Strengthening Policy Dialogue and Inclusivity is Vital for Sustainable Regional Growth and Development

Strengthening Policy Dialogue and Inclusivity is Vital for Sustainable Regional Growth and Development

There has been persistent concern that Africa’s place at the high table of development and better livelihoods for her people remains unoccupied largely due to a challenging and unpredictable business policy environment. But a keener observation perhaps is that it is not for the lack of policy, per se, but rather a policy environment that is more often ad-hoc and exclusive. This partly explains the rather cautious investment attitude by private sector players despite the numerous opportunities that now exist especially in light of a bigger and liberalized market era as well as opportunities arising courtesy of regional integration. From agriculture and food security, through the energy and manufacturing sectors to Information, communication and transport infrastructure, regional investment opportunities have never been better. Democratic space has also expanded and steadily, institutions are beginning to take the place of autocratic rule.

However, due to the below-par investment, production capacity remains low and market infrastructure especially for some sectors like agriculture is at best weak. The inevitable consequences of this scenario include the frequent spate of high unemployment and general poor economic performance. This is against the backdrop of an increasing population most of who are idle youth. The need to create opportunities for this vital segment of society has never been so urgent. It is estimated that the rapid growth of Africa’s workforce will continue to increase the pressure on labor markets. The workforce is expected to increase by 910 million people between 2010 and 2050, of which 830 million will be in sub-Saharan Africa and 80 million in North Africa. Creating more productive jobs, a major stake in Africa’s structural transformation, becomes even more pressing. The estimated numbers of youth joining labor markets in 2015 are about 19 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 4 million in North Africa.

According to the Africa Economic Outlook, over the next 15 years, the workforce figures for Sub-Saharan Africa alone with be about 370 million or a yearly average of 24.6 million new entrants. The upcoming growth in Africa’s workforce represents two-thirds of the growth in the workforce worldwide. In short, we must up our game. Instructively, there is agreement that attracting continued investment in agriculture and allied industry is vital in job creation for the bulging youth population.

Noteworthy, there have been and still are ongoing initiatives aimed at catalyzing economic development and helping to share the cake of economic development more equitably; the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) for instance under the AUC which came into being in 2003 is one such program with a continental momentum and which has helped galvanize the efforts   of national systems with support from development partners to refocus agriculture as a key engine of growth. According to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the overarching goal of CAADP is to reconfigure the way agricultural development issues are formulated, policies are generated and debated, investment decisions are implemented and interventions are scrutinized.

Even with its earlier missteps, as captured in the ‘’Revised CAADP Framework’ the conceptualization and implementation of CAADP perhaps offers insight and example as to how policy formulation and implementation can be made more consultative and inclusive and therefore more effective for all.

Since 2006, each country joining CAADP has followed a common process for developing and gaining consensus for national programmes:

  • The relevant NEPAD Regional Economic Committee (REC) establishes a set of regional priorities based on the continent-wide pillars.
  • CAADP is launched at a national multi-stakeholder
  • A technical phase of policy review and modeling generates outputs for a second multi- stakeholder event.
  • A Round Table meeting is held, culminating in the formal signing of a CAADP Compact.
  • An investment plan is formulated and a High-level Business Meeting is held to discuss it
  • Implementation begins.

By 2013, 30 countries had signed CAADP Compacts and 22 of these had also concluded their High-level Business Meetings.

Already a number of countries across Africa have achieved and are now sustaining and even surpassing the targeted 10% annual budget allocation and 6% annual growth in the agricultural sector. The results in such countries have been evident. Obviously, a lot more still needs to be done given that in some countries, the ‘’CAADP journey’’ has not even began.

Perhaps no country in the region demonstrates what focused consultative policy alignment can achieve the way Rwanda does. According to a report by Golooba-Mutebi (2014), Rwanda’s existing Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture (PSTA) was revised to align it with the CAADP framework. PSTA II was brought to the CAADP Roundtable to demonstrate to politicians and donors how investment in agriculture would lead to specific outcomes, including poverty reduction. This was a pivotal moment in focusing donor interest on agriculture, as well for the inclusion of private sector and civil society groups.

In assessing the impact of CAADP on Rwandan agriculture, he says it is hard to attribute the undoubted advances that have been made to one programme amongst the existing initiatives with which CAADP was harmonized. Nonetheless, CAADP has contributed to positive change in the sector in Rwanda like in a number of other countries in the region, by bringing on board partners that had not traditionally funded the sector, formalizing the participation of non-governmental actors in agricultural policy, and providing a mechanism to strengthen the government’s commitment to agriculture as a vital ingredient of poverty reduction.

As a result of stepped-up donor interest and funding, Rwanda has seen increased production of staple crops that used to be imported (for example, through the introduction of the NERICA rice variety), and diversification of crop production that has improved food security (notably maize). Overall, Rwanda’s growth has steadily remained well within the 5-10% bracket putting it on course to meet most of the MDGs before end of 2015. The country’s ‘ease-of-doing-business index’ is among the highest in the world

The example of CAADP as a policy framework, speaks to the possibilities that abound even with the ongoing regional integration efforts. It would be interesting to assess for example what the Common Market Protocol (CMP) has achieved for actors since it came into being five years ago. Evidently, there is more openness at the regional level and cross border trade (CBT) has certainly expanded. Movement of goods and people has also increased. But more will still need to be done to narrow the disconnect between the ‘Treaty level’ ideals and the realities of practical daily living among the citizenry of the region.

So what is the antidote for a poor policy environment, one may ask?

Increasingly and learning from the examples that are working well in the region., there is growing consensus that creating a more predictable and enabling policy environment gives birth to private sector investments and catalyzes the development potential leading to growth in all key economic sectors. CAADP alignment in Rwanda is a case in point. The achievements of the EAC and of the other economic blocs also offer several lessons.

Attracting investment in economic sectors with promising ‘’low hanging fruits- and with regional-dimension potential like transport infrastructure, ICT and select agricultural value chains could easily create the much needed momentum towards achieving regional integration goals. Investing in modern Agriculture and market access infrastructure is a steady vehicle to help realize food security and job creation. And for good reason; the sector still supports up to about 75% of the population (mostly) rural across the region and contributes on average about 30% to GDP. Innovative models to financing investment including Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) need to be strengthened.

Similarly, creating room to allow for out-of-the-box thinking that has pulled investment into hard and soft infrastructure by organizations like Trademark East Africa through single Customs Windows and capacity building for implementing agencies is a smart way to accelerate development. Other great examples include expanding space for the formation of regional private sector organizations like the Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) which help all of us and especially policy makers to look at food security from a regional rather national perspective, taking note that a country like Kenya’s Food basket could be Uganda or Malawi and that we can all increase our competitiveness based on our comparative advantages. It is worth noting that the strides made towards establishing a legal framework for Warehousing Receipting in Kenya have been achieved thanks to public-private sector engagement led by the Council. The expected passing of the ACT into law, by Kenya’s National Assembly will offer an example of best practice for the other countries in the region.

The Council has with support of its partners, recently established an online trading platform that could see staple food producers and traders interact online enabled by technology thus reducing transactional costs and increasing revenues. Clearly, food security can be achieved not only through national production but also through enhanced regional food trade. A ‘maize without borders’ policy by the Ugandan government has given Ugandan producers access to greater market opportunities in the region even though meeting sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) is still a challenge and forms the basis of on ongoing effort by several actors including COMESA.

That said, it still makes development sense that we should create more room at the table of policy dialogue for more players, so that ‘enabling’ policy-making becomes more inclusive and participatory. Experience clearly demonstrates that policies borne of inclusivity and consensus are likely to benefit from the support of a wider section of society than those which are not. National and regional programs informed by a bottom-up approach are likely to succeed more than those informed by top-down prescriptions.

The Presidential and Ministerial Roundtables led and organized in Kenya by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) easily come to mind as fora that have helped to enhance such policy dialogue. Evidently, the private sector tends to feel more comfortable with policy direction that involves them rather that it being an ‘us versus them’ scenario.

Equally important, is the fact that participation by the wider stakeholders in policy making strengthens the process and makes the resultant policies easier to implement and monitor. Additionally, it widens the perspective of those involved so that policies become more outward looking rather being informed only of narrower national perspectives. Kenya’s net- food-importer situation is case in point.

Inclusive policy sensitization is also important if we are to succeed in creating the requisite policy coherence between the national and regional levels. The ideal of national laws and regulations being in sync with regional integration agenda and aspirations would easily be achieved if everyone or at least the majority feels involved.

Arguably, a more open and liberal market underpinned by a predictable, inclusive and consultative policy-making process environment is more likely to help achieve national and regional economic development and growth more sustainably. In any case, in order for integration to work, we must all own it.

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