Mobile technology, insurance, and commodity exchanges can all be harnessed to finance investments in Africa’s agriculture and fisheries, infrastructure and energy, key sectors for sustainable and inclusive growth, participants said at an expert meeting in Geneva.
“For too long, too often, the world has talked about Africa and poverty,” said Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and Chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), which organised the meeting.
“What Africa needs is finance, opportunity, and jobs,” he added.
Thursday’s meeting brought together former African leaders with academics, economists, and experts from Brazil, China, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. The discussion will inform the 2014 Africa Progress Report, due for release in May.
This year’s Africa Progress Report, Equity in Extractives, showed how Africa’s oil, gas, and mining sectors offer excellent opportunity to improve the lives of millions. The report suggested policies and actions for African governments, the international community, and multinationals so that Africa’s natural resources benefit more people.
“I’d love it to launch another sort of, you know, hand grenade into the centre of the debate like it did last year. It had a far reaching impact,” Bob Geldof, one of ten Panel Members, said of the 2013 report.
“With two thirds of the world’s unused agricultural land and low productivity, Africa has the potential not just to feed itself, but also to feed the world,” Mr Annan said. Today, Africa is importing more and more of its food. The growth of Africa’s agriculture could have major benefits for growth, job creation, and nutrition.
Investment in infrastructure and energy can also unlock further growth. Participants discussed the different sources of finance for this investment, the means to reduce its costs, and ways to make it more accessible.
Africa must still do more to create an investment friendly environment. But enormous opportunities exist if Africa can develop a well-functioning banking sector, clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion, and make better use of its natural resources, participants heard.
Tax could be a highly sustainable source of finance for Africa, but collection rates are still low. At its worst, tax can be retrogressive and predatory, participants heard. Equity is the most suitable solution for small and medium businesses, one participant said. Africa must convert more of its savings into investment.
“Mobile (phone) penetration being in excess of 70 percent is a great factor. However, on the financial services side, penetration is less than seven percent, so how do we bridge that gap and truly become a game changer?” Ashish Thakkar, Founder and Managing Director of the Mara Group, said.
In a large infrastructure project, the public sector may need to finance those phases where risk is perceived to be higher. Standardising project documentation and reducing perceptions of risk will also reduce the cost of investment projects and speed their implementation, participants heard.
“We aim to shape discussions around public policy in Africa,” Caroline Kende-Robb, the APP’s Executive Director, said. “On the basis of today’s discussions, I am excited to start preparations for the 2014 Africa Progress Report.”
Photo credit: Eric Roset
The introduction to this summary lays out the framework of discussion: the need for a structural economic transformation in Africa. It is followed by five sections that cover the main topics of the meeting: transforming agriculture and fisheries; developing infrastructure; mobilising investment; improving taxation; and better use of aid. The conclusion outlines some themes that emerged from the day’s discussions: balancing public and private finance; building up institutions and systems; increasing knowledge and skills; reducing risk; and developing the financial sector.
Photos: Eric Roset