Commonwealth: Africa Changing for the Better

Published on 30th June 2008

The prospects and challenges of African development should be showcased comprehensively in a single source for the benefit of all those with an interest in the continent – analysts, investors, international development partners and many others. This can only contribute positively to the development of the continent.


Africa is changing, building on its strong economic performance in recent years, which is expected to continue. For instance, the continent recorded GDP growth of around six percent in the last two years and prospects going forward are favourable. Thus, Africa has become a continent of increasing opportunity - second only to Asia in the pace of its GDP growth.


Other economic indicators are favourable: larger and increasing current account surpluses; some diversification away from commodity exports as volumes of manufacturing exports increase, and inflation in single digits. More broadly, conflict is declining although there are democratic and governance challenges. Driven by the strong natural resources sector, the continent has been witnessing increased inflows of FDI and foreign private capital and these trends are expected to continue.


At the same time, a great number of challenges are evident. High food and fuel prices threaten to undermine the progress made so far. It is essential that the international community move to deal with both the immediate consequences of these developments for African growth and service and support strategies to tackle this issue in the long term.


Africa is, of course, a diverse continent and the performances of individual economies diverge. Even with some diversification, the continent’s performance is still reliant on primary commodity exports, particularly in the extractive industries. This source of income is volatile and vulnerable to changing external market conditions. The slowdown in industrial countries is one source of potential uncertainty affecting not only demand for the continent’s exports, but also the inflow of capital.


There is a more general challenge of engaging in the global economy. Africa – for all the recent progress – is less able to take advantage of the opportunities of globalisation, due to lack of high quality infrastructure. Finally, extreme poverty prevails in many countries. Most sub-saharan countries are unlikely to meet the MDGs by the target date of 2015.


The Commonwealth Secretariat seeks to support Africa’s development needs as a trusted partner, and as a catalyst for global consensus-building on critical issues, especially of concern to member states. Its assistance to Africa in recent years has been focused on Capacity building to benefit from trade liberalisation and economic diversification; Public sector development and good governance; Enterprise and private sector development and in particular the development of petroleum, natural gas and other mineral resources; Human resources development to address the acute shortage of skills in the health and education sectors and Primary Education and combating HIV/AIDS


Support for the African member countries takes forms such as building the capacity of ACP Africa countries in trade policy formulation (with their EPA and WTO negotiations and with the implementation of trade agreements); assisting countries to better record and manage debt; carrying out practical promotion of investment opportunities in the region through the Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative; helping improve export competitiveness and the development of small and medium sized enterprises; improving the performance of public services; the dissemination and implementation of the Commonwealth Code of Practice for the International Recruitment of Health Workers designed to assist Commonwealth countries to manage the international migration of health workers; and addressing Gender Equality and Equity (in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat) to ensure gender mainstreaming especially in the health and education sectors.


Development success depends on the support and long term commitment of the Development Partners. It is also important that development partners accept and support the view that strategies promoting good governance and economic development need to be country-grown, owned and driven.


The efforts of African countries themselves, and of developments partners, are bearing fruit. However, there is still much to be done. Despite the recent improvement in economic performance, the share of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has declined little and the absolute number of poor is actively increasing. African economies remain fragile and vulnerable to external events. The disorderly unwinding of global imbalances, renewed protectionism, the evolution of world oil and food prices - as we have seen - could all have significant impact on the positive growth trends that have emerged in the past couple of years. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that the marginalization of Africa becomes truly yesterday’s story.


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