Africa Futures Forum

Keynote Speech: Africa Futures Forum: Leveraging Cooperation, Government Development, and Future Preparedness for Prosperity

November 19, 2020


Minister H.E. Mohammad Al Gergawi,

Professor Maloka,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to partner with the World Government Summit and the African Union-Africa Peer Review Mechanism in co-organizing this landmark Africa Futures Forum.

The Forum is both timely and relevant. 

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the complex societal, governance and security linkages that underpin sustainable development.  It also impresses upon the need for urgent action to reverse environmental degradation and ensure that the most vulnerable are adequately protected.

Countries have a once in a generation opportunity to chart a new course towards a greener, more inclusive, and more sustainable future.

This is why I am particularly delighted we are having this pivotal conversation on the future of development.

I would like to share some reflections in a few key areas, namely:

·         The evolution of governance and the level of leadership now required by governments in this age of uncertainty;

·         How governments can “build forward better” in an era of unprecedented shocks and climate change;

·         How governments can work to harness the incredible potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

·         How can UNDP’s concrete “offer” support governments across the African continent at this crucial time.

The Evolution of Governments

We are heartened to see how governments around the world are re-conceptualizing and re-imagining old development models.

And they are asking important questions.

That includes thinking how they can use this turning point in history not to only recover from the pandemic – but how they can “build forward better” and accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

That is especially true when it comes to the area of health.

50% of the world still lacks healthcare or social protection.

We have seen the devastating consequences of having or not having access to healthcare when a devasting virus spreads indiscriminately.

Indeed, fragile settings have been amongst the worst hit – and up to 115 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 alone according to the World Bank.

And we know that health is inextricably linked to the economic, security, social and political wellbeing of nations.

There is a critical need for more investments in health infrastructure – and see it as not merely a way to provide health services. But rather to see it for what it really is – that includes its critical role in reducing poverty and inequality and advancing human development more broadly.

The pandemic also requires governments to look beyond borders.

Look at how the restricted global trade in vital goods such as pharmaceuticals, PPE, and oxygen impacted the level of preparedness in some African countries.

Indeed, a group of UN human rights experts has warned that, “some Governments are trying to secure vaccines only for their own citizens”.

This will not achieve their intended purpose as a successful fight against COVID-19 depends on mass immunization - we need a “people’s vaccine” that must be seen as a “public global good”.

Other concerning trends include the use of “toxic lockdown cultures” to implement repressive measures against vulnerable groups in some countries.

The Need for New Leadership – Especially in the Area of Climate Action

Recovering from the pandemic and building forward better will require leadership from governments and all segments of society.

And we need a new development model in our existential fight against climate change and to protect our natural world – the subject of UNDP’s new Human Development report, which will be released on 15th  December 2020.

Now is the time to insert the “DNA” of a low-carbon transition into all recovery strategies.

And how COVID-19 stimulus packages are designed and implemented matters.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are a key framework to make this happen.

Through the UNDP Climate Promise, we currently supporting 115 countries – 38 of which are in Africa -- to enhance their NDCs, including to sync-up with green COVID-19 recovery efforts.

That means supporting governments to translate their NDCs to drive forward progress in a range of areas – from creating new green jobs and reducing poverty to advancing gender equality and boosting resilience to shocks.

The forthcoming 5th Anniversary Event for the Paris Agreement in December 2020 is vital to build further momentum for even more ambitious climate action.

Indeed, there are other vital areas that need attention to set the conditions to create new green jobs at a time when the IMF forecasts that Africa will grow by just 3% in 2021 – compared to the expected global growth rate of 5.2%.

The African continent also needs to increase local manufacturing while taking advantage of the momentous opportunities presented by the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Once in place, intra-African trade is expected to grow by 33%, and Africa’s total trade deficit is expected to be cut in half.

And there is another crucial point -- we need an immediate debt moratorium for countries with unsustainable debt levels.

Indeed, as the labour market undergoes a massive “re-set” – we need more investment in African youth so that they have a competitive edge, not only on the continent, but globally.

To this end, UNDP’s partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation will support 100,000 young African entrepreneurs in the Sahel region. The initiative aims to generate millions of new jobs and contribute at least $10 billion in new annual revenues across Africa.

Leveraging the Power of the 4th Industrial Revolution

COVID-19 has brought about a rapid acceleration in the use of digital technology.

As the pandemic hit, UNDP was on the ground in 170 countries to help with the application of e-health and e-government platforms as well as a range of digital solutions to ensure the full business continuity of governments across the globe -- in part thanks to having a Digital Strategy in place.

We also lent a hand to the private sector.

In Uganda, for example, UNDP joined forces with the online shopping platform Jumia Food to launch a new e-commerce platform to keep SMEs in the informal trade sector afloat as the country went into lockdown.

And the pandemic has brought out the incredible ingenuity of young Africans.

A new UNDP publication called “Africa Innovates” has highlighted everything from a foot-operated handwashing machine invented by a 9-year old boy in Kenya, to sequencing the virus’ genomes in Ghana.

Or look at the COVID-19 test kit that costs just $1 invented in Senegal that could revolutionize testing on the continent. 

Or look at solar fridges that have helped boost child vaccinations in the Democratic Republic of Congo by 50% in the past year.

UNDP wants to support local communities to “surface” and accelerate such incredible solutions.

Through our 90 UNDP Accelerator Labs (some 1/3 of which are in Africa), we have created the world's largest and fastest learning development network to work with local communities to find the next inventions or solutions that can help governments accelerate development.

To give just one surprising result -- our UNDP Accelerator Lab in Rwanda helped to roll-out robots in COVID-19 treatment centres to minimize contact between patients and health workers.

The idea behind the labs is to “think and do” development differently.

However, one of the main overall challenges is the fact that Africa has the lowest percentage of individuals using the Internet, at just 28.2% of the total population.

This is critical in areas like digital finance.

Look to a new report by the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force on the Digital Financing of the SDGs entitled “The People’s Money”. It points out how digital finance holds extraordinary potential to expand financial inclusion by empowering citizens as savers, investors, borrowers, lenders, and taxpayers while fostering new businesses and advancing the green economy.

So, we need a global “push” to now bring all of Africa online through broadband.


In closing, UNDP is proud to have been a trusted partner of governments across Africa for decades.

As the UN’s lead in the socio-economic recovery efforts, our “Offer 2.0” entitled, Beyond Recovery Towards 2030 is now focusing on offering tailored support to governments to build forward better from this pandemic -- and to be better prepared for future shocks.

It concentrates on four key areas:

·         First, governance, focused on continuity and functionality but also protecting human rights and the rule of law;

·         Second, social protection, looking at gender-disaggregated data and the most vulnerable to identify and reach them;

·         Third, driving forward a green economy, with transformational investments that create new jobs, de-carbonize economies and accelerate our efforts to tackle climate change;

·         And fourth, digital disruption, drawing on the UNDP Digital Strategy – that includes engaging with digital payment and e-commerce systems with a focus on supporting women-run SMEs -- and closing the digital divide for marginalized populations.

As always, UNDP is there, at the request of governments, to provide support to make the choices that will determine and shape our collective future -- to realise that greener, more inclusive, and more sustainable future.