Helen Clark: Transforming Africa through Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development

Dec 2, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Opening speech at UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Conference on Transforming Africa through Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, South Africa,
Monday, 2 December, 2pm

It is a great pleasure to be in Johannesburg for this annual meeting of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa. UNDP greatly values its friendship and partnership with South Africa, both in the work we do here and because South Africa is a strong advocate for human development across the continent. We are most appreciative of the attendance of the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation with us today, and for the support the Minister has personally given to the strengthened partnership with UNDP.

I also wish to place on record UNDP’s deep appreciation of the work of the National Audit Office of South Africa, which, as members of the United Nations Board of Auditors, was the designated auditor for UNDP for several years. The National Audit Office played a key role in the implementation of the IPSAS accounting system in UNDP, and at all times encouraged and supported us to maintain high standards.

I also acknowledge the presence here today of the Commissioner for Economic Affairs at the African Union Commission. UNDP has a strong association with the Commission, including through the regional programme of our Bureau for Africa.

Finally, I greet all colleagues who have travelled from across the continent to be here. We meet to consider our achievements and the lessons learned from our work, and to identify how we can to do more, as the title of our conference says, to “Transform Africa through Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development”.

To frame and inform our discussions, I will comment on Africa’s evolving development landscape and its potential for great transformative change. I believe that UNDP’s new strategic plan positions our organization well to support that change.  

Africa’s evolving development landscape

This historic year, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity, has been a time for celebration and reflection.

In May, I had the pleasure of joining the anniversary events held by the African Union in Addis Ababa. It was clear to all present that this is a time of great hope for Africa. The continent is recognized as a growth engine in the global economy and for its significant advances in human development.

The celebrations in Addis highlighted how pan-African institutions have been a driving force for progress - from the support given by the OAU from the outset to liberation movements on the continent to the present-day initiatives of the African Union to advance development, democracy, and peace. UNDP is proud to have partnered first with the OAU and now with the African Union as an advocate and supporter of African-wide human development. We stand with the African Union and the call of its member states at the fiftieth anniversary in May for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven and managed by its own citizens” .

This year’s UNDP Human Development Report, the “Rise of the South”, records the development progress of many countries on this continent. Fourteen of the twenty countries making the fastest rise in the Human Development Index since 2000 are in Africa. The continent has been achieving sustained, high average rates of economic growth and is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies.

This progress is also reflected in the MDG reports of many African countries. Since 1999, alongside their economic growth, many have been strengthening their social provision and reducing extreme poverty. A number are rapidly reducing their under-five mortality rates. Many more children are in school. Lower rates of HIV prevalence and concerted efforts to make life-saving medicines available have helped lift life expectancy.

More frequent and stable democratic transitions, along with enhanced voice and participation for citizens, are leading to more responsive and accountable governments. Armed conflict, while unpredictable and still too frequent, is also on a downward trend.

Opportunities for transformation

Now the challenges are to ensure that Africa’s impressive growth rates translate consistently into accelerated human development.

Other developing regions experiencing comparable rates of economic growth in recent decades have had more poverty reduction resulting from that growth. I am confident that inclusive and sustainable growth models can lift the living standards of Africa’s peoples significantly.

Doing so will require continuing high rates of growth, while also taking action which goes well beyond business as usual to spur transformational change. That change will deliver positive human development results at scale, which can be sustained over time. That will occur where development plans and policies:

1.    address the underlying barriers to progress, including inequalities;
2.     are far-sighted, strategic, and lay the ground for structural transformation; and
3.     meet the expectations of people to be heard and engaged.

Let me briefly elaborate on these three areas:
(1)    Addressing Inequalities - Nearly half the population of Sub-Saharan Africa continues to live on less than US$1.25 a day. Income, health, and education inequalities are also high. Large disparities often persist between those living in rural and urban areas, and between men and women. For example, the youth literacy rate in Africa is 75 per cent for men and 65 per cent for women – in all other developing regions it is at or close to parity. In 2010, six of the ten countries with the world's highest rates of income inequality were in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By reducing inequalities, African countries can lift human development further and harness the full potential of women and currently marginalized groups to contribute to development.

Greater equality in the agriculture sector, for example, would be transformational. There are more women than men in the agricultural workforce of many African countries, and they are involved in every aspect of agricultural production. Yet these women farmers are estimated to be some thirty per cent less productive than their male counterparts, because they lack equal access to capital and credit; insurance systems; tools, good quality seeds, fertilizer, and equipment; training; and land ownership, inheritance and tenure rights.

The outcome is that women farmers produce and earn less. By ensuring equal rights and access to resources, countries could increase their agricultural output and raise women’s incomes – helping families and communities to break out of cycles of hunger, end chronic malnutrition, and generate inclusive growth.

This is why the joint programme for women’s empowerment being undertaken by the African Union and UNDP is so important. The initiative, “Building an Enabling Environment for Women’s Economic Empowerment & Political Participation in Africa”, commits us both to helping countries to address the barriers which are preventing women achieving their full potential.

(2)    Structural Transformation - The African Union seeks the structural transformation of African economies so that they are more inclusive and diverse, and add more value to commodities. Employment and output will need to be built up in a wider range of industries and services to achieve this. Nations will need to invest more in the health, education, and training of their people, develop their infrastructure, and strengthen their institutional capacities.

Current rates of economic growth; new discoveries of oil, gas, and other mineral resources; and growing levels of private and public investment are providing the opportunities for structural transformation.

UNDP is committed to supporting countries to grow their economies in ways which will enable all people to benefit and to be participants in development. We help build capacities to boost trade and competitiveness, strengthen long-term planning, co-ordinate economic activity, and mobilise domestic resources. To this end, we seek to help countries make the best use of the significant strengths they have.

Africa’s youthful population is one of those strengths. Africa can benefit from a demographic dividend, as East Asia did, if it invests enough in its youth and in opportunities for them.

In countries on the continent, I have met young people who are drawing on the training and other support offered them to build their enterprises in a range of sectors from agriculture to services. Youth have been at the forefront of mobile technology innovation. I have enormous faith in the contribution Africa’s youth are making to development, and, with more skills and opportunity, they can be empowered to do more.

On this continent, still more than four in ten people at work live in extreme poverty. Eighty per cent of Africa’s workers remain in low productivity jobs in agriculture or in low-value services which generate little or no income. According to ILO data, Africa has the highest prevalence of vulnerable employment and of working poor. More decent work and livelihoods need to be generated through inclusive and sustainable growth.

Sustaining progress also requires building resilience to a range of shocks, including extreme climate events. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme events, destroying lives and livelihoods, and putting greater strain on national budgets.

Internal conflict and instability, where they exist, are also a huge constraint on progress. The underlying drivers of conflict and instability need to be addressed through more comprehensive and integrated approaches to building resilience – including through strengthening social cohesion, establishing the rule of law and the capacity for peaceful dispute resolution, and making governance at all levels more effective.

(3)    Voice and participation - Around the world, people are seeking a greater say in the decisions which have an impact on them, and greater accountability from those who govern. In the global conversation on post-2015, a desire for honest and effective governance ranked a top priority. People want their governments to deliver improved services and to manage public and natural resources fairly and transparently.

Greater connectivity, and through it increased awareness of human rights, have encouraged and enabled more people to engage in national dialogue and activism. Governments which welcome wider and deeper participation by citizens will build greater trust in governance and thus better functioning political systems.

Where they are empowered by ICTs and informed with updated, reliable, and disaggregated data, citizens can monitor development progress in their countries and hold their governments accountable for results. The UN Secretary-General has called on us all as development actors to help countries achieve what he calls an “accountability revolution”.

UNDP’s Strategic Plan: Seizing the opportunity for transformation

UNDP’s new strategic plan positions us well to support Africa’s transformation. It states our vision clearly: to help countries eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities and exclusion significantly, while also protecting the environment. At UNDP, we are re-orienting ourselves to ensure that we are making an effective contribution to these ends, building on our core strengths and on our reputation gained from decades of contributing to development.  

We can be proud that UNDP is recognized as:

•    a neutral and impartial facilitator of dialogue and co-operation on development issues, and can connect countries, institutions, and organizations within and across regions to tackle development challenges.

•    a thought leader which advances global development, by drawing on its knowledge and expertise acquired in many different development contexts to produce high-quality and policy-relevant knowledge.

•    a long-standing and trusted partner, with the technical capacity to provide upstream policy advice to help inform government decision-making at the national and sub-national levels.

•    having the expertise to help countries build the capacities they need to achieve economic and social transformation, environmental sustainability, and democratic governance. We can help translate innovative pilot programmes into systemic change, and we can transfer knowledge and best practice.

In Africa there are many examples of how, in practice, UNDP plays those roles effectively.

Impartial facilitator

•    We developed the MDG Acceleration Framework, and have leveraged from our longstanding relationships, convening power, and our lead role in co-ordinating the UN development system to support countries to develop and implement concrete action plans to achieve lagging MDGs.

Our facilitation has helped to generate the national ownership and motivation which makes MDG acceleration plans effective.

Our role is never to deliver ready-made solutions, but rather to support the emergence of networks of change agents empowered to decide for themselves what needs to be done and to follow through on agreed plans.

Thought leader

•    Last year’s Africa Human Development Report analyzed the region’s persistent food security challenges and ways of overcoming them. Its findings and recommendations have been followed through in policy dialogues with governments, and are being used to guide our regional programming.

Building capacities

•    Our many experiences in this regard would fill an encyclopedia. We take particular pleasure from providing proof of concept and seeing governments, national and sub-national, then incorporate innovative approaches into the way they work.

This year I was able to see for myself how UNDP initiatives in Tanzania to conserve threatened forests, integrated with support for creating alternative livelihoods, had led to the establishment of a national network of forest reserves and to improved incomes.


•    Our new Strategic Plan sets out our determination to become ever more focused, results-driven, effective, and efficient. This matters to our partners in Africa and around the world. Expectations of us from programme countries and donors alike are high.

UNDP’s primary partnerships are with programme countries. The high levels of trust, confidence, and respect which exist between our Country Offices and national government counterparts are fundamental to our success.

Going forward we will need to engage more with new partners, including through South-South and triangular co-operation. Our partnerships with other international organizations and regional organizations like the African Union are vital. We must engage more with civil society – and with the private sector where that is compatible with our ethics and mandate. Our lead role in co-ordinating the UN development system is pivotal – a lot rests on our shoulders to make co-ordination work well and ensure that the system adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

UNDP’s capacity and effectiveness matters for Africa. This is a time of hope, but also a time of stepping up to meet great challenges. Nations are facing many complex and inter-related challenges. Achieving sustainable development requires a capacity for integrated decision making across silos in government, and across national boundaries.

We in UNDP and the UN development system can contribute to building that capacity if we practise what we preach. We need to be more joined up and collaborative – internally in UNDP and across the UN development system - to support this region and others to transform themselves and the prospects of their peoples.

Our new strategic plan, results framework, and organizational change agenda aim to set us up to meet the high expectations of the role we can play. I urge you all to make the most of this meeting to ensure that, in your leadership roles in UNDP and UNCTs, you can inspire a step change in development effectiveness through our efforts.

I wish you all a very constructive meeting, and once again, I thank the Minister for International Relations and Co-operation of South Africa and the Commissioner for Economic Affairs of the African Union Commission for being with us today.


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