Harnessing disruption – Africa’s new challenge

2016 is turning out to be a year of global disruption and uncertainty — disruption in the sense of dangerous ruptures and broken links, but also in the positive sense of innovation and fresh ways of thinking.

How well can Africa manage these trends? The answer to that question will heavily influence the continent’s ability to pursue the deep transformation it needs.

Brexit has sent shock waves through the global economy that could endanger progress in African countries. And for Africa it matters whether Britain will maintain its roles as a driving force behind international development initiatives and a leading aid donor.

Brexit is also a symptom of broader trends: populist challenges to established power, rising mistrust of elites, deep concern over inequality, and social fragmentation. All these contribute to a sense that the world is spinning out of control.

At the same time, 2016 is proving to be a year of inspirational global advances in technology, finance and energy, as well as progress towards greater global transparency and accountability that can only benefit Africa. The Panama Papers have pulled back the curtain on the murky system of tax havens and shell companies that is being used to pump money out of Africa. International cooperation promises to rein in corruption and practices such as illegal fishing. And the Brexit fall-out could be less than anticipated as African countries become more diversified and innovation-driven and less reliant commodity exports.

The work of the Africa Progress Panel members is considerable. Below please find some highlights of our 2016 activities.

Innovating for Africa’s future

Technology’s potential to boost Africa’s transformation was the focus of the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa, in Kigali, Rwanda, whose theme was “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation”. Technology can help Africa leapfrog over dependence on fossil fuels and into a low-carbon future, as Graça Machel, an Africa Progress Panel member who co-chaired the forum, highlighted in a Project Syndicate commentary.

Innovative finance was the emphasis of a lively session on infrastructure investment that I moderated at WEF Africa with Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of South Africa; Colin Dyer, CEO of JLL; Dana Hyde, CEO of Millennium Challenge Corporation; and John Rice, Vice Chairman of GE. The session focused on risk perceptions and blended finance for public infrastructure. You can see the video here.

Enabling Africa’s energy revolution

Continued strong advocacy for Africa’s low carbon energy revolution remains a top priority for the Africa Progress Panel this year. As part of this consistent effort, we co-convened a High Level Side Event with the Elders and The B Team at the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank in Lusaka, Zambia, in May 2016. Our joint event Africa’s Energy: What’s the New Deal? featured perspectives from a range of speakers on what must be done to ensure that Africa achieves universal access to power by 2025.

Our Chair, Kofi Annan, is a “champion” of the New Deal on Energy for Africa and at our event he provided the opening remarks alongside Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank. Key panellists included Africa Progress Panel member Olusegun Obasanjo; Horst Köhler, former president of Germany; Nick Hurd, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of International Development UK; and other political and private sector leaders.

Our latest policy brief, “Opportunity Africa, Powering the Future Now​,” produced for the Lusaka meetings, outlines how low-carbon energy systems are at the heart of African progress.

The ongoing impact of the Panama Papers

In terms of global progress towards greater transparency and accountability, 2016 has been marked by the revelations of the Panama Papers, which have exposed in detail how tax havens are being used to help move and hide billions of dollars around the world, including from some of the world’s poorest countries in Africa.

In my blog for the Huffington Post, The Panama Papers and the Africa Story, I outline how the Panama Papers are not just about famous people who use offshore accounts to avoid paying tax. They have also lifted the veil on a secret world in which tax havens are used to shift billions out of the world’s poorest countries in Africa.

Effective taxation lies at the heart of the social contract between citizens and the state. It is a powerful instrument to reduce inequality, stimulate growth and enhance human development — for all countries. Tax evasion at any level destroys trust in public institutions. And aggressive tax avoidance does so too — even though it is not illegal.

Global transparency and accountability

2016 also brought welcome progress in areas where we have been calling for action for some time. We welcomed the convening of the first International Anti-Corruption Summit in London on 12 May, as well as the entry into force on 11 July of the Port State Measures Agreement, which aims to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

These issues are closely linked. Enhanced action to galvanise global support for greater transparency to tackle corruption and illicit practices is essential to ensure that Africa’s resources are used for the maximum benefit of the continent’s people. Without it we will not see social economic transformation at the pace and scale that is required.

Looking ahead: the APP’s pivotal role

By working with a wide range of stakeholders to raise these issues on political agendas throughout the world, the Africa Progress Panel helps build a groundswell of voices to demand more and better from global leaders.

In the months ahead we plan to engage even more energetically with our nearly one million followers on Facebook and other social media platforms, as well as with our networks of global leaders, to continue to advocate for the positive changes we want to see in Africa and beyond.

As always, I thank you all for the incredible support you have shown over the last six months. We value our partnerships, friends and networks. Ultimately working together we can bring about change. In rocky times, the kind of change that many people are seeking in Africa and across the world can be achieved.

Caroline Kende-Robb served as Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel from September 2011 to January 2017.