Helen Clark: Africa’s Renaissance and the Rise of the South

26 May 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Opening Speech at the UNDP Side Event on
“Africa’s Renaissance and the Rise of the South”
at the 50th Anniversary OAU/AU Summit
Sunday 26 May 2013
4-6:00pm


It is a great pleasure to be here in Addis Ababa to mark fifty years of African unity in the city where the OAU charter was first signed.

Ethiopia was one of the first countries I came to after being appointed UNDP Administrator more than four years ago. At that time, I visited the new Ethiopian Commodities Exchange1 and saw how it could work to secure better prices for farmers. That and so many other innovative and practical initiatives have helped to drive human development and economic transformation in Ethiopia, in Africa, and across the global South.

The African Union has given this year’s Summit the theme of “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”. That reflects a continent on the move, recognized as a growth engine in the global economy, and making significant human development advances.

The 2013 Human Development Report published by UNDP, “Rise of the South”, explores the progress of a significant number of developing countries, including in Africa, which have transformed themselves into dynamic economies with fast rising human development and growing geopolitical clout. These emerging nations are radically reshaping our world this century.
The Report projects that by 2050, the combined economic output of three emerging economies alone – China, India, and Brazil – will account for around forty per cent of global output, surpassing the combined output of the United States, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, and Canada in purchasing power parity terms.  

The Report stresses that the rise of the South is not only about the BRICS or the world’s largest emerging countries’ economies in general – important as their rise is. It explores more than forty developing countries which have notably accelerated their economic growth and human development progress in recent times.

This continent is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It is also where human development levels have grown most rapidly. Of the twenty countries recording the highest rises in the Human Development Index (HDI) since 2000, fourteen are in Africa - from Angola and Mozambique in the south, to Liberia and Sierra Leone in the west, and Ethiopia in the north-east.

This is also reflected in the significant progress many African countries have made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and their targets. More children are in school than ever before. Poverty rates are falling. Lower rates of HIV prevalence and concerted efforts to make life-saving medicines available have helped lift life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa and the world are more interconnected than ever before through trade, investment, migration, mobile phones, and information and communications technologies. These growing connections are both South-South and North-South. Between 1992 and 2011, for example, China’s trade with sub-Saharan Africa rose from US$1 billion to more than $140 billion. Complementing that, over the past decade, nearly half of the financing for infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa was provided by governments and regional funds from elsewhere in the South.

Drivers of human development

The 2013 Human Development Report explores what has driven the progress of the emerging nations. It suggests that the answers lie not in fixed policy prescriptions, but, rather, in pragmatic policies tailored to local circumstances.

It identifies in particular three approaches contributing to steady progress: a proactive developmental state; an openness to engage with the global economy through trade and investment; and investments in infrastructure, health, education, and innovative social policies. Africa itself provides many examples of homegrown policies specifically suited to local conditions and meeting local challenges, and succeeding in lifting human development.

Sustaining Momentum

While progress has been considerable, this Human Development Report argues that four policy priorities need attention to sustain the gains made. These are defined as enhancing equity, enabling voice and participation, confronting environmental pressures, and managing demographic change. Let me briefly comment on each:
Inequity and inequalities stand in the way of nations reaching their full potential. Inclusion and equity are good things in their own right, but they also have significant development spin-offs in offering the opportunity to succeed to all. If, for example, the female half of the population doesn’t have the same opportunities as male counterparts do, that is not only opportunity denied to women to meet their full potential, but also to the whole nation.

Economic and social inclusion on their own, however, is unlikely to be sufficient to take societies forward. The Report states succinctly that: “As education levels rise and access to information and communications technologies spread, people are demanding more participation in political processes, and challenging decision-makers to be more accountable and expand opportunities for open public discourse.” Governance arrangements which got by while economies were growing can come under sudden and major challenge when setbacks occur. Being proactive in giving people voice and a say in the decisions which affect their lives allows for the sustained progress envisaged in the broader human development paradigm.

a degraded natural environment is also a constraint on continued human development progress, with climate change emerging as a major threat. Africa, with its many people deriving their living from the land and the sea is on the frontlines of this challenge, with its poorest people hit the hardest. Projections done for the 2011 global Human Development Report suggested that in the worst case of growing inequity and environmental degradation, Sub-Saharan Africa’s human development progress could be halted or even in decline by 2050.


Managing demographic change must also be a key policy priority. For Africa, the opportunity exists now to reap a huge demographic dividend from the youthful and vibrant population entering the workforce. But, to maximize that, significant investments are needed in youth potential – in health, education, and in skills, including in entrepreneurship. In time, provision will also need to be made for ageing populations.

Africa’s renaissance is a reality, and the world is recognizing that. The challenge now is to leverage from the talent of the continent’s people and the abundance of its natural resources to drive transformational change.

Many nations have ambitious visions for their development. The policy recommendations in this Human Development Report support fulfillment of those visions.

Other steps will help too. Africa has yet to benefit from regional integration to the extent that a number of other regions already have. UNDP is partnering with the African Union Commission to strengthen regional integration, supporting its efforts to overcome barriers to inter-African trade and grow productive capacity in areas global competitive advantage. We applaud the work of the sub-regional organizations to lower barriers to trade, investment, and labour mobility between their members. In East Africa, greater regional integration is credited with helping shield its economies from the global shocks of recent times.

But better global partnerships are needed too. The WTO’s Doha Development Round is stuck; climate negotiations are slow; and the pledges of more and better quality official development assistance are far from being fulfilled. Global institutions need to reflect the geopolitical realities of today in their structures. Changes at the global level would also support Africa’s development.

At this week’s events marking fifty years of African unity and solidarity, hopes are high that the nations on the continent will deepen, broaden, and accelerate development further.

This Human Development Report explores how nations succeed, and how they can sustain and build on the progress they are making. South-South Co-operation will play a key part in that, as nations share experiences on what has worked and what hasn’t, and adapt ideas to their own contexts.

Africa will continue to move ahead as more nations adopt proactive developmental stances, supported by clear visions and plans, competent governance, and a willingness to share prosperity broadly. I wish the member states of the African Union and their peoples ever success on this journey.

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