Africa's Path to Resilience: Navigating Challenges and Unlocking Opportunities

The "SDG Dialogue Series" by UNU on July 19, 2023, highlighted the importance of transformative financing for Africa's self-reliance, emphasizing improved governance and resource management to reduce dependence on international aid.

September 11, 2023

Dr. Sawako Shirahase (left) and Dr. Raymond Gilpin (right)

Photo: UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa

In recent years, a new narrative of 'Africa rising' has emerged in media and politics, signaling a significant shift in how the continent is perceived. This transformation has been attributed to improved governance, dynamic demographic trends, homegrown innovation driven by digital technologies, and diversified partnerships. The G7 Hiroshima Summit placed the engagement of the global south at center stage, highlighting Africa's increasing importance on the global stage.

However, despite these positive developments, Africa now faces a series of overlapping crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the adverse impacts of climate change, and the repercussions of current geopolitical tensions. These challenges threaten to undermine decades of development gains and cast a shadow over the continent's immediate future. While crises can bring disruption and devastation, they also have the potential to inspire ingenuity and solidarity. Africa has demonstrated resilience, innovation, and solidarity during the COVID-19 global health emergency.

This moment offers African countries and citizens an opportunity to reimagine their future—a future that is less dependent, more prosperous, less vulnerable, and more united. The essential elements required for Africa's structural and economic transformation are already in place, paving the way for a more just, sustainable, and resilient future. Africa presents new opportunities, including increased intra-Africa trade, a youthful and talented population, and a rapidly growing digital revolution.

The United Nations University (UNU) hosted the "Reclaiming the 21st Century: The Case for Structural Economic Transformation in Africa" as part of its thought-provoking SDGs Dialogue Series, titled "BIG IDEAS Dialogue." This event featured Dr. Raymond Gilpin, Chief Economist and Head of Strategy, Analysis, and Research at the Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Gilpin, alongside UNU Senior Vice-Rector, Dr. Sawako Shirahase, discussed Africa's prospects for structural economic transformation and envisioned a more just, sustainable, and resilient future. The event outlined fundamental factors crucial for powering structural and economic transformation on the continent within the evolving global context, highlighting abundant opportunities for Africa's population and global partners.

The session commenced with Gilpin's presentation on Africa's present and future structural transformation. He began by emphasizing the current vulnerabilities of Africa's economy, which include susceptibility to natural disasters and fluctuations in natural resource prices. Gilpin stressed the urgent need to reshape Africa's economic structure, recognizing Africa's unique characteristics and contexts and cautioning against adopting the success model of the "East Asian Tigers" as the sole reference for transformation.

Regarding UNDP's future role, Gilpin referred to the Strategic Plan 2022-2025, which centers on three foundational enablers: digitalization, strategic innovation, and development financing. It was highlighted how UNDP, through investments in knowledge products, policy advice, and human capital development, can catalyze factors conducive to structural economic development.

The first segment of the discussion entered around the increasing remittances to Africa. "These funds originate from Africans residing in other countries and continents, emphasizing the need for financial instruments that direct these resources toward development," said Gilpin.

Shirahase then explored the differences between Africa's development model and that of the "East Asian Tigers," with a focus on the timing of industrialization. Gilpin identified additional distinctions, including global market entry methods, industrialization foundations, and human capital development. "Africa's challenges, such as strict regulations, fragile institutions, infrastructure deficiencies, and persistently low literacy rates, emphasizing the necessity of transitioning from a low-value, unskilled economy to a high-value, skilled one," said Gilpin.

The discussion subsequently shifted to attracting investors and the public to Africa. Gilpin urged people not to be influenced by the "bad neighborhood effect" but rather to approach African issues with pure intellectual curiosity. He emphasized that Africa's transition in energy and the economy should be considered a global issue, not solely related to the continent.

Policy strategies were also a central focus of the discussion. Shirahase highlighted the challenge of addressing pressing issues while simultaneously promoting societal transformation across various fields. In response, Gilpin stressed the importance of recognizing the inherent resilience within African economies and creating a nurturing environment for it to flourish. Building on the foundation of the Strategic Plan 2022-2025, future policies can be formulated not only to sustain Africa but also to facilitate its thriving.