Capacity Building: Key to Africa's Growth

Published on 15th February 2011

In recent years, much has been said about the so called “CAPABLE STATES,” defined as one that can conceive, implement and deliver superior results for the people.

It is common to hear statements such as: “African countries must be in the driving seat.” But we also know that ownership without capacity is a forgone opportunity. Such affirmations remain evangelical unless translated into practice. A public sector that fails to deliver will have its legitimacy questioned, irrespective of how it came to office.

Gone are the days when Africans would implement externally generated agendas, with externally provided support, convincing ourselves and others that we have internalized them. A new era has opened during the millennium. The centre of gravity of the global economy has shifted. Africa’s moment of opportunity is recognized by all – from the IFIs to McKinsey.

The challenge of this generation is how to unlock the potential of this great continent and its billion people. To unlock that potential, exploit the opportunities of the new landscape
requires endogenous capacity. The capacity we look for is to self-develop, exercise our sovereignty, ask the right questions, peer into the future, plan strategically. In short, to consolidate state legitimacy, by providing social services, mobilizing our resources, and creating an environment for all and sundry to prosper.

Three key areas for capacity building in Africa

I would like to mention three areas which will require increased attention. First, is the special attention to countries recovering from war and conflicts such as Burundi and Southern Sudan. In these countries, often, state has to begin from scratch. I therefore look forward to our side event on Southern Sudan today.

Second, capacity to manage external shocks. Over the last three years, Africa has suffered three seismic shocks in quick succession – it has come out bruised but standing. This somewhat mitigated impact of the triple crisis; the sharp increase in food prices, the financial crisis and the volatile energy markets, attest to the improved resilience a result of the policy buffers, built over years of reforms, and capacity to manage our affairs much better than we have done in the past. But the new landscape is full of uncertainties, and poses new forms of risks even to rich and emerging countries.

Third, capacity to manage climate change. While rich countries can afford prolonged, unproductive “beggars thy neighbor” negotiations on cutting CO2 emissions; for us in Africa, the impact of climate change is real and is here now, and threatens to derail our achievement, a powerful reverse gear on our development.

Our ability to integrate the issues of mitigation, adaptation into overall development given that the three are inseparable, will determine how much we can sustain the recent momentum built across Africa.

At the African Development Bank, we see capacity building as a CORE not a COLLATERAL objective. It is about a patient process of building institutions; it is about complementing not supplanting local capacities. It is about identifying areas of strategic gaps and opportunities – and working with countries to seize these opportunities.

By Donald Kaberuka
President of the African Development Bank Group.


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