Why ACBF wants to Partner EU, Private Sector – Erastus Mwencha

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Erastus Mwencha, chair of the executive board of the African Capacity Building Foundation, ACBF, speaks with journalists on the margins of the 27th annual meeting of the board of governors of the foundation in Yaounde, Cameroon, in July on the importance of developing critical skills for development of Africa; the performance of ACBF in 2017, its partnerships with AFREXIM, Gates Foundation, private sector and why some African countries are not redeeming pledges made to the Foundation. Excepts

 

Are you happy with ACBF performance in 2017?  

The executive board which I chair had the opportunity to review the ACBF Annual Report for 2017.  It clearly shows that we had a very successful year 2017. I can allude to two major indicators. One is the successful closure of the World Bank Project. The World Bank has been a major financial partner of the ACBF, and the project that we closed last year was also reviewed by the World Bank itself and it came to the same conclusion that the project was successfully implemented. If you look at the impact of that project, it supported quite a number of diversified and key areas. One is regional integration; the institutions supported included IGAD, COMESA, ECOWAS, AND MEFMY, an institution that deals with finance based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

There was also support directly to the 45 governments of member countries.   One of the key areas was macro-economic policy. If you look at African governments, especially at the turn of the century, you will notice that one of the key mitigators of what would have been a major shock is because of swift response by governments to regularise their macro-economic environment, to stabilise their currencies and exchange rate. These have been very stable, except for a couple of countries.

We also supported institutions of learning to provide training, particularly in the area of science and technology. The other area that concerned the executive board is the key performance indicators, KPIs which the ACBF has consistently achieved. Its disbursement and efficiency rate has been over 80 percent.

The third area is the fiduciary management, the performance was good.

But notwithstanding that, we, of course, face some major headwinds. There has been stress in terms of inflow of resources, and that is because of fiscal pressure at the national level due to competing needs, which is also a reflection of how governments are struggling to continue to develop their capacity. The pressure now is to meet the short-term needs, and when you talk about capacity that falls more in the long-term needs, and because of that you have this mismatch of short-term, long-term.

But I must say that if you talk about government support, which is another indicator, African governments have also stepped up their contributions to ACBF, which is a very good indicator.

 

Are they redeeming their pledges, or the pledges remain pledges?

That is true to a certain extent, but they pay. It is only that there are delays, due to the fiscal pressure I just alluded to at the national level. But eventually they do pay. Close to 40 percent honour their pledges timeously. But, of course, you have the others that are struggling. Over our five-year Plan (2017-2021) we remain positive that the bulk would have redeemed their pledges.

 

What else gives you pleasure about the performance of ACBF in 2017

We have also continued to gain territory in terms of development partners. We have now strong partnership emerging with AfDB, Afreximbank, Gates Foundation has also come in, in a very strong way. The UNDP continues to give us support. Our delegation went to Seattle to see the Gates Foundation on the projects we are implementing together and they showed big appetite to continue to work with us. So that also gives us encouragement that we can bring more private sector to support our work. One of the areas we must expand our cooperation is in the private sector.

 

Do you work with the EU?

We have not had very formal interactions with the EU although we have worked with a number of European countries and that is another area we tend to look at very closely. We have already initiated discussions with the EU. In fact at the last AU Summit in Addis Ababa, we started engaging each other. And given the fact that ACBF now has been designated an AU Specialised agency of the African Union, which was a major success also for us, that opens an opportunity for us for closer interaction with the EU.

Last year, we looked at the financing of development projects in the continent, where ministers of finance committed themselves to expanding their tax revenue at the national level to close the gap between what national governments contribute to development, the budget, and to kind of continue to reduce the gap between them and development partners, recognising that Africa really must face the reality that the window is dwindling. We see now that many African governments are shifting from ODA to more borrowing in the market like Eurobonds.

The second one, we have also established think thanks in the continent to continue to generate knowledge, and that research continues to be important to be incorporated and disseminated to governments for them to re-engineer and focus their development.

 

Youth unemployment is a time-bomb in Africa. How can ACBF help diffuse this bomb?

One of the glaring challenges facing Africa is the mismatch between what our tertiary education is offering and where Africa wants to go. In preparing Agenda 2063, one of the themes of Agenda 2063 is transformation of the economy. We have talked about transformation for some time, but we must now be putting building blocks on it to change our economies from being very much dependent on primary products.

If you look at Agenda 2063, it shows that the critical challenges that stand in our way of achieving Agenda 2063 is the lack of critical skills. And that is where ACBF comes in.  No one country will be able to produce all these required skills. Not one country in the world has been able to solve these skills problem. That is why you see even Canada has a policy to try and give incentives for skilled workers to gain citizenship because they know they cannot achieve it alone, and yet Canada is in the OECD.

For Africa, if we now move in the direction of a free trade area, a common market, and for that allow free movement of persons on the continent, we can close the skills gap if we coordinate our efforts. That some schools in Africa can specialise in aeronautical engineering – I mean people who can do space science; some will do climate science, some will do engineering, science and technology, but that is where ACBF comes in because ACBF is not only in the cutting edge of but coordinating to produce those skills to fill those needed gaps.

 

Is there a roadmap for implementation of ABCF findings?

Most governments in Africa have started to acknowledge that there is a problem of youth unemployment, and that the stability of the continent is going to depend largely on how we respond to this pressure. You saw what happened during the Arab Spring; when it starts in Africa, it will look like a tea party because the young people here cannot continue to sit and watch forever.

“So governments that are alert, I am sure, will try to respond, and ours [at ACBF] is not to prescribe solutions or give ultimatums and deadlines, we would have liked to see some clear roadmap with dates, but this pressure is bottom up and what we need is not to respond with a panic button but to respond in a systematic and quiet manner. And that is where we at ACBF are coming from.

 

How does the Foundation work with African governments?

You know how governments work. Being here is part of coordination and sharing of good practices. If governments find some of the good practices suitable to their own environment, of course, they will incorporate it in their national and regional strategies. Many governments now allocate youth funds, and also allocate seats in parliaments for youths, or create national youth ministries. It is not one size fits all. Some governments respond faster than others. That is nature. We are not born to run at the same speed.

 

What is your expectation from the conference?

Outcome of conference on youth unemployment will be disseminated and become part of the reference material which governments will find it useful.

– Aug. 17, 2018 @ 13:15 GMT |

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