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Capacity Building and Africa’s Economic Transformation: The Role of ACBF

Addis Ababa
25 Oct, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by stating that there is consensus among development practitioners that capacity underpins the success or failure of economic transformation. Without capacity, countries will be unable to design, implement and monitor policies. In that regard I will attempt to address the following four (4) questions to highlight the role of capacity building in Africa’s economic transformation:

1. What were the capacity challenges facing Africa in the past 25 years?

2. How did ACBF respond and what did the Foundation achieve?

3. If we look at the next five to ten years, what are the capacity challenges Africa will still face?

4. What does ACBF intend to do and what does it wish to achieve?

1.On the first question on capacity challenges facing Africa in the past 25 years, I wish to focus on two important challenges that has impacted the continent development.

a) One major capacity challenge facing Africa remains capacity to formulate and implement sound socio economic policies for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth and for poverty eradication.

Africa’s economic performance has been fluctuating on the back of three key factors, namely, prevailing capacity constraints, the structure of the economies and lastly, global economic trends.  While Africa achieved respectable economic growth in the first independence decade—GDP per capital growth of 2.6% per annum during 1965-74, there has been a downward trend since then. There was a modest recovery in the second half of the 1990s, but not enough to translate into meaningful increases in per capita incomes or reduction in poverty. Africa has since 2000, emerged to be the fastest growing region in the globe, with annual economic growth rates averaging 5%. This strong growth has seen a number of African countries growing at levels above 7%. But, these high growth rates have not been accompanied with significant development, as the continent has remained highly dependent on primary commodities which are prone to external shocks, high levels of unemployment especially among the youth, high levels of inequalities and poverty, poor infrastructure development and a very weak industrial base.

Africa today accounts for less than 2% of global GDP, and sub-Saharan Africa for barely 1%. Africa’s share of global GDP has shown a decline since 1990. The continent has most of the poorest countries as measured by the Human Development Index. Human welfare indices confirm the prevalence of poor nutrition, lack of access to health care services and drastic reduction in life expectancy. The 2015 Human Development Report indicated that thirty six (36) out of forty four 44 countries ranked in the lowest category of human development index are in Africa. 

Despite good progress since the turn of the century, Africa's development efforts are being hampered by severe capacity deficits in the implementation of policies and development strategies to propel sustainable and inclusive growth required for human development and poverty alleviation across the continent.  Addressing them will require considerable effort in developing leadership and critical skills, changing mindsets, and building or strengthening key institutions.  This conclusion gives me an opportunity to discuss about the second key capacity challenge.

b)The second challenge I wish to focus on is Capacity to enhance good Governance.

Good governance remains a key ingredient for development. Improvement in the quality of governance in Africa is vital for progress in the 21st century. Such improvement must touch especially on the participation of all stakeholders in national development; transparency and accountability in the allocation and use of public resources and public policy management. It must also address the issue of the process by which governments and leaders are selected and replaced, the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions.

To strengthen governance in Africa, capacity building will need to play a greater role. It will need to professionalize the voice of civil society, media and private sector representative institutions, empower women and civil society organizations, strengthen transparency and accountability, address political instability and provide skills for conflict resolution and management, enhance effectiveness and responsiveness of the public sector as well as the delivery of public services, reduce the burden of regulations, improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory framework, encourage participation by all stakeholders in the development process, strengthen the rule of law, and effectively address the issue of corruption.

Over the last 25 years, some progress has been noted in many countries in the area of governance.  I wish to refer to the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which revealed improvement in overall governance in Africa over the past ten years but this has been held back by a widespread deterioration in the specific area of Safety & Rule of Law. Over the last decade, overall governance has improved in 37 countries. This overall positive trend has been led mainly by improvement in Human development and Participation & Human Rights.

2. How did ACBF respond and what did the Foundation achieve?

ACBF has in the past 25 years made significant contribution to building human, institutional and ‘soft’ capacities by investing in over 321 capacity development projects and committed more than USD700 million to capacity development in Sub-Saharan Africa to date.  The Foundation has supported the development and implementation of policies and programs that have spurred economic development and growth in many African countries. Since its creation in 1991, ACBF has supported the training of more than 50,000 macroeconomists, banking and financial management experts and public administrators and engineers who now hold decision-making positions and are making positive contribution to development in their respective countries.

This has been in recognition of the need to build a strong skills base that can set the stage for development. In addition, and most importantly, the Foundation has supported a number of capacity building interventions that have contributed to improved macroeconomic stability and prudent financial management. The Foundation has supported Governments in the areas of macroeconomic policy analysis and debt management. About 9% of ACBF’s funding portfolio has been used to strengthen the capacity of national parliaments. ACBF-supported institutions have conducted intensive training programs for national parliaments in support of their legislative activities as well as their oversight of the executive. This has assisted countries in attracting transformative investments financed either through foreign direct investments or domestic resource mobilization. This support has set the stage for transformation for Africa and the Foundation continues to support these initiatives to ensure that Africa has the required capacity to implement its transformative Agenda.

ACBF is recognized Africa-wide for having created or strengthened 35 think tanks and policy institutes in Africa and established them as sustainable institutions. ACBF-supported Think Tanks have become key drivers of policy discourse and debates as well as reliable conduits or sources of technical and advisory support to stakeholders along the policy value chain.

The ACBF coordinates over twenty (20) interventions in the area of support for civil society and the private sector, involving lobbying and advocacy in the creation and implementation of policies

3. What are the capacity challenges Africa will still face in the next five to ten years?

The capacity challenges for the coming years have to be looked at in the context of the current continental, regional and countries development priorities as spelled out in the 10 years implementation plan of Agenda 2063.

At the continental level, the capacity challenges translate into the difficulty for the African Union Commission and its organs to effectively coordinate the continental development agenda, engage effectively with internal and external actors, and mobilize resources for its implementation. At the regional level, RECs cannot play their role as building blocks of the continental development architecture. At the national level, the main capacity challenges include the ability to align the national development plans to the continental and global agendas while implementing planned policies and activities.

Additional challenges facing the continent, besides building capacity where it does not exist, are to retain, harmonize, and use capacity that does exist. ACBF’s work on “Capacity Requirements for Agenda 2063” identifies four main categories of deficits: operational capacity of organizations, change and transformative capacity, composite capacity and critical, technical, and sector-specific skills.

Many African actors still require human, institutional, and organizational capacity, systems and processes, and access to information and knowledge. Human capacitycovers “hard” and “soft” skills for implementing development strategies at all technical levels. In particular, hard technical or specialist skills and subject matter knowledge are critical for Africa, and includes sector-based skills in such areas as health, mining, finance, ICT, energy, engineering, infrastructure, research, water resources management, and science, technology, and innovation. ACBF’s capacity imperatives Study for the 10 year implementation plan of Agenda 2063 revealed that the continent is estimated to lack about 4,309,065 engineers and should aim to have 4,856,270 in 2023. Africa is also short of an estimated 9,090 mining specialists/engineers, and should aim to have 26, 927 of them by 2023. Hence deliberate investments in STEM are inevitable.

Capacity to initiate, facilitate, and manage change is still scarce in many African countries and institutions. It includes the ability to foster “driver-of-change” approaches, showing how to “get there” and “make it happen.” Such capacities include transformative leadership (including visioning); change readiness: creating and maintaining the desire for change; having the ability to shift mind-sets.

What does ACBF intend to do and what does it wish to achieve?

Having laid out the capacity challenges, ACBF identifies the requirement for Africa to promote capacity readiness and development along four dimensions that constitute the pillars of its new Strategy 2017-2021: continental and regional level; countries level; non-state actors, and knowledge generation and sharing. Cutting across these dimensions is the requirement to empower the youth and women.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In supporting this transformative agenda, ACBF will continue to provide support and invest in strengthening human and institutional capacity across Africa. In its forthcoming Strategy 2017-2021, the Foundation will build on its 25 years’ experience and support the continent’s transformation, partnering with continental and regional institutions such as HESPI.

The Foundation considers the following approaches and services lines as the most relevant to strengthening both human and institutional capacity on the continent:  

  • Knowledge services, 
  • Capacity development and advisory services
  • Innovation
  • Fund management and investing in capacity
  • Resource mobilization

Our gathering today, is a true testimony of the importance of investing in capacity development. The testimonials on the great contributions that HESPI is making in the continent, particularly in the Horn countries demonstrates the benefits of partnerships in capacity building for Africa’s transformation. ACBF has in the past years provided institutional support to this organization to strengthen its ability to live up to its mandate and we have been seeing the good results.

To efficiently tackle the capacity challenges, however, there is need to provide political and financial support to institutions that have experience in capacity development as well as solid understanding of the continent’s development architecture so as to effectively coordinate capacity development efforts for Africa’s sustainable and inclusive development. ACBF is naturally playing such role and has over 25 years of experience, exclusively devoted to capacity building in Africa. It is therefore necessary for HESPI and all other institutions here represented to continue advocating for support towards institutions that coordinate capacity on the continent.

Let me end here and thank you for your attention.

The remarkable achievements ACBF has registered over the past 26 years is not by accident in our opinion. They have come through hard work, dedication, commitment, purposeful leadership, support from the member countries as well as productive partnership building.

Mr. Lamin Momodou MANNEH, Director, UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa , ,

The recognition of ACBF as the African Union’s Specialized Agency for Capacity Development launches the beginning of a new era for capacity building by ACBF, which will require an appropriate level of political commitment and financial support from all stakeholders.

H.E. Erastus Mwencha, Chair, ACBF Executive Board , ,

Ghana’s partnership with ACBF is a tremendous blessing for us and therefore the opportunity for Ghana to host the 26th ACBF Board of Governors Meeting is something that we treasure. 

Hon Ken Ofori Atta – Minister of Finance, Ghana , ,

Africa needs ACBF as much, probably more now, than at the time it was created in 1991.

Hon. Goodall Gondwe, Chair of the ACBF Board of Governors and Minister of Finance – Malawi , ,

ACBF has been granted the status of a specialized agency because of the potential to transform Africa through capacity development.


H.E. Thomas Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson, AU Commission , ,
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