The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)
Making regional integration work
Dr. K.Y. Amoako,
Executive Secretary of the
United Nations Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA).
By Seble Demeke, UNOG.
When I had an interview with you in 1996,
your slogan was Serving Africa Better. Eight years later,
has the continent been better served?
We have made much effort, and made some advances in that time, but there are still many challenges. The UN is faced with some of its the greatest challenges in Africa, in particular regarding the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal s (MDGs). If we look at the area of Peace and Security we see the United Nations still playing a significant role in Africa. Indeed, a major part of the time of the Security Council is devoted to Africa. Fortunately, we have seen a lot of progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sierria Leone and other areas over the past few years. Nonetheless the poverty issue is still there. ECA has contributed as much as it can to lead the UNs regional efforts in this field through the collaboration of the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD) Secretariat and with Member States. For example, the African Learning Group on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP-LG), which ECA established, meets annually to facilitate information sharing among African countries on their experiences with PRSP, identify best practices, and promote peer learning and African ownership of the poverty reduction strategies. In summary, we have restructured and focused our programmes over the past eight years, all with the aim of becoming better equipped to deliver high-quality services and products to meet the increasingly complex needs of Africas governments and people. So by and large we are doing our best to better serve Africa.
Do you have a new slogan?
No we continue with this one. The objective is the same.
You have mentioned regional integration
on several occasions as a key to promoting economic development? Could
you explain to our readers how this is going to work?
I had a long discussion with Member States at different times and recently during the Twenty-seventh Ordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Governments of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), bringing the facts that regional integration are essential if Africa is to make any progress towards the MDGs. Africa has been talking about economic unity since the Abuja Treaty. The Regional Integration Agenda has been there for a long time, but we at ECA feel strongly that original contributions can still be made to accelerate this process. The need for integration is very clear. Most African countries have small and non- diversified economies and maintain minimal trading relations with each other. Many of our countries, which are among the poorest in the world, are also landlocked. Regional integration gives these countries the opportunity of reaping the benefits of intra- African trade of resolving their difficulties through improved regional cooperation and integration. ECA is doing a major Assessment of Regional Integration in Africa (ARIA). The report will be out this year and shows where we are with intra-African trade and the work that is needed to improve regional integration efforts. African trading partners in the world economy have to also re-evaluate their policies towards Africa in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Round. The pre- sent situation makes it imperative within the multilateral approach to ask how could we make progress. The AU and NEPAD frame- work gives us the opportunity to make such progress.
Where do you see ECA going from here?
We are finalizing the cooperation agreement with the AU, as our links with that organisation need to be deepened. We will continue to support the objectives of NEPAD. ECAs regional coordination role in the UN has to continue. Policy relevant analytical work is central to the overall work of ECA. Drawing on this work, the Commission serves as a policy advocate on critical development issues, to encourage the initiatives and reforms necessary for economic and social advancement in Africa. We have been doing our best to keep track of the performance of African economies. The findings of this research is published in the annual Economic Report on Africa (ERA). We aim to deepen the analysis of the ERA in the future. For the past couple of years, we have been working on a project to measure and monitor progress towards Good Governance. The emerging lessons from 28 country studies that formed part of this project will be featured in the first African Governance report, which we will be publishing later this year. We also need to do more work on the MDGs. Also while Africa is supposed to put its house in order, we have to look at development in Africa and assess what has been done by the development partners and where they have to share the blame. There are duplications of programmes, some of which are not in line with the aspirations of the continent. Aid funds do not come when we need them and when they come they are often tied to conditions. African ownership has not been there. In that context, ECA will continue to work closely with the OECD on joint reviews to monitor development effectiveness. These reviews will look at trends in quality and quantity of official development assistance to Africa, the coherence of partner policies on aid, trade and debt.
What was ECAs contribution to the
Cancún Ministerial Conference?
We have talked to our Member States about the benefits of trade within Africa and with the rest of the world. We worked closely with the OAU and now with AU on the key issues. We also worked closely with UNCTAD during the preparation. There is now a regional advisory body in Geneva, which works, among others, with the African Group, the AU and UNCTAD. Additionally, we had a meeting in Accra after Cancun with several organizations including Civil Society, to assess the outcome and to agree on an African agenda.
What did the African continent gain from
the Cancún Conference?
I dont think we gained much but if you look at the process, Africa was organized. The alliance was powerful. We are no longer taken for granted. Some of the issues, such as cotton were in the limelight.
Was the Conference a failure or a challenge?
I wont call it a failure but it was a wake up call and we need to assess where we go from here.
What do you think it takes to successfully
manage an organization such as ECA, which is responsible for the economic
development of the planets second largest continent which includes
53 member countries, with diverse economies; with an estimated population
of over 880 million, most of whom are living under one dollar a day
and where more than 29 million are affected by HIV/AIDS and millions
still have no access to basic services?
You need to have sheer commitment. You need to believe in what you are doing. What makes this institution excellent is the calibre of the staff. You need to have the support of your staff, your Member States and the institutional commitment. The bottom line is you need to believe in Africa.
How do you assess the progress of the continent
towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)?
There is enough analysis and consensus that most African countries will not meet them on current trends. This is despite the fact that most countries have continued to make advances in implementing correct policies to promote economic growth over the past decade. The reason for this is simple. Although, we are now moving forward, our pace is still not quick enough to make a dent in the regions high levels of poverty. To make a significant impact on poverty we need to deepen our policies, strengthen our institutions and mobilise more financial resources. On the question of resources, given our low levels of income and savings, for the foreseeable future, the bulk of these additional required resources will have to come from our partners in the international community. HIV/AIDS also makes it difficult for most countries to meet the MDG. Having said this, the MDG remain important as a goal for each country.
Achieving MDG requires additional resources,
have there been any extrabudgetary contributions for this purpose?
When I speak about ECAs role, the international agenda and mutual accountability, I always stress that we need to make more resources available, both in quality and quantity, if Africa is to meet the MDG. These issues have all featured prominently in ECAs policy positions taken in analytical work and in our advocacy on behalf of Africa over the past few years. They have been the focus of all four annual Big Table informal consultations between African Finance Ministers and OECD Development Cooperation Ministers that we have convened so far. In this context we have been examining the adequacy and quality of aid, as well as the coherence of trade and other partner policy related to Africas development. It is a fact that aid to Africa remains low and volatile, in terms of what is needed to meet the MDG and that aid quality is also still low. Although many partners have pledged 0.7% of their GNP to ODA, only a few have reached this level of contribution. With government cooperation we also need to deal with corruption and the increasing the role of domestic resources in Africas development.
Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) How is ECA assisting Member Countries to use ICT for economic development? ECA is playig a leading role in this field through the African Information Society, developed way back in 1996, which has become a blue print for Africa. We have been working with Member States on e-strategies and advising them on how they should use IT in economic development. Progress has been made in many African countries including Mozambique, Rwanda, Tunisia and South Africa. In most of these countries we supported their efforts. At the WSIS in Geneva, the Heads of States of countries such as Gambia, Ghana, and Rwanda were very appreciative of what ECA has done in their countries.
How do you evaluate ECAs interaction
with NGOs and other civil society organizations? Any special efforts
to encourage participation of and partnership with civil society actors
from the continent?
A couple of years ago we set up a Civil Society Organisation Centre in Addis Ababa to help in the development of Africa. The Centre did not work and I am disappointed. Having said this, all our programmes include CSOs. They partici- pate on issues such as gender, trade and debt and the Cancun Conference. We involve them in the PRSP Learning Group. We made sure that they participated even in the ICT workshops. There are no major meetings convened by ECA, where CSOs do not participate.
There is consensus by the international
community that good governance is an essential pillar to economic growth
and that the New Partnership for Africas development (NEPAD) emphasized
good governance as the cornerstone for sustainable development. What
is ECAs contribution towards achieving good governance and genuine
democratisation in the continent?
In preparing the African Governance Report we undertook studies on a ranges of issues from institution capacity, to corruption and economic governance. We believe in good governance. What does it mean? It means commending a state where there is peace and security, strong forms of democratic governance at all levels, sound macroeconomic management, an enabling environment for the private sec- tor, and effective and independent CSO actors. In essence, we believe that a capable state is the prerequisite for development. The capable state invests in human capital by providing sufficient health and education services. It is essential for making efficient use of scarce public resources. Good Governance is going to be the theme for the Fourth African Development Forum which will be convened in October 2004. The ECA African Governance Report will be presented at the meeting.
What are the challenges to be addressed
by ECA in the near future?
We will continue to promote our regional integration agenda in collaboration with AU. We will support Member States in the WTO negotiation process. Additionally, we will influence the debate on aid, debt, and mutual accountability and support NEPAD as a framework for UN system cooperation in Africa.
Mr. Executive Secretary, do you receive
UN Special regularly and do you read it?
I dont receive it regularly but when I come across it I read it.