United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

A new social compact characterised by permanent dialogue between political and economic leaders and ‘beneficiaries’, would catalyse economic diversification in Central Africa, said some of the continent’s leaders from various fields, Monday.

“We need to think big and small at the same time by shifting from our obsession for foreign direct investment to creating incentives for domestic investors to excel,” argued Antonio Pedro, Deputy Executive Secretary in Charge of Programme Support, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The Commission’s Office for Central Africa organised the hybrid high-level panel on leadership and transformational change for economic diversification, in Brazzaville and online, as a pacesetter of the 37th session of its Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts, in conjunction with the Government of the Republic of Congo.

Pedro said engineering leadership for transformational change for economic diversification, the theme of the 37th ICE meeting, required a sense of urgency in pursuit of quick wins such as the establishment of a battery precursor industry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo only a week earlier at the DRC-Africa Business Forum co-convened by ECA.

“The new leadership we aspire to is one in which the leaders rally everyone around clear objectives in the interest of all” said Ingrid Olga Ghislaine Ebouka-Babackas, Congo’s Minister of Economy, Planning, Statistics and Regional Integration, who also opened the ICE deliberations.

“It is about submitting the most profitable resource transformation development agendas to the scrutiny of actors and beneficiaries, through permanent dialogue before, during and after execution, with a particular attention to listening by the leaders”.

Antonio Pedro called this approach “the social licence to operate” which must now be coupled with the sustainable development licence to operate, not merely for the sake of ticking off SDG boxes but rather as a strategic measure towards maximising national and subregional value propositions.

For Central Africa, five SDGs are key in this regard: goal 7 on energy, goal 8 on work and inclusive growth, goal 9 on industry, innovation infrastructure, goal 12 on responsible consumption and production, goal 13 on climate action and goal 15 on sustainable land ecosystems.

“In all of this, the private sector must be placed at the heart of leadership for economic diversification based on our vast natural, economic, cultural and therapeutic capitals” reckoned Honoré Tabuna ECCAS’ Commissioner for the Environment, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Rural Development.

Gilbert Ewehmeh, a business development consultant, argued that promoting innovative financing for entrepreneurship is an important tenet of leadership which must be paid attention.

“We have overly focused on political leadership to the detriment of economic leadership” he said, calling for Governments to provide more tax incentives for local entrepreneurs and to water the ground for crowd funding, business angels and venture capital to help drive economic diversification.

Central Africa’s educational system must urgently integrate entrepreneurship literacy or mindset change, he added.

Prof. Edgar Pieterse, Director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town advocated a rethink of what he termed “the basket of service delivery” in Central Africa, by first providing the region’s cities with infrastructural solutions and smart but careful digital transformation processes which still leave room for labour intensive productivity.

With a raft of pharmaceutical discoveries already made by researchers across various Central African countries, Science Diplomacy should be put at work for the subregion to achieve rapid transitions, given its ecological and biodiversity wealth, advanced HRH Prof Wilfred Mbacham, public health biotechnologist and Founding President of Radio Health International.

He said it was time to go past just discoveries and regroup beyond scientific and other businesses built only around family and tribal ties.

The subregion must decouple scientific processes across the states to capitalise on converging results based on each country’s value proposition.

At this point in time, “someone needs to connect the dots” he mooted, adding that “leadership is the cause and every other thing is the effect.”

UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA -Vera Songwe addressed the session earlier on.

She made reference to the Commission’s 2020 study on the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 which reported a 2.7% shrink of the sub-region’s real GDP as a result of the pandemic.

The situation, she argued, called for “visionary and agile leadership to engender inclusive growth and build diversified, job-creating economies”.

“With three million square kilometres of dense forest, representing 6% of the world’s canopy, Central Africa must harness its natural capital, and build public-private partnerships which would identify rapid transitions and short-term actions towards developing strategic value chains for economic diversification.”, concluded Vera Songwe.

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

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