DESA News Vol. 11, No. 1 January 2007

Technical cooperation

An African social policy to manage globalization

Thirteen African ministers endorse an initiative to tackle cross-border pressures

Building national social policies in Sub-Saharan Africa is a pressing issue. The vicious circle of rising poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in which many Africans are trapped make the case for inclusive national policies. Yet with limited resources for social spending available to most African States and new, cross-border challenges generated by globalization, there is a compelling need for an African coordinated response. That was the shared view of the thirteen member states of the Southern African Development Community that adopted, on 24 November, the Johannesburg draft document Towards an African Regional Policy, and through it, the decision to join forces to tackle social challenges in the SADC region.

A pioneering exercise in global social policy, the draft document was produced by the Division for Social Policy and Development with inputs from African governments. The draft was finalized in a four-day meeting in Johannesburg arranged by DESA and the Government of South Africa. The debate brought together Ministers and senior officials of social development of thirteen governments of the SADC region. All countries gave a green light to the initiative, opening the way to the creation of specialized regional research centres, prevention of cross-border transmission of diseases, joint programmes for risk pooling – such as crop and cattle insurance, disaster prevention and management – mechanisms for social regulation of services and water, electricity and other utilities, and regional investments such as the creation of funds for addressing common priorities, for example in the area of human rights, social and economic empowerment of women, and inclusion of vulnerable groups.

Sergei Zelenev and Isabel Ortiz, the DESA officials involved in organizing the ministerial meeting, stress that the rationale for a sub-regional social policy is precisely the inability of most countries to put these measures in place on their own due to limited capacity. Zelenev and Ortiz stress, however, that “a regional social policy does not deny the concept of national sovereignty” and the two layers of social policy – national and regional – “do not compete with each other” as the financing of the plan of action to implement the new goals would in principle be undertaken by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the socio-economic programme of the African Union.

The Ministerial meeting underlined the need to strengthen the African Union, NEPAD and SADC institutions dealing with social policy. At the same time, a process has begun which could lead to a future NEPAD action plan on social policy that fast-tracks donor funds for regional initiatives and brings social policy to the top of the African agenda.

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Rebuilding trust in government

The gap between rulers and the ruled dominates the Regional Forum on Reinventing Government in Africa

Governments must regain the trust of citizens. With this message in mind, the Regional Forum on Reinventing Government in Africa met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 11 to 13 December to identify ways for African governments to rebuild confidence. The meeting was one of a series organized by DESA and UNDP for different regions in preparation for the seventh global event taking place in Vienna in June. Among the invitees were parliamentarians – in particular Ministers responsible for public service and local government – senior officials from the public sector, representatives of international and regional organizations, and management experts.

According to participants, implementation of the Charter for Public Service in Africa , which stresses consistency and predictability, the importance of ethical behaviour, transparency and accountability, is urgently needed to generate and sustain trust in government among the people of the region. At the same time, no amount of transparency and integrity will convince citizens to put their faith an administration which is ineffective. Equitable delivery of public goods, and access to high-quality services, are also paramount.

African governments were advised by participants to focus on improving the conduct of public officials, refining electoral processes, using information and communication technology to enhance service delivery, and providing more opportunities for civic participation. Participatory governance indeed implies citizen engagement in administrative reform, whether this entails, for example, new approaches to government accountability, partnerships between the private and public sectors, or empowerment of women.

The forum discussion unfolded against the backdrop of the challenges facing African governments in implementing global commitments, such as the Millennium Development Goals , the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development , and programmes of the African Peer Review Mechanism, as well as national development strategies including those relating to poverty reduction. Governments that do not trust citizens, or that are not trusted by those whom they serve, will find it difficult to advance. The meeting was hosted by the Economic Commission for Africa.

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Mobilizing resources for development: the role of national development banks

The DESA Financing for Development Office helps Africa assess the potential of its financial institutions

What are the current challenges of national development banks in Africa? How can these institutions enhance their delivery for development? These and other questions were posed in a multi-stakeholder consultation on rethinking the role of national development banks in Africa held by the Financing for Development Office on 22 and 23 November in Johannesburg, in collaboration with the Industrial Development Corporation and the Development Bank of Southern Africa. A general conclusion was that national development banks in various forms are viable and continue to play an important role in economic and social development in Africa. Yet resource mobilization remains a key challenge of development.

Stakeholders discussed functions and mechanisms in mobilizing financial resources to fill development gaps and address market failures, which in turn is the raison d’être of development financial institutions. It was suggested that NDBs should clarify their role vis-à-vis commercial banks, address governance issues to ensure support from multi-lateral development banks, and create alliances with the private sector to share financial risks and ensure capital for development projects.

New partnerships with regional development banks, namely the African Development Bank, were encouraged, especially in the areas of technical assistance and capacity-building. In this vein, the role of NDBs as financial intermediaries between their regional counterparts and small and medium enterprises calls for recognition and support. Empowering entrepreneurs was seen as paramount to bring about development and to help build inclusive financial sectors. Cooperation among the different NDBs on cross-border and in-country financing of projects was also pointed to as an effective channel to pool resources. In this sense, boosting NDBs’ capacity to deliver for development means harnessing their networks with a view to joint financing of projects and crowding in the private sector.

The event, which was part of a broader agenda of the Africa Development Finance Week and was co-sponsored by the Association of African Development Finance Institutions and the Development Finance Resource Centre of the Southern African Development Community, made clear the prominent role NDBs have played in employment generation and poverty eradication. NDBs can also be instrumental in influencing policy-making given their role as intermediaries between government and the private sector.

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