United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Central African economies would make a complete turnaround from exporting raw gems and other commodities, to a state of value addition and economic diversification, should they wake up to a new paradigm of leadership and transformational change, involving all segments of society.

A series of high-level debates and group reflections at the 37th session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts for Central Africa (ICE), at the Kintele International Conference Centre near Brazzaville, came to this overall conclusion, Friday 10 December 2021.

“The deliberations of this session have enabled everyone to understand the relevance of broadening our macroeconomic indicators by bringing to the picture the human capital dimension as a vital factor for growth” said Jean Luc Mastaki, Head of ECA’s Subregional Office for Central Africa, which co-convened the session with the Government of Congo.

“We have highlighted the need to pull together public sector actors, the private sector and civil society, constituting a coalition of leaders to speed up economic diversification in our subregion, while putting into play  the important roles of accounting for our vast natural capital and harnessing the subregion's potential in producing and supplying renewable energy,” he went on.

ECA’s Central Africa Office presented a study to guide strategies and actions to engender the changes being advocated styled: “A Trip to 2030: Fostering Leadership and Transformative Change or Economic Diversification in Central Africa.”

The study expands the discourse on economic diversification which has gained currency in the subregion since the adoption of the Douala Consensus at the 34th ICE session of 2017.

“The success of industrial policies to promote economic diversification will depend on strong leadership and appropriate institutions,” posits the report which cites the African Capacity Building Foundation’s take on the discourse as being “less about the leader or chief executive and more about the leadership group, drawn from the political and management segments of the state, the private sector, and civil society who are capable of directing change toward desired outcomes.”

“The key shift needed is from leading for short-term gains for a narrowly defined special interest group, to leading for long-term gains by the whole of society,” said Stellenbosch University’s Desta Mebratu, who together with Mark Swilling, Anton Cartwright and others, worked closely with ECA on the study.

Mebratu listed the following six points as critical for bringing about effective transformational leadership in pursuit of Central Africa’s economic diversification: i) fostering of mutual interests between businesses and ruling elites in promoting clear and strong commitments to accelerated economic diversification across all eleven Central African nations; ii) intentionally creating 'pockets of efficiency' between ruling elites and civil servants; iii) building relationships of trust and institutional mechanisms which enable learning for productivity improvements between state bureaucrats and businesses, iv) building partnerships between businesses and civil society, v) forging an environment of trust between civil society and state bureaucracies, and vi) promoting the accountability of ruling elites vis-à-vis civil society to help limit extractive rent seeking that only benefits the ruling elite or a particular faction within the ruling elite.

Session’s rallying call stakeholders in leadership and transformative change

Following days of scrutinising the implications of the study for Central Africa’s economic diversification, including deliberations during an expert group meeting on natural capital accounting and another one on renewable energy, the following all-englobing recommendations emerged:

ECA was requested to develop statistical toolkits and a multi-partner platform for measuring leadership practices and the dialogue between the public and private sectors as well as a benchmarking matrix on economic diversification to serve as a wakeup call to member States.

The Commission was further tasked with rallying together the private sector and civil society on the pathways of economic diversification, to steer an agenda of industrial competitiveness for Central Africa’s profitable participation in Africa’s common market – the AfCFTA, and to help member States develop natural capital accounting models.

Member states were advised to swing into the transition to green energy and fully pursue natural capital accounting to broaden their fiscal space for sustainable development projects.

With their rich biodiversity and ecosystems, Central African countries would easily prosper from quickly developing the pharmaceutical industry, but Governments must remove obstacles faced by the sector’s entrepreneurs and soften the ground for SMEs to thrive.

The delegates said private sector-led expansion of economies would be possible if member States decentralise and simplify procedures for incorporating companies while promoting mentorship in entrepreneurship at schools.

In all of these, public administrators should be encouraged to render corrupt-free services while the wider society must work together to collectively stamp out corruption.

In a newly configured social compact towards leadership for economic diversification, the private sector was implored to deliver more on corporate social responsibly and go all-out to improve local capacities for building machine-tools which would boost manufacturing.

It was high time the regional economic communities, notably CEMAC and ECCAS, created a consortium on leveraging natural capital accounting to drive economic diversification and industrialisation with the private sector at the centre.

The RECs were further entreated to talk the subregion’s Central banks, notably BEAC, into easing the conditions for the financing of industry. This, while equally promoting economic diplomacy to make it easy for creating cross-border special economic zones and to inspire financially endowed captains of industry to deliver transnational investments and fashion out regional value chains.

There was no longer time to waste for the free movement of goods and persons, the delegates said, noting that quick action in this regard by the RECs would accelerate results in economic diversification.

With its important role of conscientising all segments of the society in the leadership coalition, civil society actors were called upon to improve their own leadership to be able to better canvass for the ethical dimensions of economic diversification  processes in the subregion, which promote sustainability and inclusiveness.

ICE session President, UN System coordinator satisfied

“The rich content of this 37th ICE session very clearly  mapped, the direction in which we must all go together to bring Central Africa safely to Destination 2030 through leadership and transformational change,” said Franck Corneille Mampouya M’Bama, Director General of Planning and Development of Congo and Chair of the ICE for the next one year.

United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Congo, Chris Mburu, said the theme of the meeting was “an important topic for the UN in more ways than one, because of the key role that leadership plays in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

He pledged the UN System’s continued commitment to working together in the subregion in general and in the Congo in particular to promote an “effective and agile leadership which means the careful formulation and implementation of public policy and delivery of public services to meet the needs and aspirations of citizens, leaving no one behind.”

The 37th ICE session for Central Africa was co-opened by Congo’s Minister of Economy, Planning, Statistics and Regional Integration – Ingrid Olga Ghislaine Ebouka-Babackas, and United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA – Vera Songwe, in the presence of Congo’s Minister of Industrial Development and Private Sector Promotion – Antoine Nicéphore Thomas Fylla Saint Eudes.

It brought together over a hundred high-level officials including Government ministers; experts in leadership, natural capital accounting and the economics of renewable energy; as well as delegates from development organisations and the regional economic communities.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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