Keynote Speech on Accelerating Structural Transformation and Human Progress in Africa by Ms. Ruby Sandhu-Rojon during the TICAD VI Follow-Up Event

Apr 10, 2017

It is my great pleasure and honor to present this keynote speech at this follow up event to the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s development (TICAD VI) on the theme “Achieving the SDGs in Africa through Structural Transformation” that is co-hosted by the Government of Japan, JICA, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Columbia University.

This discussion is timely as Africa gears up to deliver on commitments made in the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  that aims at ‘leaving no one behind’ by 2030  and Africa’s Agenda 2063 with an overarching goal of:an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.  The two agendas aspire to eradicate poverty and hunger, fight inequality and discrimination, tackle climate change and promote peaceful and inclusive societies for the achievement of sustainable development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, these two agendas cannot be achieved without a strong commitment to structural economic transformation. We all know that structural transformation through economic diversification and accelerated industrialisation is key to expanding choices and opportunities for women and men, young and old. For this to happen, the diversification of the African economies is a necessary condition. Equally important is that growth must be inclusive and create wage earning jobs for Africa’s youthful population and livelihood opportunities for marginalized groups and remote geographic areas.  It is also true that healthy, knowledgeable and empowered citizens are an imperative for transforming economies.

Africa has made remarkable progress in terms of growth since 2000 - Sub-Saharan Africa has been growing faster than most regions. Despite the lull in the global economy since 2007, African economies continue to be among the fastest growing in the world. The ten fastest growing African economies increased their national income by 5.0-8.5 per cent in 2016, compared to a global average of 3.2 per cent.  Yet,  the well-being of its people notably the most vulnerable ones like youth and women, is still a challenge. Although the continent has started to fill the gap in human development, poverty and inequality still remain very high relative to the rest of the world.

Against this background, the focus of my presentation today will be on harnessing existing opportunities to accelerate structural transformation and human progress through inclusive and sustainable industrialisation building on the strategic outcomes identified during the TICAD VI Conference in Nairobi in August 2016.  

Rising human development with economic, governance and social gains:

UNDP’s global human development report launched in Stockholm on 21st March 2017 makes it clear that Africa is making progress in terms of human development. Africa has outpaced global human development growth rates over the past 15 years.  Between 1990 and 2015, human development in sub-Saharan African countries grew at double the global average, these countries extended life expectancy by six years and reduced under-5 mortality by over 50%. Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world in mobile banking, 12 percent of adults have mobile bank accounts compared to 2 percent globally. So also is the growth in mobile phone usage which growth by 344 per cent between 2007 and 2016 compared with 107 per cent in the rest of the world.

This is due to improved economic growth which I mentioned earlier. And there are improving levels of governance with fewer large scale conflicts.  70% of African citizens live in a country that has seen improved governance and 37 countries improved their overall governance score between 2006 and 2015 in terms of human development, participation and human rights and sustainable economic opportunity. 

Yet many are being left behind:

Despite progress, African countries remain burdened by the world’s most uneven distribution of development gains, with women, girls, people living in rural areas, migrants, refugees and those in conflict-affected areas systemically left behind. Gender inequality also remains a serious challenge to human development in the region.

Almost 60 percent of Africa’s population still experiences deprivations in terms of health, education and living standards and a third of children under the age of five are malnourished and affected by stunting. Over 35 percent of adults are illiterate and some 70 percent of working adults earn less than $3.10 per day.

Some groups are more disadvantaged than others. Women and girls, rural dwellers, people living in areas afflicted by conflict, and ethnic minorities have fewer opportunities than others.  On average, women in sub-Saharan Africa live longer than men, but they receive less schooling and lower incomes. They achieve only 88% of the human development levels of men.  On average, the region loses an estimated US$95 billion annually to women’s lower participation in the paid labour force - and in 2014, that figure soared as high as $105 billion which translates to 6 percent of African GDP.

So Africa must accelerate economic and social progress with equity:

African countries are learning a bitter lesson from over-reliance on primary commodities. The lower prices of recent years have dampened economic growth with serious fiscal and social consequencies. Creating greater resilience to primary commodity prices shocks calls for greater economic and export diversification and industrialization. This is one of the main messages from the Second International Conference of the Emergence that was held two weeks ago in Abidjan. 

Building on the successful outcome of TICAD VI was a renewed emphasis on joint actions by governments, private sector and development actors as well as stronger south-south and trilateral cooperation towards: enhancing productivity and sustaining innovation; promoting regional collaboration in resilient infrastructure development and energy provision; investment in human capital development as well as transparent and accountable institutions.

Drawing from outcomes of the TICAD VI and the Second International Conference of the Emergence and the emerging lessons from the continent’s development context, I want to focus on five key strategic actions to accelerate structural transformation and sustainable human progress in the continent.

First, promote sectors where the continent has comparative advantage like extractives and nurture key sectors such as agriculture where most of the population are engaged.  Higher agricultural productivity would deliver a triple dividend—sustained food security, higher human development and lower pressure on land and water. Agricultural transformation remains a catalytic driver of economic diversification, industrialisation and human progress through its impact on household incomes, employment and well-being. 

Second, implement integrated strategies and broad partnerships in order to strengthen institutions, address regulatory barriers (including corruption) and ensure adequate protection for investors and workers. This would reduce macroeconomic and political instability, promote a competitive environment for local industries and increase domestic and external investment and access to long term financing.

Third, prioritise economic and social infrastructure including social protection in order to build a more sustainable and inclusive future. This will overcome the current energy and infrastructure deficit and poor access to social protection and services that limits resilience to economic, social, political and environmental shocks.

We must also develop appropriate skills through quality education, technical and vocational training and entrepreneurial development. This includes education for out of school girls and boys, and integrated support to young entrepreneurs including business incubation and development services that support innovation and enterprise growth. Aligning the educational system with labour market reality is vital to promoting democratic dividends in Africa.

Finally, we must include and empower the poorest and most vulnerable such as people with disabilities, young people in rural communities and slums and young women.  For example, only 51% of 15-24 year old girls and women are in the work force.  The 2016 African Human Development Report prepared with the generous contribution of Japan provides a useful framework for accelerating gender equality and women empowerment through investing in women’s enterprises and engaging the public and private sector in removing barriers to women’s advancement in the work place.


In conclusion, UNDP’s work in Africa – including through the substantial support of Japan – is focused on ensuring that economic, social and political transformation is more inclusive and sustainable. This includes making effective use of existing human capabilities and managing natural resource wealth for the common good. We work with national and global partners to ensure that the most marginalized in society are empowered and given a greater voice in decision-making. TICAD VI has articulated the imperatives of structural transformation and industrialization for achieving inclusive and sustainable development in Africa.

As UNDP, we are committed to continue to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and governance while arresting environmental degradation and building resilience to shocks in the drive for greater equality and harnessing the full potential of women and youth in order to build the “Africa We Want”.

We are also committed to work with the Governments of Japan and African countries to fully implement TICAD VI priority actions that will help accelerate economic transformation and human development in the continent.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you successful deliberations.

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