Last week, the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) were held in Marrakech, Morocco under the theme “The Structural Transformation of Africa.” It has been 29 years since Morocco last hosted the meeting and the event and its location demonstrate how few divides now exist between north and sub-Saharan Africa.
In the past, policy analysts and companies treated North Africa as part of the Middle East; to many, Africa began at South Africa, and extended upwards to Nigeria and Kenya, encompassing the largely English-speaking areas of the continent.
While that is still the dominant perspective, leaders in the Maghreb have increasingly forged closer and more robust economic, commercial, and political ties with their counterparts in central and West Africa.
Some of these efforts were clearly political, as with Gaddafi’s investments throughout the continent. Other ties have grown out of the need to have common efforts against smugglers, militants, terrorists, and extremists who populate the poorly guarded territories along common borders. The bottom line is that building long-term south-south relations is now a permanent feature of intra-African affairs.
In his message to the annual meetings, King Mohammed VI of Morocco emphasized that Africa’s human capacity and natural resources are great assets in the economic and social development that is occurring. He also noted that “we must root out the causes of national and regional conflicts so that peace may prevail throughout Africa.”
The King called for “major projects at the level of sub-regional groupings, and to insure the sustainability and optimal management of our resources, for the mutual benefit of our populations.” In outlining his vision, the King calls for Africans to take the leadership in the development of their countries without becoming dependent on foreign entities.
King Mohammed VI also spoke to the need “to ensure food security for all our African peoples and to reduce our dependence…through the creation of a common African agricultural market. Finally, we should promote support and assistance programs to reduce social and spatial inequalities and ensure inclusive, shared growth.”
These challenges echo themes of conferences held earlier this year in Morocco on south-south dynamics, most recently the 8th Morocco International Exhibition of Agriculture in Meknes, where attendees discussed topics related to regional markets, food security, and innovations in agriculture.
Yet the AfDB’s mission is built around the capabilities of its 79 members (54 African, 25 non-African) to not only grow their GDPs but put into practice the means of further reducing poverty, inequality, and discrimination. Despite a doubling of GDP since 2000, great disparities remain and there is an over-reliance on FDI to drive growth that is often uneven among and within countries.
As reported in the final communiqué of the meetings, there is a need to use the current UN discussions on revising the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to set realistic goals regarding the inclusion of youth, women, and other vulnerable groups.
The final AfDB statement included a strong emphasis on committing higher levels of investment in human and infrastructure development, promoting strategies that accelerate economic growth including support to small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), improving human capacity and skills development especially for youth, and renewed efforts to build efficient regional markets through joint public-private investments.
In his remarks at the closing session, Nizar Baraka, who was named “Minister of Finance of the Year” in Africa, pointed out that a key outcome of the meetings was to review, evaluate, and discuss AfDB’s activities to better develop strategies to mobilize financial resources for the structural transformation of Africa so as to better serve the African people and “meet their expectations for a dignified life, social mobility, and job opportunities.”
Morocco garnered additional awards including Best Bank of North Africa to Attijariwafa Bank and Best Development Financing Institution to Credit Agricole, which was cited for “working hard…to build a model of sustainable and efficient financing for development in rural areas, with good management practices.”
These institutions and their counterparts throughout Africa are key players in the fact that 13 of the 20 fastest growing countries in the world in 2012 are in Africa. In its third annual financial review, the AfDB noted that regional economic integration is the “key factor” for African producers to develop regional value chains, to achieve economies of scale, and become competitive internationally.
And for AfDB, the private sector is the main engine of growth and poverty alleviation, providing 90% of the jobs, two-thirds of the investments, and 70% of the earnings growth on the continent.
Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb will gain mutual benefits from a heightened involvement in Africa, one that shares a common vision for dynamic human and economic growth.