopted a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, commonly referred to as STISA-2024. The strategy is part of the long-term people-centered AU Agenda 2063 which is underpinned by science, technology and innovation as multi-function tools and enablers for achieving continental development goals. The strategy, further fosters social transformation and economic competitiveness, through human capital development, innovation, value addition, industrialization and entrepreneurship.
The 2017-2021 Strategy of ACBF, which is the African Union’s Specialized Agency on Capacity Development, is developed around four strategic pillars, designed to support Agenda 2063 and the SDGs, the first and second ones aiming at enabling effective delivery of continental development priorities; and supporting countries to achieve tangible development results. ACBF welcomes every partner to join hands with us to help develop, retain and to fully utilize these critical skills for Africa’s transformation.
What are the major achievements of ACBF?
ACBF has achieved phenomenal success in its intervention across Africa in the past 26 years. The Foundation’s exemplary fund-management of about 750 million dollars for both knowledge production, capacity development and strengthening of human and institutional capacities has produced over 5000 experts in several fields of economic management in Africa. As I speak to you today, some of these experts have become Finance Ministers, members of Government while many more are the top-policy advisers in Ministries of Finance and Economic Development as well as in Central Banks, responsible in the design of some of the growth results you have seen in the continent in the last decade.
In one country alone, I found that there were about 30 members of staff of the Finance Ministry that are beneficiaries of ACBF capacity development programs.
Our support to countries has not been limited to economic and finance sectors but also to public sector management, where we have partnered with public sector management as well as agricultural economics institutions across the continent to develop programs tailor-made to the continent’s needs. Graduates from these institutions have gone ahead to improve the governance architecture of their countries while others are manning enterprises that are contributing immensely to the growth of their countries’ economies.
Further, we have strengthened various institutions to improve their efficiency and effectiveness at various levels, ministries, parliaments, regional economic communities as well as key continental organizations such as the African Union Commission, NEPAD, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) among others.
We have also contributed in calibrating continental agendas to make them achievable. For instance, ACBF has been responsible for groundbreaking work to identify the capacity imperatives for implementing Agenda 2063 with a clear mapping of how to go about that in the first ten years. In connection to this, we have been promoting regional integration at the continent through our work and through our investment in helping the regional economic communities (RECs) to improve on their policy-making, especially for trade and promoting regional integration. Clear examples include the harmonization of public finance frameworks for various RECS and the adoption of convergence criteria for monetary communities.
We have equally empowered women across the continent through various programs. For example, the Empowering Women in Agriculture program, led by the President of Liberia, Honorable Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has made appreciable impact across the continent. We have promoted dialogue and better understanding of capacity development on the continent through our knowledge services and our knowledge products, including the African Capacity Report, and other knowledge instruments. The list goes on.
Overall, our major achievements include strengthening public policy, producing highly-skilled public-sector economists and managers, strengthening institutions for financial accountability, enhancing the effectiveness of non-state actors, empowering women, improving trade and regional integration, strengthening parliaments, enhancing knowledge in capacity development, providing a platform for dialogue on and coordination in capacity development and promoting a focus on results.
ACBF is one-year through its 2017-2021 strategy. Explain what the strategy seeks to achieve.
The Strategy seeks to achieve an Africa that is capable of driving its own development. That’s our overall vision and its development is enshrined in the Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Strategy is hinged on Four Pillars: helping to deliver on continental agendas, that is Agendas 2063, 2030 and sub-regional plans; supporting countries to achieve development results; working with the private sector, civil society and non-state actors so that they can make more effective contribution to sustainable development; and producing fit-or-purpose knowledge services for capacity development and overall economic and social development of the continent.
We also pay attention to other equally critical areas. First, is paying serious attention to the sustainability of every one of our activity or program. Second, we focus on unraveling the binding capacity constraints to economic development and enhancing implementation capacity. Third, we promote capacity harmonization, capacity retention and capacity utilization, so that Africa can benefit squarely from the people whose skills it is improving through the efforts of ACBF and like-minded institutions. And the fourth, we are building strategic partnerships to help reach our goal.
We aim to realize the goals of the strategy in line with the four pillars, by. 1) mobilizing resources for capacity development; 2) investing in capacity development through grants but especially through the accountable management of funds and complex continental programs; 3) generating the kind of knowledge that will help us to move Africa forward and learn more; 4) providing capacity development services; and 5) innovating in our capacity development efforts.
What should donors, African countries and other partners do to support ACBF?
They can do a whole lot. ACBF is grateful for the satisfactory work that has been done, thanks to the support of African member States, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as bilateral partners in the West and such private supporters as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have generously supported our work since 1991. However, more needs to be done because the challenges are quite enormous and they are becoming more complex each passing day. For instance, we have identified huge gaps in the number of engineers, agricultural scientists and development managers needed for Africa to get to a tipping point of transformation as well as the need for transformative leaders. The key institutions of development remain weak and non-existent in many countries. Many African countries have great development plans, yet the implementation skills are low, so we have been actively supporting countries, in particular, those affected by conflict or crisis to acquire the right skills and build or strengthen key institutions in order to steer such plans into action. The last of such interventions have been made in South Sudan, Comoros and The Gambia. We need enormous resources to do this work which is becoming more critical.
For the ACBF to continue with the good work, we need support, financial and political, from everybody – the bilaterals, the multilaterals and member states in Africa. It is important for African countries in particular to recognize that they have to support their organization. After all, the only way we can achieve the Africa we want is for us to be able to ensure that Africa is capable of achieving its own development – as captured in our vision statement.
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ABOUT the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)
Having spearheaded and robustly coordinated capacity development programs worth over 700 million US dollars across 45 countries and 8 regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa since 1991, ACBF has gathered the requisite experience that makes it the go-to institution for expert knowledge and human resources to advise and support African countries, regional economic communities and institutions on decisive steps to take to develop the practical skills urgently required for the continent’s economic transformation.
Evidence from our cutting-edge work (constituting hundreds of knowledge publications) and the work of several partners show that Africa's development efforts are being hobbled by severe capacity deficits often in the form of shortage of critical skills, deficits in leadership, inhibiting mindsets and weak institutions. The continent’s practical skills shortage is acute in key areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Agriculture.
At ACBF, we will continue using our unmatched track record in managing financial facilities for development, our vast knowledge gathering experience thanks to the exceptional skills mix of our core staff as well as our strong strategic partnerships and networks to help countries and institutions identify their capacity needs, advise them on how to plug these capacity weaknesses and on where to find the knowledge and resources to develop the requisite capacity resources, effectively use them and retain them to achieve their short and long-term development objectives.
ACBF’s vision is an Africa capable of achieving its own development.
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