My message at the SOAS African Development Forum ‏ 2019

Good morning, everyone,

Thank you for this invitation, which honours me. It is always a great pleasure for me to return to university, where I spent many of the best years of my life either learning or giving back what I had been taught.

Today, I come to you as a development practitioner.

In particular, I would like to speak about the challenges facing the development of our continent, particularly from the perspective of “”, the theme of this year’s Forum, which must be understood in a broader sense.

I would like to start with the extraordinary events that have marked African politics this week. I am thinking in particular of the Algerian situation. President Bouteflika’s decision is remarkable in many respects.

This decision should be welcomed and I wish the Algerian people the best possible outcome, as they have demonstrated their full political maturity during these demonstrations. We know the crucial role that students have played in these peaceful protests.

For the past two or three years, I have been saying that 90% of the African Heads of State we know today will no longer be here in ten years’ time. My forecast is more palatable with each election, or each renewal of the political offer. And there have been many of them in Africa in recent years.

Democracy will keep progressing at the pace of youth. By definition, future transitions bring renewal, but they can also be sources of instability, insecurity…

These changes are taking place at a time when Africa is experiencing a pivotal period in its globalization. The world is awakening to the importance of our continent, which will be home to one in four human in 2050, just 30 years from now. The theories of “Africa rising” have given way to a new formula, the “New scramble for Africa”.

This new formula seems more accurate than the previous one. In any case, it allows us to better reflect the original path that a sovereign Africa can take, free of its choices and courted by foreign powers and companies from all over the world.

Let me emphasize five general principles that combine economics and politics and that I believe are some of the keys to ensuring that the tremendous changes facing Africa go down well.

To be accepted by the peoples, it is my intimate conviction that the “technocratic” reforms we must undertake should reflect a political vision shared by as many people as possible, in this case the youth of our countries.

This is particularly true in the context of our demographic challenge and keeping in mind the hundreds of millions of young Africans who will reach working age in the next 15 years.

First, I would like to address the issue of the co-production of public policies as the basis for all major decisions that will impact populations. All recent events show how much the question is not so much which elegant technical solution to choose as which one will win the support of the populations.

Institutional and legislative systems in Africa suffer from a major and poorly studied weakness: the lack of public consultation. Citizens are called upon to vote every five years on slogans rather than programmes whose details are, in any case, rarely revealed to them.

The aim is not to establish a hypothetical “direct democracy”, but to increase the forms and channels of citizen participation in public life in Africa. This would be a kind of “institutional syncretism”, with regard to the definition and implementation of public policies.

To do this, we must draw on our tradition and return to the sources of the palaver tree or the indaba. South Africa has invented truth and reconciliation commissions, Rwanda has invented “gacaca” courts… We have the ability to increase public involvement and adherence in the major decisions that affect us.

It is about creating spaces in which people are informed, consulted and involved in the selection and implementation of the main projects that are supposed to ensure and promote their well-being – this is the goal, after all, of democracy.

We need to formulate our diagnosis in our own terms. It is the lack of a proper diagnosis that has too often been the main cause for the failure of development policies attempted throughout Africa – and the resulting lack of ownership.

How can we make a relevant diagnosis if we are not able to listen to our populations?

Secondly, we must recognize that the optimal responses to our major challenges lie at the regional and national levels, following an integrated approach. African States must learn to work together within the major regions, which in turn should be able to integrate them.

I note with optimism that the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s visit to Kenya has made it possible to relaunch the idea of LAPSSET, a first-rate regional corridor project that should make it possible to open up an immense region and increase trade between these two great East African nations.

Regional cooperation is not based on a romantic vision of the continent or an ignorance of economic realities. On the contrary, it is precisely because of these economic realities that we must defend the virtues of consultation.

Beyond the obvious benefits of infrastructure sharing, regional cooperation is essential to combat or strengthen other aspects of African development.

This applies to the negotiation of external trade agreements, the establishment of regional stock exchanges (East Africa is leading the way with the agricultural segment of the Kigali Stock Exchange), common rules for different professions, the accreditation of diplomas, the harmonization of qualifications, etc.

In addition to the benefits of economies of scale resulting from the pooling of training efforts, the mutual recognition, at the regional level, of diplomas obtained in African countries has the advantage of better anchoring populations, encouraging geographical mobility, and therefore competition, and, consequently, remuneration levels.

These are just a few examples.

Third, we must think about how private interests can profitably participate in new challenges. I am thinking in particular of the way in which agri-food companies, with the resources they have, can really participate in the professionalization and emergence of a class of agri-entrepreneurs in Africa.

Africa, with nearly 60% of its population still rural, offers the opportunity to experiment with new methods. This remains a challenge and a challenge for many of you, but I believe that some international actors in the agri-food sector are becoming aware of the need to change their production model and see Africa as an opportunity to develop original models in agreement with the populations.

The development of a quality agri-food industry will have beneficial spillover effects on key sectors of the economy. Indeed, beyond production, the whole sector would benefit – processing industries, harvesters, producers and distributors, would be boosted by a better organisation of the food sector.

Fourthly, I believe in the wider use of new technologies to identify our citizens and to bring a political identity to as many people as possible. Not only for better statistical management or demographic representativeness, but also to grant access to social services (payments of aid from the State) through a dedicated account.

This financial identity, whose development will accelerate with a constantly increasing rate of smartphone equipment, will have unimaginable effects on the informal sector.

It should be recalled that the informal sector is an essential component of most sub-Saharan economies, where its contribution to GDP ranges from 25% to 65% and where it represents between 30% and 90% of non-agricultural employment.

If the informal sector were organized more efficiently, it could greatly improve the lot of hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens. So far, the informal sector has not diminished in importance with economic growth. On the contrary, it has tended to grow faster than the rest of the economy.

New technologies offer us an opportunity to create the link between two almost parallel economic worlds, the formal and the informal. The combination of the living forces of the informal sector with the almost organic capacity of new technologies to connect and organize a new economic interaction can trigger the economic take-off of our continent.

Finally, allow me to say a few words on the more general question of aid. Aid is by definition transitional, to help overcome a difficult period. When it demonstrates to private capital that investment is profitable, it has finished playing its role.

I think that the public assistance as we know it, the one that comes from developed countries to countries of the “South”, will no longer exist in ten years’ time. This public aid is nowadays directed less and less towards health or education… and more and more towards security and migration issues. This is no longer the classic form of aid we tend to imagine.

Another sign of this “New Scramble for Africa” is that all recent G7 and G20 meetings highlight the role of the private sector, European, American and Japanese, in development projects and in the form of public-private partnerships. Africa must realize that aid is over. Donors, who were at the centre of development policies twenty years ago, are no longer there.

Let us realize that this aid is much less, at least twice as less as what the continent receives in remittances from the diaspora. If we compare aid flows, $25 billion, with illicit financial flows, more than $50 billion according to the ECA, we realize that, if we did our work through better tax, customs and customs management systems, we would not need this assistance. Similarly, if we succeed in being serious about our internal resource mobilization mechanisms…

It is in this spirit that the founding fathers of NEPAD, and more broadly of the entire pan-African institutional architecture, a generation which, with Mr. Bouteflika’s decision, has now finished giving way to the next one, is to ensure that Africa speaks with one voice to all its partners, to give it a more influential voice in the debates.

With the importance we are gaining in the concert of nations, I am indeed rather optimistic about the future of our continent.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to share these few thoughts with you. I hope that they will be useful to you in your future professional and personal choices.


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