Is Africa on the path to economic transformation? What will it take to effectively deal with corruption on the continent? And does Africa have the requisite skills to develop? Recently, Zimpapers Head of Television Nomsa Nkala spoke to African Capacity Building Foundation Executive Secretary Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie on this and other issues affecting the continent’s economic growth. We publish excerpts of that interview.
NN: Professor, your organisation was set up 28 years ago to spearhead economic development in Africa through capacity-building. Your membership has grown to over 40 countries throughout the years. Are there any visible achievements so far?
Prof Nnadozie: Yes, there are quite a number of visible achievements that we have realised over these 28 years. First of all, we have operations in 45 African countries. So, we are practically all over the continent. We also operate even in countries that are not yet members of ACBF.
We operate at country level and sub-regional level, supporting regional communities, and also at continental level. So far, we have really achieved a lot in three to four key areas. One is in building the capacity of men and women who lead organisations; who make economic policy; who manage institutions and who are able to develop the kind of policies that will help countries to become more developed.
Over 50 000 middle level managers have been created and these we find in central banks, ministries of finance, universities and making all kinds of policies. ACBF has also strengthened or created some key institutions of development across the continent. For example, Zimbabwe has the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit, which is a think-tank that supports economic policy and improves implementation of policies for development.
zeparu was created by ACBF, and we have been supporting it since then. The same applies across many other countries — over 40 of them. Finally, we have provided a platform for empowering women, promoting mutual integration on the continent and helping improve health outcomes across the continent.
NN: Tell us about the capacity direction that ACBF provides at government level.
Prof Nnadozie: The 2019 Africa Capacity Report is on leadership. This shows that we pay attention to leadership capacity. And because we understand that it is a central issue, our support goes to governments and countries as well as to non-State actors — whether they are private sector players or civil society.
We believe governments have a key role to play in development. For them to play that role effectively, they need to have capable men and women in their bureaucracies who will be able to not only design good policies, but also ensure that those policies are implemented and development results are achieved.
NN: How do you rate the capacity gaps in Africa compared to other continents?
Prof Nnadozie: The majority of African countries, based on our indexes and measures, are in what we call “the medium capacity level”. Fortunately, improvements have been made; therefore, we don’t have quite a big number as we used to have in the low capacity category. We want them to be on the high capacity level and that also depends on the area of capacity we are talking about. For example, institutional capacity is still weak on the continent and we must do something about that.
This is the reason why you tend to find that issues of corruption or issues of non-implementation of policies are still rampant. The critical technical skills needed are also lacking. In fact, the number of engineers required for high actuarial economies or science and technology that will drive the transformative agenda (is still very low).
NN: Could we then say, Professor, that Africa’s failure to realise its full value, for example, from its resources is tied to its incapacity in terms of skills?
Prof Nnadozie: Absolutely. Our exercises over the years have demonstrated that capacity is the missing link. We have fantastic policies and strategies. If you look at the continental agenda, you have the Abuja Treaty, Nepad, the African Peer Review Mechanism, MDGs and poverty reduction strategies. We have had all these policies, but one of the main reasons why they have not been able to fulfil the expectations and dreams that they were supposed to have fulfilled is lack of capacity or inadequate capacity.
So, you have these policies, but implementation becomes an issue.
It’s not just leadership capacity: it’s also technical capacity and, more importantly, institutional capacity — the institution that will make things happen. That is why I insist that as long as we don’t pay special attention to urgently building the capacity of organisations or institutions of men and women, it will be difficult for Africa to really achieve its development goals.
I am also helping (governments) design strategies for retaining capacity because brain drain is a major problem. It’s actually a subsidy to countries that do not need subsidy. Can you imagine that the number of medical doctors from Malawi who are in Manchester outnumbers the number of medical doctors in Malawi? These doctors were all trained in Malawi.
So, this is a country that cannot afford to lose doctors.
They need doctors, but now they are subsidising Britain by exporting people, who they spend a lot of money training, to Britain.
We have also been studying this issue to see how Africa can tap into this Diaspora human capital and knowledge so that they can help develop the continent.
NN: Is there a realisation, though at government level, of that problem?
Prof Nnadozie: Well, that is also one issue.
NN: Are they clear about how that ties into the development of their countries?
Prof Nnadozie: Some countries do and others do not. Keep in mind that Japan, China and even India use a deliberate strategy of either exporting their own technical skills and re-importing them after they will have acquired a lot of knowledge and skills. Alternatively, at least systematically, they tap into their Diaspora and set up conditions that will make them either contribute or come back to support development.
This is what we are urging African countries to do; that they must have a deliberate Diaspora policy, which makes sure that, first, awareness is there, and secondly that they see how they can mobilise that Diaspora. There is something called brain circulation. So, we are turning brain drain into brain gain. In other words, people may not necessarily return physically, but they can have some opportunities to come back and do certain things or they can contribute from wherever they are. But one thing is important: countries must pay attention to this, in particular a country like Zimbabwe that has a lot of very capable men and women who are everywhere in the world.
NN: Last year, Africa lost over US$148 billion to corruption and illicit financial flows, and member states initiated efforts to fight these problems. How effective has that been?
Prof Nnadozie: Corruption is bad. One President once said, “If you don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill you.”
If the amount of money syphoned from Africa could be used to develop the continent, the continent would be developed. Imagine what US$50 billion could do for the continent’s healthcare, education and other areas of development that need money. Last year, African heads of states organised a summit themed around fighting corruption. So, the entire year was dedicated to that.
One thing that people should not underestimate is the fact that for the first time in the history of the continent, Heads of state convened to openly talk about corruption. That is not an easy thing on our continent. The summit could have been the first of its nature. But talking about corruption is not sufficient; requisite action has to be taken. For us at ACBF, working with the ECA and the African Union Commission, we have started to look at the illicit financial flows and begun to identify gaps we can address.
We realised that the largest proportion of this money flowing is actually part of what is known as transfer pricing by multinational companies. People mistakenly think it is some head of state who looted money and put in some offshore account. It is all over the continent. It is more of private sector than government, but governments should create policies that reduce illicit financial movement.
For example, we went to one country and asked the customs officials how much oil they export and they said they didn’t know. They just work with what the oil companies tell them. The same thing happened with another country that exports gold and they did not know how much they export.
NN: This could be a matter of capacity as well. How are you tackling that?
Prof Nnadozie: We are focusing on creating financial intelligence units in ministries of finance so that they can match these multinational companies in ensuring they do not evade taxes and to ensure there is better coordination among frontline agencies that fight corruption. The bottom-line regarding fighting corruption is, unlike any other thing, it is something that has to be fought from the top by the leadership. If you have a leader who is incorruptible, you have better chances of fighting corruption because they have a moral ground to stand on.
NN: Is there willingness among African governments to seriously address this problem?
Prof Nnadozie: Last year, they came out to pronounce themselves. To me, that was an important first step. Many countries are beginning to look at this thing seriously by looking at it in a multi-dimensional way.
It is not just a law enforcement conversation.
You have to have a generation whose mindset you can to change. We also have to have moral suasion. That is necessary. There also must be a strong anti-corruption law that is implemented.
NN: Young people form a sizeable number of Africa’s population. Do you have specific programmes aimed at that group?
Prof Nnadozie: Yes, we do. Some of our training programmes, like the Economic Policy Management Programme, focus on young people. We also support youth organisations, especially those that are continental. We help them get better organised and give them platforms to deal with youth issues.
We have also designed specific programmes to address youth empowerment.
In Yaoundé last year, we had a conference on building capacity, on fighting youth unemployment. We also mobilised think-tanks to begin to reflect on these problems at country levels for them to help governments with policy. We do have offices in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia to help young people.
NN: Debt is choking a lot of African countries. How are you assisting them to emerge from this position to actual capacity-building?
Prof Nnadozie: It is unfortunate that we are witnessing, again, a vicious cycle of indebtedness. Some years ago, a lot of African countries went into a debt crisis and a lot of programmes were put in place, like debt forgiveness and debt rescheduling, to try and alleviate the situation. I think one important thing is before we get to crisis level, the alarm bells will have been rung. We are grateful to those who are warning countries against excessive borrowing. We are now also working with them to find out how best they can manage their debt to make sure they are at sustainable levels. We are working with countries to find out how best they can manage their debt to make sure they are at sustainable levels.
NN: Some African governments seem to be turning to their private sector to drive economic growth. What is your position regarding this approach? Can this model work for developing countries?
Prof Nnadozie: I have been in this business for more than 30 years and have concluded that development is a practical issue. If you understand fully well that governments cannot feed people single-handedly or build industries. . . you must recognise that it is not the private sector on its own either. Both of them have to play their roles and positively to society.
Governments should make sure that they set the right policies, rules of the game, make the right investments, introduce regulations that are necessary for things to work and create conducive conditions for business to work. Then it is the role of the private sector to invest and participate in agricultural growth. Countries that have realised that everybody has to play their roles are making lots of progress. Historically, the sort of education (in Africa) was such that the debate was state-led growth or private sector-led growth, which is a misnomer. There are those who believe the state must not be involved in the economy, but that cannot happen.
There is no place in the world where the state has not played a key role in development.
NN: What is your vision for Africa for the next five years? What initiatives will you be implementing?
Prof Nnadozie: We have a five-year strategy, which we are implementing. It has four pillars: To enable the implementation of the continental agenda, support countries to achieve development results, to enhance the contribution of the private sector and civil society to sustainable development as well as to leverage on knowledge to promote sustainable development of the continent. We are going to continue to implement these pillars of our strategy. At the same time, they are all in line with Agenda 2063, which is the continent’s 50-year plan for the Africa we want. Now is the time to start implementing the strategy, which will see the fruition of Agenda 2063.
The pillars have set goals we believe are achievable in five years. We cannot solve all of Africa’s problems in five years, but we want to achieve our set goals.