More people in Africa now have access to financial services through mobile technology: Photo: UNDP


The theme of this year’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is ‘empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, a topic that is a preoccupation of many governments and development partners alike in a quest to ensure that people are empowered enough to participate and contribute to the development of their households, communities, countries and continents. This remains the aspiration of Africa in the pursuit for an integrated, peaceful and prosperous continent through Agenda 2063, and one that needs to be followed through by actions in all dimensions of sustainable development and human life for it to become a reality.

Progress so far

Like many others, I would like to see a more empowered, equal and inclusive Africa. A lot of progress has been made in expanding people’s freedoms and opportunities backed by growing economies, good governance and deliberate efforts in reducing inequalities by most countries. This is encouraging. Africa is growing rapidly with at least 6 of its countries amongst the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania, have all been registering strong growth rates of about 7% and above for the past 5 years.

There are also notable improvements in public governance in Africa. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAD) estimates that approximately three out of four African citizens live in a country where public governance has improved over the past 10 years, thanks to investments in health, gender and infrastructure development. Technology breakthroughs are also accelerating development progress on the continent despite the tech-sector being still in its infancy. People have more access to information for climate smart agriculture like in Ethiopia; have access to financial services and off-grid solar energy through mobile services such as M-PESA and M-KOPA; and are also increasingly accessing health services through mobile technologies. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal and Ghana, are some of the countries that have had breakthroughs in this regard. More and more citizens are also actively engaged in public governance using mobile telephones as an accountability platform and mechanism. UNICEF’s mobile-based U-Report and other social media platforms, continue to empower people around the world to engage with and speak out on issues that matter to them, influencing policies and enforcing an accountability mechanism between governments and its citizens.  

Such positive trends are already translating into some improvements in Africa’s human development indicators. Poverty levels are now down to 35% from a high of 57% in 1990. The Human Development Index for Sub Saharan Africa as a whole in 2017 was 0.537 up from 0.398 in 1990 with a third of its countries categorized as having medium to high levels of human development. Despite the challenges, Africa is fast becoming an attractive destination for foreign investments that are filling gaps in economic and social infrastructure, services and meeting the many needs of Africa’s expanding middle class and consumer market is estimated to reach 160 million by 2030.   

Looking ahead

The odds are in Africa’s favour. My hope is that Africa and its 1.2 billion people will rise to the challenge and ensure the reduction of inequalities within and across countries which continue to put breaks on the continent’s positive growth path. The estimated human development losses due to inequalities alone are about one third. This is huge. Access to quality education beyond primary education remains sticky with a 43% completion rate for Sub Saharan Africa in 2017 adding to already high levels of unemployed youth on the continent. The proportion of youth not in education, employment or training increased from 20% to 30% in 2010 and 2017 respectively. Other modes of exclusion and disempowerment also comprise the limited access to electricity to support businesses big and small; lack of decent jobs and limited access to social services – excluding over half of Africa’s population in its development processes. This is a ticking time bomb.

Unless Africa is bold enough to deal with its development challenges - the dream of a more inclusive and integrated continent will remain elusive. For this to happen, the continent as a whole has to be   empowered enough to harness its natural wealth, human capital, good-will and the unique position it holds at this point in history within the global development system in order to unleash its full potential. The ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) amongst other AU programmes has to be by far the most inclusive and inequality reducing actions across the continent with the potential to transform Africa’s economic power and structures, while facilitating job creation, technology transfer, innovation and industrial development.

As a development agency, UNDP is fully committed to seeing an empowered Africa and therefore investing heavily in supporting a lot of the continental initiatives but also finding development solutions fit for the 21st century through its Accelerator Labs and country support platforms. Africa has 27 of the global 60 accelerator labs in response to the continent’s huge development needs. Infusing a culture of innovation and experimentation around development challenges and unprecedented opportunities – such investments hold the promise of leapfrogging Africa’s development. This perhaps, is the most powerful way of empowering people and ensuring more equitable and inclusive development. 

Mapping malaria in Guinea Bissau, using mobile technology. Photo: UNDP Guinea Bissau
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