Africa’s vulnerability to shocks from outside our continent is becoming more and more obvious. The collapse in commodity prices has sharply slowed growth in many countries. Increased droughts and floods linked to climate change are fuelling food insecurity homelessness and disease. These shocks have hit at a time when the continent is already struggling with severe financial constraints which threaten development.
Increasing the region’s resilience to external shocks must be a priority. As the African Union has recognised, this can best be achieved by industrialisation which would create strong, diversified economies. Such progress would also help tackle the challenge of non-inclusive growth, rising inequality and the lack of jobs for the continent’s young people.
Achieving this transformation requires a fundamental review by countries of their policies to ensure both that they meet the right priorities and can deliver the right results. But the accuracy and thoroughness of these reviews can be undermined by a lack of skills and capacity within the system.
Providing this expertise is the aim of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). Over the last 25 years, we have trained more than 50,000 people in macroeconomic policy analysis, financial management and public administration, with the aim of improving their policy formulation skills and decision-making. These experts have gone back to their jobs better able to contribute to the development of their countries.
The ACBF is now extending its work to close the skills gap in science and technology. The AU has identified, for example, a short-fall of 4.3 million engineers across the continent as a major obstacle to continued progress. Only by investing in expertise in mathematics, science and technology can we create the human capital needed to build the “vibrant Africa” set out in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
What is also needed now is a determined focus on how the continent better harnesses its commodity wealth and response to the challenges of climate change. This means putting right the serious policy limitations that the ACBF has identified.
On the harnessing of the continent’s natural resources, we are particularly concerned about the “narrow focus on enforcement, inaction regarding underlying socioeconomic, political and environmental issues, and the absence of strong regional and international policy action”.
These capacity limitations have prevented Africa from earning value from its natural wealth and have helped further unbalance economies. More investment is urgently required in building the expertise needed to smooth out the impact of the volatile commodity prices on countries.
Climate change is already having a devastating effect across the continent, and African economies need to increase the pace at which they are tackling this challenge. The majority of African economies depend on rain-fed agriculture, which is extremely vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
Capacity will need to be developed to ensure that there are early warning systems to detect extreme weather events and ensures that systems exist for rapid responses to natural disasters. The ACBF will be working closely with African countries and continental organizations to strengthen capacities to collect and analyze data on climate change, which is essential to develop the right adaptation and mitigation policies.
Tackling these twin challenges needs extra resources but they come at a time when government budgets are already under intense pressure. Attention must also be given to developing the capacity to improve tax collection and mobilize savings for investment, to encourage the involvement of the private sector in development and supporting entrepreneurship.
An effective policy reassessment cannot, of course, be achieved overnight. It is a long-term process which requires the evidence to be collected and studied so policies are put in place which meet the continent’s ambitions at both national and regional level. The ACBF is committed to continuing playing its role in this crucial task.