Head of UNDP Africa at 10th African Economic Conference

Nov 2, 2015

Speech by Mr Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa, at the 10th African Economic Conference

Your Excellency, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,

Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court,

President of the African Development Bank,

Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

I am honoured to address this esteemed assembly on the occasion of the 10th African Economic Conference, jointly organized by the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Bank Development, here in this hospitable land, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Poverty and inequality – these two relevant themes will guide us throughout this Conference. But they are also two scourges that throughout time have audaciously challenged our intelligence and our common desire to overcome their grip.

I would like to invite our Conference to think outside the box in order to show bold creativity and to chart the ways towards solving the haunting equation, which is still the unacceptable tenacity of poverty and the unsustainable persistence of inequalities; this situation denies us our sense of humanity, above all, given the enormous strengths and potentials, both human and natural, of our continent.

Our collective conscience is therefore called upon!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to respond to this call, invoking Sir Henry George who, in his flagship book, "Progress and Poverty", aptly said: "It is not the relations of capital and labour, not the pressure of population against subsistence that explains the unequal development of society. The great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. Ownership of land is the great fundamental fact that ultimately determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual and moral condition of a people. »

However, as long as we do not understand that the earth, with its reserves and potential, is common property and the primary resource for the whole community, and as long as public policy will not be based on this axiom, we will never find a solution to overcoming poverty and inequality. And I am pleased to observe Agenda 2030, which has just been adopted last month in New York, has indeed considered this axiom by pledging that “no one will be left behind”! 

Ladies and gentlemen,

After two decades of missed development opportunities, Africa's economic performance in the last 15 years should be lauded. Africa's development is oriented in the right direction, but "in order that no one will be left behind”, it should be accelerated and expanded. Over the past 20 years, the incidence of poverty has declined on average by only half a percentage point per year.

At this rate it would take ten more years to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the poverty by half compared to 1990. Moreover, the persistence of inequality continues to cause significant losses in human development; 34 percent per year in Africa, against 23 percent globally.

Eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, as well as related phenomena such as infant and child mortality and maternal mortality, environmental degradation, political and security crises, and uncontrolled migration therefore remain key challenges for the continent. And these phenomena are by no means mere externalities to resolve as a secondary priority. For a new approach to development, we need to internalize these externalities, thus placing them at the forefront in the definition, selection and implementation of public policies.

We have been called here today to make such choices of inspired and bold policies. In this context, particular emphasis should be focused foremost on sustainable management, conservation and rehabilitation of land capital. -and high priority should be given – directly – to the empowerment of women, youth employment,  rural entrepreneurship , social and collective entrepreneurship ,  as well as to eliminating prejudices and stereotypes that fuel discrimination, exclusion and marginalization.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my view, three categorical imperatives should accompany these public policies.

First, the imperative to rectify the asymmetries in global governance systems, asymmetries that particularly favour protectionist policies and undue subsidies of certain agricultural products in developed countries, and which drain the export potential of the least developed countries; asymmetries that grant a non-regulated space for pseudo-policies on fiscal optimization for multinational companies, which cause the continent to lose almost US$50 billion per year; asymmetries that still leave unpunished  tax havens where a major portion of US$60 billion in illegal transfers of financial resources that leave Africa each year end up. The G20 should be a competent forum for balancing global economic governance and redressing these dissonances that contribute to the leakage of resources.

Second, the imperative of African countries’ greater role downstream of the global value chain. Today, the weight of Africa in these value chains is less than 6 percent. Herein lies the rationale for giving priority to agricultural production and processing, developing the manufacturing sector, and modernizing mining contracts in a direction that is more favourable to local communities.

In addition, the culture of local entrepreneurship should be developed with a financial intermediation that is more favourable to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which provide more than 50 percent of jobs in Africa. Such an approach would significantly optimize the retention of value in African economies, and it would be even more far-reaching if it were implemented as part of a regional integration policy.

Third, the imperative to build and consolidate developmental states, states that are guided by a long-term development vision, but also states with a strong fiscal and monetary sovereignty. As long as African states will not increase their fiscal space, from their current, very low average level of 14-18 percent of fiscal pressure beyond the minimum threshold of 20-24 percent, as recommended by many empirical studies on the issue, they will not set off a sustained development process.

Moreover, I believe that it is difficult to capitalize on the use of African resources with the current co-existence of 39 different currencies on the continent; a real monetary federation is therefore required, and this is an ineluctable path to the harmonious development of the continent.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our Conference, like those that preceded it in this series, offers a unique opportunity for innovative thinking and experience sharing.

I truly wish that what will emerge from our meeting is what could be called "The Kinshasa Consensus for eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities in Africa!"

Thank you for your attention and I wish you very successful deliberations in our work.

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