ECA urges for shift in Africa's narrative about its development prospects

By Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 23, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- “Just as our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundation for our dignity and freedom from oppression, we have the collective responsibility to lay a sound basis for the prosperity of present and future generations.” The statement was made by Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa today at the Twenty-Third Ordinary Session of AU Executive Council holding from 22-23 May ahead of the arrival of the Heads of States and Governments expected over the weekend.

While acknowledging the progress made by the continent over the past 50 years, he urged the Council to not get carried away by the positive assessments coming from the outside world.

“It is essential for Africa to recall its historical challenges, understand its current context and strive to control the narrative about its development prospects,” he said; and stressed the need to undertake our own frank analysis, generate robust home-grown statistics and reach our own conclusions on future directions for the continent and drawing lessons from history and from elsewhere to construct Africa's own transformative agenda.

He also said that it is not a coincidence that due to the emphasis now placed on structural transformation, "we now have an Africa that is growing, more self-confident and playing a greater role on the global scene." “In other words, we are on the cusp of an African Renaissance.”

The Executive Secretary highlighted some key strategic issues for the attention of the Council and that he stressed, must be addressed in order to bring about the structural transformation of the continent: the nature of Africa's relations with the international community; and the need to be rid of negative perceptions.

On relations with the international community, Mr. Lopes called for more profitable partnerships to reinforce the structural transformation of the continent. “It means better negotiation of contracts. It means the ability to attract capital by dispelling myths and misunderstanding of conditions in the continent. It means saying enough when any endeavour is not in favour of Africa. It means Africa first,” he said.

With regard to negative perceptions, he said that Africa needs to be off-radar with regards to conflicts – “be they inter-state, civil wars and insurgencies, terrorism, piracy and the like.” He said that some of these conflict and governance issues continue to define Africa in the eyes of the outside world, yet Africa might be “no worse than other regions in such instances.”

“This means better governance across the board. It means that we have to stem illicit financial flows and ensure participatory governance.”

He told the Council that Africans should not let these negative perception stick any longer and that Africans must “take control of the narrative about this continent and we cannot continue to rely on received wisdom.”

On learning from history and from elsewhere, he called for a construction of Africa's own transformative agenda. “If we are conscious of this, then it becomes quite obvious that the state has an important contribution to make to development,” said Lopes, pointing out that this is with particular regard to industrial policy, the provision of infrastructure, the proper management of natural resources as well as research and development.

He also noted that to come up with an all encompassing and implementable vision, the Africa 2063 project of the African Union to which ECA and the African Development Bank (AfDB) are giving support deserves devoted energy from everyone, including governments, private sector, civil society, women and youth groups.

Mr. Lopes drew from intellectual and trailblazers of panafricansim such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois and George Padmore, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and acknowledged their role in the pan-African ideals that led to the promotion of continental unity and the establishment of the OAU as a political manifestation of this noble objective, and recalled Patrice Lumumba's assertion, 'Africa will write its own history and in both north and south, it will be a history of glory and dignity'.