Helen Clark: Speech at the Astana Economic Forum on “Africa: The next driver of the global economy”

May 21, 2015

I thank the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for organising this plenary session on Africa in recognition of the role Africa is playing in driving global economic growth.

I understand that last year, Kazakhstan opened an embassy in Addis Ababa, and became the newest observer nation to the Africa Union. This is a clear indication of Kazakhstan’s determination to strengthen relations with the continent.

As a landlocked country, Kazakhstan has had to address the challenges related to that status – as the fifteen landlocked African countries of Africa do. Kazakhstan is especially well placed therefore to expand its South-South and Triangular Co-operation with landlocked countries. UNDP is keen to work with Kazakhstan and landlocked African countries to facilitate that. We are also pleased to be a partner in the emergence of KazAID – Kazakhstan’s development co-operation agency.

This summer UNDP is pleased to be engaged with Kazakhstan in an exciting new training initiative available to African citizens. This summer around 90 “students” from across Africa will receive training in Kazakhstan related to public health, agriculture, and oil and gas exploration. This programme is led and fully funded by the Government of Kazakhstan. By drawing on its expertise and experience, Kazakhstan is delivering technical assistance to strengthen key professional capacities in Africa.

New partners, new opportunities for African emergence

Last year, the African Union adopted Agenda 2063 which sets out a pathway to emergence. To achieve that, Africa will need partners, both new and current. Through partnerships, countries can learn from the experiences of others, identify what can work for them, and turn the vision of emergence into the specific policies and initiatives which will make it happen.

The potential global implications of realizing an “emergent Africa” are huge. The African Development Bank has projected that by 2050, an emergent Africa would have tripled Africa’s share of global GDP, enabled 1.4 billion Africans to join the middle class, and reduced tenfold the number of people living in extreme poverty. An emergent Africa would be able to ensure that all Africans have the opportunities they need to improve their lives.

These are exciting prospects, and they are within reach. Rapid growth rates in many African countries and the opportunities before us in the post-2015 development agenda make emergence entirely feasible.

Emergence: Reasons for optimism

Among the many reasons to be optimistic about Africa’s future are the continent’s solid economic growth rates, its youthful population, and the significant human development progress being made.

This century, many African countries have strengthened their social services and reduced extreme poverty. A number of countries are rapidly reducing their under-five mortality rates. Many more children are in school. There are lower rates of HIV prevalence, and many more people living with HIV have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs. UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report, “Rise of the South”, noted that fourteen of the twenty countries which were making the fastest rise in the Human Development Index were in Africa.

The steadily increasing revenues generated by economic growth have thus created more opportunities to transform economies and societies, and to set in motion the changes which will eradicate extreme poverty from the continent and clear the way for an emergent Africa.

There are a number of important issues to be addressed on Africa’s route to realising Agenda 2063 on emergence:

1. Structural Transformation

The African Union promotes the structural transformation of African economies so that they are both more inclusive and more diverse – including by adding more value to commodities. Employment and output need to be built up in a wider range of industries and services than currently exists.

Achieving emergence will require nations to invest more in the health, education, and training of their people, improve infrastructure, and strengthen 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 resources for structural transformation.

UNDP is committed to supporting countries to grow their economies in ways which will enable all people to benefit from and 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 these ends, we seek to help countries make the best use of the significant strengths they have.

2. Addressing Inequalities
This is vital. By reducing inequalities, African countries will lift human development, and will harness the full potential of women and currently marginalized groups to contribute to development. UNDP’s next African Human Development Report will provide recommendations on overcoming gender inequality.

3. Harnessing the potential of youth.
As I said earlier, Africa’s youthful population is a major strength. Youth can power the transformations on which emergence depends – if countries invest in and create opportunities for them. The emergent countries of Asia harnessed a youthful population to expand their labour forces and to become more competitive and productive.

Africa today has the same opportunity. Across the continent, we see young people empowered by information and communication technologies and their own creativity to set up their businesses and connect with global markets. They have the potential to connect to global value chains, and help their countries leap frog into the higher value-added service and industry sectors.

If young people are left with too few opportunities and too little chance to be heard, however, the potential for a demographic dividend can be squandered. Disillusioned youth, without access to education, livelihoods, or other means to improve their prospects, can fuel instability, violence, and conflict.

(4) Improving jobs and livelihoods. More than four in ten people at work on the continent live in extreme poverty. Eighty per cent of Africa’s workers remain in low productivity jobs in agriculture, or in low-value service sector livelihoods which generate little or no income. More decent work and livelihoods need to be generated through inclusive and sustainable growth.

(5) Maintaining ecosystem integrity. UNDP devoted its 2011 global Human Development Report to the links between sustainability and equity. Africa has contributed the least to climate change but is greatly affected by its impacts. Many Africans have suffered the consequences of more frequent and intense natural disasters and failing crops triggered by shifting weather patterns and more severe climate events.

To help avoid catastrophic setbacks from climate change, UNDP supports African countries to strengthen their resilience though scaled up adaptation and sustainable development.

The post-2015 global development agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goals will encourage countries to promote economic and social progress with a light environmental footprint. This is essential for all the world’s regions if we are to preserve the global commons which secure our common future.

(6) 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, including through strengthening social cohesion, establishing the rule of law and the capacity for peaceful dispute resolution, and by making governance at all levels more inclusive and effective.

The opportunity of 2015
Africa’s emergence can be accelerated by implementation of successful outcomes to this year’s series of major UN summits – across disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable development, and climate change.

This year presents a once in a generation opportunity to drive global development agendas. Africa has the leadership and it has the vision necessary for emergence. A number of countries are making remarkable progress towards that goal.

For me, the goal of emergence is not GDP growth per se: it is the pursuit of greater human health and happiness so that each one of us can fulfil our potential and participate fully in our societies. In so doing we can contribute to building a more peaceful and prosperous continent and world.

The priority Kazakhstan is giving to expanding South-South Co-operation and building its links with Africa is creating new opportunities to support Africa’s emergence. UNDP is committed to supporting Kazakhstan’s efforts to advance sustainable development at home, in Africa, and beyond.

UNDP Around the world