Helen Clark: Speech at the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Conference

Jul 23, 2012

Dakar, Senegal
“Seizing the Opportunity to Accelerate Human Development in Africa”

I thank the President of Senegal for his remarks and extend my gratitude to the Government of Senegal for graciously hosting this gathering of those leading and managing the work of the UN and UNDP throughout Africa.

At UNDP we appreciate the active leadership role Senegal continues to play at the United Nations, within the African Union, and in the regional institutions of West Africa. Senegal has, on many occasions, been an instrumental actor in resolving regional crises and can in the future increasingly build on this history.

The outcome of Senegal’s Presidential election last March and the early steps of President Sall’s administration demonstrate that not only is one of Africa’s oldest democracies not willing to part with its democratic institutions, but also it is acting to make them stronger. This outcome is important not only for the people of Senegal. It sends a powerful message across the continent, and in so doing, can help inspire free and fair elections more widely.

For all these reasons Dakar, is a highly appropriate place for us to meet to assess the region’s development achievements, anticipate its challenges, and agree on priorities for our work in the region.  

Trends in development in Africa

At UNDP, we see development in Africa today framed by two parallel, yet contradictory, trends.

On the one hand, the continent is experiencing a period of exceptional economic performance and growing GDP per capita. On the other those achievements are not yet translating into higher human development for all. It is vital to improve the lives of the very large numbers of people who remain below the poverty line, including by empowering women and providing more opportunities for young people.
The growth in many of Africa’s economies in the first decade of this century - with the exception of the 2008 slowdown – has provided a stark contrast to the stagnation and reversals which defined the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. Since 2000, trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by two hundred per cent.  World Bank figures suggest that in eight of the last ten years growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has been faster than that of East Asia – if we take out Japan.

It is also worth noting that Africa’s high growth rates are based on more than the boom in the extractive industries. The resource rich countries of Africa have grown rapidly, but so have the net food and energy importing countries, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda. This suggests that sources of African growth are diversifying, a trend which can make its economies not just large, but also more resilient.

Progress is also being made on reaching several of the MDG targets. According to recently released World Bank data, the number of Africans living in extreme poverty in 2008 fell below fifty per cent.

The significant and rapid decline of child mortality in many African countries has been referred to as ‘the best story in development’. Senegal is among those recording development successes. Between 2005 and 2009, child mortality in Senegal dropped by 64 per cent.

It is also notable that as of this month, women in Senegal make up over 44 per cent of parliamentarians, placing it among the top performers for women’s representation not only in Africa, but also for the whole world.   

Better educated and more politically aware populations have also led to improvements in the accountability and responsiveness of a number of African governments. That, in turn, helps make government policies more effective and inclusive. The outcome of Senegal’s election last March confirmed the further maturing of one of Africa’s oldest democracies, providing a strong model of what can be.

Last week the 2012 MDG Report, compiled by the African Union, UNDP, the African Development Bank, and the Economic Commission for Africa, was released. It highlighted progress in primary school enrolment, reducing gender disparities, the numbers of women elected to parliaments, and reducing HIV prevalence.

It noted, however, that to accelerate MDG progress in the remaining three years to 2015, African countries will need to do more to tackle pervasive inequalities, create many more decent jobs for growing populations, improve both the access to and the quality of health and education services, and invest in water, energy, and sanitation.

Without effective policies in these areas, the Report suggests that the benefits of economic growth will continue to bypass a significant proportion of Africans, including those still living below the poverty line and working in the informal sectors.

In other regions of the world, levels of economic growth like those currently being experienced by Africa have, on average, brought higher levels of poverty reduction and improvements in other social indicators. Growth in Africa, in other words, has generated significantly less poverty reduction and social progress than in other developing regions.

UNDP’s recently released African Human Development Report also noted that high rates of economic growth have not prevented nearly a quarter of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa from being affected by hunger.

Nor is growth yet bringing enough benefits to many children, especially in rural and remote areas. The 2012 MDG Report found that such children often miss out as they and their parents lack access to quality health care, clean water, reliable energy, adequate infrastructure, and sustainable livelihoods.

The challenge, overall, is how to make economic growth translate into higher human development. Deliberate policy measures and targeted investments are needed to make growth not just fast, but also inclusive and sustainable.  UNDP is dedicated to its work alongside the nations of Africa to support the design and implementation of policies and programmes which can deliver that.

At the Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil a month ago, the UN’s member states shaped a common understanding of a future for our world built on the concepts of human development and sustainable development.  Truly sustainable development is multi-dimensional – it is about creating jobs, reducing poverty, tackling inequality, and protecting the environment. UNDP is committed to working with Africa on integrated sets of policies which will achieve sustained and sustainable development. UNDP is in a good position to build and draw on its extensive networks of experts, partners, and practitioners across Africa and beyond, and to support the sharing of innovation and best practice in sustainable development.

Priorities for sustainable human development in Africa

Moving forward we suggest the following priorities for action.

1.    Broadening the base of economies as part of deliberate efforts to reduce poverty and inequality. The MDGs have helped to motivate more countries to channel investments to the social sectors. It is also critically important to target investment to those economically productive sectors which can or do already employ the poor.

Indeed, generating inclusive growth requires investing in the very sectors where the poor work and live. Slow productivity growth in the rural and agricultural sectors - where the majority of African work and live – is a key factor limiting the poverty-reducing impact of growth. Investing in the productivity of small holder agriculture is a particularly important way to generate economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve the well-being of poor farmers and their families.

Small farmers need better access to agricultural inputs, such as appropriate seeds and fertilizers, extension services, new technologies and innovation, and improved access to markets and credit.

African countries’ natural resource wealth also needs to be drawn on to generate the domestic revenue base for investment in the virtuous cycle of adequate economic and social infrastructure and services. Effective, transparent, and accountable governance systems are needed to prevent the wealth from resource booms ending up in the hands of a few.  

2.    The role of social policy in reducing poverty and inequality

Deep income inequality is one of the reasons for the failure of growth to reduce poverty faster in Africa. Inequality, injustice, and discrimination are underlying causes of poverty and underdevelopment.

To confront these problems, universal access to basic services and social protection systems must work alongside measures which specifically target excluded groups. Public works programmes, youth employment schemes, social insurance, and school feeding programmes are among the initiatives which can successfully reduce poverty and advance the MDGs in Africa. UNDP can support governments to ensure that such policies are fully adapted to match local realities.

To advance on the MDGs in this last stretch before 2015, public investment will need to be stepped up, along with more effective development assistance, private sector collaboration, and full civil society participation. More people need access to reliable energy, clean water and sanitation, quality education, and well run health services.

By employing the MDG Acceleration Framework in Africa and elsewhere, UNDP and other members of UN Country Teams are supporting countries to develop focused action plans to clear away obstacles to meeting the MDGs. This often requires investments in building human resource capacity and that of public administrations.

One thing is clear – if poverty and inequality are not addressed directly, they will persist, holding back human development and nations’ progress. In the UN, we are committed to helping change that.

3.    A specific focus on the economic empowerment of women and youth will be especially important for Africa’s future.

Women play major roles in agriculture, trade, services, and entrepreneurship across Africa, but inequality constrains their achievements. Given a chance, women can boost their own and their families’ incomes and the growth and development of their communities. In my visit to Saint Louis here in Senegal a few days ago, I saw just some of the hundreds of women micro-entrepreneurs supported to start their businesses by UNDP, Luxembourg, and Senegalese partners. These initiatives, backed by truly equal rights to land ownership and tenure, access to credit and other inputs, and in all areas will make women an even more powerful force in the continent’s development.  

By 2025 one in four young people worldwide will have been born in Sub Saharan Africa.  This could present opportunities, or it could present significant challenges in the years ahead – depending on the policy choices governments make.

Young people with few economic prospects & little political voice are more likely to resort to illicit activities and fuel social mistrust, civil unrest, or outright violence. On the other hand, young people can be very important sources of innovation and growth, and enable Africa to enjoy a major demographic dividend. Meeting young IT entrepreneurs in the I-hub innovation platform in Nairobi recently reminded me how inspirational youth empowered to innovate are.  

Agriculture, which employs roughly two-thirds of Africa’s work force, needs to be made much more attractive to youth. Good initiatives can be found from Benin’s Songhai Centre to Kenya’s polytechnics, showing youth how to produce to high standards, and grow agri-businesses from the micro to the large.   

4.    Fourth: Food security and nutrition

The empowerment of women farmers and the attraction of youth to agricultural entrepreneurship will also help address the food security and poor nutrition which affects the continent.

UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report, published a few weeks ago, made policy recommendations around increasing agricultural productivity, investing in nutrition, enhancing resilience, and promoting empowerment - especially of women and vulnerable groups.

Although not an agriculture- or food-specific agency, UNDP can and is helping many countries in Africa to establish cross-cutting partnerships and integrated policy approaches for tackling complex issues - the food security and nutrition crises is surely one of those.  

The MDG Acceleration Framework being applied in several countries in Africa to target food security and nutrition is a good tool for this work. In Niger, for example, a comprehensive action plan was developed, and is now being pursued within the President’s “3Ns” initiative to make all Nigerians food secure. Diverse measures are being taken, from issuing land titles to encourage investment in basic infrastructure and improved productivity, to improving access to agricultural advisory services.  

5.    Fifth: The critical importance of energy

Many of the 1.3 billion people who live without access to electricity or the 2.3 billion who must rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating live on this continent. The UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which aims for universal access to modern services by 2030, would transform their lives.

African countries are among the 55 nations worldwide which have signed on to the initiative. UN Resident Co-ordinators are playing a key role alongside governments in convening all relevant stakeholders to plan action on achieving universal access; increasing energy efficiency; providing renewable energy wherever feasible; and actively engaging the private sector, civil society, and local communities. A mix of means from the large reticulation schemes to the small off-grid will be needed.

Reliable and affordable access to energy not only supports human development by easing the domestic burden carried by women, improving access to services, powering micro-enterprises, and making agriculture more productive; it is also critical for attracting investment in the larger scale enterprises which could create decent work for African’s fast growing urban populations.

6.    Sixth: Promoting triple win policies

Expanding access to renewable energy is environmentally friendly, creates jobs, and expands social equity. UNDP is now consciously promoting what we call “triple win” policies which advance all three strands of sustainable development – economic, social, and environmental. Integrated policy making for sustainable development is important in the follow up to Rio + 20.

Africa has experience and best practice to share on triple win policies; take for example:
•    reforestation in Niger which protects soils, has increased crop yields, and can boost incomes, food security, and nutrition; and
•    Ethiopia’s low carbon, climate-resilient, green economy strategy - an excellent example of an LDC seeking to boost human development and economic growth within ecological boundaries.
We also see good examples of the integration of social protection and job creation schemes with equity and environmental components - South Africa and Ethiopia, for example, have good stories to tell in this area. At Rio + 20, UNDP supported Brazil’s side event on socio-environmental protection schemes, and we aim to share best practice on these widely.

7.     The seventh and overarching priority is building resilience to shock, whatever its origin.

Resilience needs to be built to climate change and other natural disasters, and to economic shocks of the kind experienced with the global financial crisis. Both can have significant impacts on human development. In our interconnected world, shocks are here to stay. The issue is: how do countries equip themselves to cope with them.
Underlying building resilience is good governance and social cohesion. Both help limit exposure to the risk of conflict and the corrosive impact of corruption, inequity, and injustice. Resilience is built on the basis of governments, communities, families, and individuals which have capacities and strengths to draw on when the going gets tough.  

The scale of humanitarian crises now arising from natural disasters, conflict, and economic shock has engaged interest among development partners in building greater resilience. Both the Horn of Africa and the Sahel are now the focus of more efforts to strengthen underlying resilience.

These efforts also require much more collaboration between humanitarian and development actors, so that the way crisis response is managed creates a bridge to recovery and sustained development, helping communities to build back better.

UN Country Teams have it within their power to bring well co-ordinated support and services to countries seeking to build the foundations of resilience. UNDP specifically has the capacity to support countries to access the growing pools of climate finance for adaptation to climate extremes. These funding sources will in time far exceed what is available through traditional sources of development grant and loan finance.  

Towards a post-2015 development Agenda

As Africa focuses on maximizing human development from its economic growth, so the international debate is underway on what the post-2015 development agenda might look like.

The time bound, measurable, and easily communicated MDGs created a lot of actions and progress on basic development indicators. We now need to lift ambition to new levels – not least in aiming to eradicate the extreme poverty which condemns so many to exist on under $1.25 a day and the scourge of hunger.  

At Rio +20, member states stressed the importance of accelerating MDG achievement and remaining focused on poverty eradication. They also agreed that sustainable development goals should be created and be part of the global development agenda beyond 2015. It will be critical for the voices of Africa’s governments, civil society, and private sector to be heard as the new agenda is created.

In UNDP and across UN Country Teams, we must continually reinvent ourselves to be relevant to the new global development agenda, and to supporting changing national priorities in Africa and around the world.

Twenty first century development practice is very much about linking people and institutions with ideas, innovation, and best practice, and about building national capacities to reach national and global goals. It’s about building broad partnerships with traditional partners and emerging actors in development co-operation. It’s about co-ordinating effort and aligning it with national priorities.

Developing countries want results from our endeavors, our funders want results, and we want results. Through lighter, more strategic, UN Development Assistance Frameworks and the use of new methodologies to monitor and measure results, we can be more effective in the support we give and demonstrate better the impact we have.

This year’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the UN development system is the time when we can show how determined we are to do whatever it takes to reform ourselves and enhance our contribution to development country by country.

In my remarks today, I have outlined a number of challenges and opportunities for advancing Africa’s development agenda. With the active engagement of well co-ordinated UN Country Teams, and a clear strategic focus, I know we can support Africa to make the development breakthroughs its people seek. Translating economic progress into sustained human development progress, while also protecting the ecosystems on which life depends, is our mission, and I count on the talent in this room to advance it.

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