Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator Opening Remarks at the 2021 African Economic Conference

Posted December 3, 2021

President of Cabo Verde, José Maria Neves,

Minister of Finance of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicolas Kazadi,

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Dr Vera Songwe,

Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, African Development Bank, Professor Kevin Urama,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege to join the 2021 edition of the African Economic Conference.

It is jointly organised by the African Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme.

It takes place at a moment of profound upheaval.

The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, demographic transitions, and the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” are radically reshaping Africa’s development landscape. 

In this fluid context, countries across the Continent need to make smart, bold choices to “build forward better” from this pandemic.

To do so, I see four clear issues that need to be addressed.

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Firstly, we know that vaccines delayed is “development denied” for Africa.

Therefore, we must ensure vaccine equity which is the fastest way to end this pandemic.

Rallying around the unifying strength of the UN, we need the urgent cooperation of vaccine manufacturers, vaccine-producing countries and countries that already have high vaccination rates to tackle the acute vaccine supply shortage.

Doing so will help to open-up economic and social opportunities across the Continent -- boosting GDP and driving forward human development.

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Secondly, we are seeing worrying signs of an uneven global economic recovery.

It is estimated that Africa will require 425 billion dollars in additional external financing over the next four years to get the Global Goals back on track.1

Indeed, countries like South Sudan spent 11 times more on debt service than on essential social services.2

Therefore, countries across Africa need new access to finance and debt relief measures -- as well as innovative financing solutions.

Look, for instance, to UNDP’s SDG Impact initiative which is presenting the “business case” for investors to align their activities with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Worldwide, it is helping countries to unlock billions of dollars and its potential for a similar impact in Africa is immense. 

UNDP is also supporting countries to make new strategic investments in the burgeoning African Continental Free Trade Area -- everywhere from Uganda to Mauritania to Senegal.

We are also working with our partners to regenerate the Sahel region through a brand-new offer that will foster stability and support young entrepreneurs.

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Thirdly, countries in Africa need more support to transition to a green economy centred on decisive climate action.

That involves spurring a just energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies.

With our partners, UNDP pledges to provide access to clean and affordable energy to 500 million additional people -- including 150 million in the Sahel region.

We are also assisting countries in Africa to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions through the UNDP Climate Promise.

As a result, we are seeing many countries such as Cabo Verde enhance their NDCs -- showing immense leadership as they do so. 

The next chapter of the Climate Promise -- From Pledge to Action -- was launched at COP26. 

It will help countries in Africa to turn their targets into bold and ambitious climate action. 

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And finally -- Africa needs to further leverage digital technology to address acute development challenges and create new jobs.

Indeed, we have witnessed how some countries in Africa have surpassed many developed countries in the technology sphere -- for instance when it comes to digital finance.

Guided by our Digital Strategy, UNDP is helping communities to test and frame new solutions.

Consider the work of the UNDP Accelerator Labs network which supported nearly 2,000 grassroots solutions in 2020 alone.

That included everything from using 3D-printing to create protective equipment for health workers to rolling-out robots in COVID-19 treatment centres in Rwanda and Kenya.

Crucially, the UN is also helping to equip people with the digital skills they now need while supporting efforts to roll-out affordable broadband.

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President Neves,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Guided by our new Strategic Plan, UNDP will continue to work with key partners like the African Union to offer cutting-edge development support to countries across the Continent of Africa.

Indeed, the entire UN family is proud to work with communities to “co-create” groundbreaking solutions that will help to drive down poverty, create new opportunities and spur decisive climate action.

In many ways, this African Economic Conference provides us with a unique opportunity to contribute to a much-needed “re-set” across Africa.  

I look forward to the rich conversations over the next three days.

They will help to provide a much clearer picture of that greener, more sustainable, and more equitable future.

Thank you.

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