Foresight Africa: Notes from the launches across the continent

Editor's note:

This blog recounts the AGI launch of Foresight Africa on the continent. Watch the U.S. launch here. View the full Foresight Africa report here.

Every year, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) releases Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent, outlining what Brookings scholars and outside African experts and policymakers identify as priorities for the continent in the upcoming year. This year, following the launch at Brookings in Washington D.C. on January 17, a team from the Africa Growth Initiative, led by Director and Senior Fellow Brahima S. Coulibaly, traveled to Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya to launch Foresight on the continent. These African launches allowed AGI to share the publication with various stakeholders in the region and obtain their reactions and commentaries. Below is a high-level summary of the discussions. 

View the Foresight Africa presentation here.

January 23: Launch in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB)

We began our Foresight Africa roadshow in Abidjan at the African Development Bank headquarters. After Brahima S. Coulibaly presented the report—detailing the chapters on sustainable financing, broadening the benefits of growth and poverty reduction, and structural transformation—he was joined by Lead Research Economist in the AfDB Development Research Department John Anyanwu, Director of the AfDB Development Research Department Désiré Vencatachellum, Chief Industrial Programs Coordinator Thomas Viot, and Acting Director for Macroeconomics Policy, Forecasting and Research and Foresight contributor Abebe Shimeles. AfDB Vice President and Chief Economist Célestin Monga also gave remarks at the session.

AGI Director Brahima S. Coulibaly presents Chapter 2 of Foresight Africa 2018 to policymakers, development actors, and academics on the ground.

The panel generally agreed that Foresight Africa 2018 captured priorities for the continent and provided nuanced comments, summarized below, on various issues in the publication. For example, one participant commended the report’s focus on leadership, but added that we need to look beyond organizations when we think of institutions; we need to think more of norms and culture, which are really where the problems lie. He also warned against many of the electoral systems and practices on the continent, stressing that we need fairer systems conducive to inter-ethnic, inter-party agreement and cooperation—a theme found in John Mukum Mbaku’s Foresight Africa viewpoint.

Another participant commented on financing for development, highlighting the need to ensure that domestic resource mobilization—a major theme of Chapter 2—does not come at the expense of official development assistance commitments from donor countries.

Sustainable financing, economic diversification, and better resource management was another prominent topic of discussion, with one participant noting that, while oil-rich countries have managed to diversify their economies somewhat, they have not mainstreamed non-oil sectors in fiscal revenues. In addition, he suggested that African institutions (sovereign wealth funds) still invest their money outside the continent because they don’t realize that risk mitigation mechanisms exist. It is important to let investors know that there are mechanisms to securitize the risk, he contended. Lastly, in response to the viewpoint in Foresight on economic complexity by Haroon Bhorat and François Steenkamp, he acknowledged that building complexity can contribute to structural transformation. However, he cautioned that African countries should be careful of the pace at which they become complex and ensure that they’ve mastered one level of complexity before progressing to the next. He noted that some African countries, following their independence, jumped directly into highly complex, capital-intensive industries that didn’t leverage their comparative advantages in terms of their large labor forces.

January 25: Launch in Nairobi, Kenya in partnership with KIPPRA and AERC

After the launch in Abidjan, we traveled to Nairobi to get an East African perspective on the report and its recommendations. The African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) hosted us for a roundtable discussion on the major themes in the report.

Former Kenyan Central Bank Governor and Foresight Africa contributor Njuguna Ndung’u chaired the session. After a presentation by Coulibaly, Tadesse Admassu, president and CEO of Trade Development Bank, Muragu Kinandu, the former executive director of the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, Lemma Senbet, head of AERC, and Rose Ngugi, director of KIPPRA, commented on the report.

From left to right, Coulibaly; Rose Ngugi, director of KIPPRA; Henry Rotich, cabinet secretary of the Kenyan National Treasury; Njuguna Ndung’u, former governor of the Central Bank of Kenya; and Lemma Senbet, head of AERC, discuss this year’s Foresight Africa publication.

The Honorable Henry Rotich, cabinet secretary of the Kenyan National Treasury, gave remarks at the outset of the discussion. He agreed that the main challenges in Africa and Kenya remain the reduction of poverty, generation of employment, and promotion of inclusive growth, as noted in the Foresight Africa report. These four challenges are mirrored in Kenya’s recently announced “Big 4” agenda.

The discussants agreed that Foresight Africa 2018 broadly captures the major priorities not only on the continent, but also in Kenya specifically. The wider theme of institutions and leadership was particularly salient, as participants emphasized that identifying and empowering the “agents of transformation” is important to making the necessary policy changes to meet development objectives. Another major challenge participants raised is the looming challenge of rising debt, highlighted in Chapter 2, and called for an examination into whether African countries are efficiently use resources from borrowing.