Seminar on Work for Human Development in Africa - Statement by Abdoulaye Mar DIEYE, UNDP Regional Director for Africa - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 14 December 2015

Dec 20, 2015

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
 
Laboro ergo sum!
 
I work therefore I am!
 
Had the British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell read the 2015 Edition of the Human Development Report, he would not have written his classic opus, “In Praise of Idleness”; or rather, he would have re-titled it “the virtue of work”.
 
Russell, like many of us, equated work with labour. He saw in labour or jobs, what philosophers call an instrumental good, something which is valuable not in itself but because of what we can achieve through it. It is true that job makes a living, but unlike work, it doesn’t necessarily make a life.
 
Our modern civilization is still a victim of our unfortunate pre-dominantly market culture, which sees and recognizes only value that can be monetized.
 
Before even re-defining the notion of work, we must re-invent the notion of value itself.
 
The Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampâté Bâ was right when he said that “In Africa, when an old person dies, it’s a library burning down”. We never credited monetary value to the wisdom of the tales and legends that our African grandmothers shared with us, during warm evenings, around the campfires. That’s human capital at its supreme degree. We are what we are today because of those inspiring and invaluable lessons of life that we got from our elders free of charge.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
If we really regard the powerful message of this Human Development Report, then we are in for tectonic, dual-cultural revolutions.
 
First we must re-engineer our national accounting systems to adequately capture the social value of work; and
 
Second, we must re-invent the political economy of public policies, by promoting sustainable work, and by giving due recognition to the spirit of volunteerism and altruism; and to the culture of sharing, caring and solidarity.
 
Dear participants,
 
The HDR examines every year the prospects and challenges in human development across the world. It is rejoicing to see that over the last nearly 25 years (1990-2014), Sub-Saharan Africa’s HDI has grown by 30 percent, which surpassed the HDI growth for the world (20 percent) and for developing region as a whole (28 percent). Between 2000 and 2014, Ethiopia and Rwanda improved their HDIs by 55.5 and 45.1 percent - far above any other country globally. This is a validation of the “Africa rising narrative”.
 
But overall, Human Development still remains low in Africa. For this ‘rising narrative’ to be sustainable, Africa must urgently prioritize the reduction of poverty through strong and sustained economic growth that benefits the poorest, especially the youth and the women, and through improved social services.
 
Human development is one of the major challenges facing the region and human capital is a critical factor in the fight to reduce poverty and reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
 
As the “youngest” region in the world, Africa has a unique window of opportunity to help transform an entire generation through the right long-term investments in education and health. Tomorrow is too late for Africa’s burgeoning youth, they need the right skills for jobs, and protection from preventable diseases that affect their productivity today.
 
In Africa, the road to socioeconomic and human development relies heavily on entrepreneurship. The continent’s entrepreneurial sector is key to finding and enacting innovative, sustainable and context-specific solutions for social needs and market demands. While self-employment holds an important potential, including for the youth, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it reflects a lack of alternatives. Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and know-how amongst the youth in specific sectors is critical to the continent’s human development. Panel 1 this afternoon will discuss those opportunities.
 
This year’s report notes that globalization and the digital revolution are opening up opportunities but also poses risks. Expanded opportunities are available to highly skilled workers and those with access to technology. Digital technologies connect producers to consumers in global marketplaces, improve access to goods, services, finance, technology and ideas.  But, there is uneven access to ICTs. In 2015, only 34 percent of the households in developing regions have internet access while it reaches 81 percent in the developed region.
 
Uneven distribution of achievements in human development is another major risk and challenge. The persistence of high inequalities is costing the continent 33.3 percent of human development per year – more than any other region in the world. While income inequality remains high, inequality in health and education are higher. A healthy and educated workforce is critical to support economic activity on the continent.
 
Gender inequality in human development is another major challenge. On average, an African woman only achieves 87 percent of a man’s level of human development. This inequality is driven by a low female secondary educational attainment, cultural practices, as well as relatively high maternal mortality and adolescent birth rate. Public policies must urgently address those inequalities, vertical and horizontal. Panel II, this afternoon will elaborate.
 
Africa needs to seize opportunities in the changing world of work, to ensure that a globalizing, technology-driven world provides equitable opportunities, shared prosperity and enhanced human development for all its citizens.  This can only be achieved through active public policies, national and global programs as well as strategies that creates sustainable jobs, ensure decent wages and protect workers’ safety and rights.
 
I thank you.

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