2016: The turning point
Policymakers and development practitioners now face a new set of challenges in the aftermath of the global consensus triumvirate Addis Agenda—2030 Agenda—Paris Agreement:
 implementation, follow-up, and review. Development policy professionals must tackle these while at the same time including the three pillars of sustainable development—social development, economic growth, and environmental protection—and the above three global consensus’ cross-sectoral natures—all while working in a context where policy planning is still performed in silos. They also must incorporate the universality of these new agreements in the light of different national circumstances—different national realities, capacities, needs, levels of development, and national policies and priorities. And then they have to significantly scale up resource allocation and means of implementation (including financing, capacity building, and technology transfer) to make a difference and enhance novel multi-stakeholder partnerships to contain the surge of global flows of all kinds (such as migration, terrorism, diseases, taxation, extreme weather, and digital revolution) in a resolutely interconnected world. Quite an ambitious task!
Given the above complexities, new national and global arrangements are being made to honor the commitments put forth to answer these unprecedented challenges. Several African governments have already started establishing inter-ministerial committees and task forces to ensure alignment between the global goals and existing national planning processes, aspirations, and priorities.
With the international community, Africa is preparing for the first High-Level Political Forum since the 2030 Agenda adoption in July 2016 on the theme “Ensuring that no one is left behind.” In order to inform the 2030 Agenda’s implementation leadership, guidance, and recommendations, six African countries
of 22 U.N. Member States, volunteered to present national reviews on their work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a unique opportunity to provide an uncompromising reality check and highlight levers to exploit and limits to overcome for impact.
Paralleling Africa’s groundwork, the United Nations’ efforts for coordination have been numerous. They include an inter-agency task force to prepare for the follow-up forum to Financing For Development timed with the Global Infrastructure Forum that will consult on infrastructure investment, a crucial point for the continent; an appointed 10-representative group to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism that facilitates the development, transfer and dissemination of technologies for the SDGs, another very important item for Africa; and an independent team of advisors to counsel on the longer-term positioning of the U.N. development system in the context of the 2030 Agenda, commonly called “U.N. fit for purpose,” among many other endeavors.
These overwhelming bureaucratic duties alone will put a meaningful burden on Africa’s limited capacity. Thus, it is in the interest of the continent to pool its assets by taking advantage of its robust regional networks in order to mitigate this obstacle in a coherent and coordinated manner, and by building on the convergence between the newly adopted texts and Agenda 2063, the African Union’s 50-year transformation blueprint, with the help of pan-African institutions.
Regionalization in Africa: The gearwheel to the next developmental phase
Besides national and global, there is a third level of consideration: the regional one. Indeed, the three major agreements in 2015 emphasized support to projects and cooperation frameworks that foster regional and subregional integration, particularly in Africa.
Indeed, common and coherent industrial policies for regional value chains developed by strengthened regional institutions and sustained by a strong-willed transformational leadership are gaining traction towards Africa’s insertion into the global economy.
Africa has long made regional economic integration within its main “building blocs,” the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs), a core strategy for development. The continent is definitely engaged in this path: Last summer, three RECs, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), launched the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) that covers 26 countries, over 600 million people, and $1 trillion GDP. The tripartite arrangement paves the way towards Africa’s own mega-regional one, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), and the realization of one broad African Economic Community. If regionalization allows free movement of people, capital, goods, and services, the resulting increased intra-African connectivity will boost trade within Africa, promote growth, create jobs, and attract investments. Ultimately, it should ignite industrialization, innovation, and competitiveness. To that end, pan-African institutions, capitalizing on the recent positive continental performances, are redoubling their efforts to build an enabling environment for policy and regulation harmonization and economies of scale.
Infrastructure and regionalization
Importantly, infrastructure, without which no connectivity is possible, is undeniably the enabling bedrock to all future regionalization plans. Together with market integration and industrial development, infrastructure development is one of the three pillars of the TFTA strategy. Similarly, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency, the technical body of the African Union (AU) mandated with planning and coordinating the implementation of continental priorities and regional programs, adopted regional integration as a strategic approach to infrastructure. In fact, in June 2014, the NEPAD Agency organized the Dakar Financing Summit for Infrastructure, culminating with the adoption of the Dakar Agenda for Action that lays down options for investment mobilization towards infrastructure development projects, starting with 16 key bankable projects stemming from the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). These “NEPAD mega-projects to transform Africa” are, notably, all regional in scope.
Supplementing NEPAD and TFTA, the Continental Business Network was formed to promote public-private dialogue with regard to regional infrastructure investment. The Africa50 Infrastructure Fund was constituted as a new delivery platform commercially managed to narrow the massive infrastructure finance gap in Africa evaluated at $50 billion per annum.
The development of homegrown proposals and institutional advances observed lately demonstrate Africa’s assertive engagement towards accelerating infrastructure development, thereby regionalization. At the last AU Summit, the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee approved the institutionalization of an annual PIDA Week hosted at the African Development Bank (AfDB) to follow up on the progresses made.
The momentum of Africa’s regional energy projects
The energy partnerships listed below illustrate the possible gain from adopting trans-boundary approaches for implementation and follow-up: the Africa Power Vision (APV) undertaken with Power Africa; the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) model accompanying the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Africa Hub efforts; and the Africa GreenCo solution that is to bank on PIDA.
- Africa Power Vision: African ministers of power and finance gathered at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in 2014 decided to create the APV. The vision provides a strategic template harnessing resources to fast-track access to modern energy for African households, businesses, and industries. It draws up a shortlist of African-driven regional priority energy projects mostly extracted from the PIDA Priority Action Program, which is the PIDA short-term pipeline to be completed by 2020. The game changer Inga III hydropower project, the iconic DESERTEC Sahara solar project, and the gigantic North-South Interconnection Transmission Line covering almost the entire TFTA are among the 13 selected projects. The APV concept note and implementation plan entitled “From vision to action” developed by the NEPAD Agency, in collaboration with U.S. government-led Power Africa initiative, was endorsed at the January 2015 AU Summit. The package elaborates on responses to counter bottlenecks to achieve quantifiable targets, the “acceleration methodology” based on NEPAD Project Prioritization Considerations Tool (PPCT), risk mitigation, and power projects’ financing. Innovative design was thought to avoid duplication, save resources, improve coordination and foster transformative action with the setting up of dual-hatted Power Africa – APV Transaction Advisors, who supervise investment schemes up to financial closure where and when there is an overlap of energy projects or common interest. Overall, the APV partnership permits a mutualization of expertise while at the same time, since it is based on PIDA, promoting regional economic integration for electrification.
- ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative worldwide as early as 2011 with the triple objective of ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement of energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. Since its inception, SE4ALL prompted a lot of enthusiasm on the continent, and is now counting 44 opt-in African countries. As a result, the SE4ALL Africa Hub was the first regional hub to be launched in 2013. Hosted at the AfDB in partnership with the AU Commission, NEPAD Agency, and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), its role is to facilitate the implementation of SE4ALL on the continent. The SE4ALL Africa Hub 3rd Annual Workshop held in Abidjan last February showed the potential of this “creative coalition” (Yumkella, 2014) to deliver on areas spanning from national plans of action, regionally concerted approaches in line with the continental vision, to SDG7 on energy, to climate Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) made for the Paris Agreement. Above all, the workshop displayed the hub’s ability to efficiently kick-start the harmonization of processes for impact among countries. Forasmuch as all ECOWAS Member States opted-in to SE4ALL, the West African ministers mandated their regional energy center, ECREEE, to coordinate the implementation of the SE4ALL Action Agendas (AAs), which are documents outlining country actions required to achieve sustainable energy objectives, and from then Investment Prospectuses (IPs), the documents presenting the AAs investment requirements. As a result, the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (EREP) and the Energy Efficiency Policy (EEEP) were formulated and adopted; and a regional monitoring framework to feed into a Global Tracking Framework, the SE4ALL measuring and reporting system, is now being conceived. The successful ECREEE model, bridging national inventory and global players, is about to be duplicated in two other African regions, EAC and SADC, with the support of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
- Africa GreenCo: Lastly, initiatives like Africa GreenCo are incubating. This promising vehicle, currently funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, envisions itself as an independently managed power trader and broker to move energy where needed. Indeed, Africa GreenCo aims to capitalize on PIDA power projects: In its capacity as intermediary creditworthy off taker, it plans to eventually utilize their regional character as a value addition to risk guarantee. To date, Africa GreenCo is refining the legal, regulatory, technical, and financial aspects of its future structure and forging links with key stakeholders in the sector (member states, multilateral development banks, African regional utilities for generation and interconnection called Power Pools) ahead of the completion of its feasibility study in June 2016.
Leapfrog and paradigm shift ahead: Towards transnationalism
The above-mentioned partnerships are encouraging trends towards more symbiotic multi-stakeholders cooperation. As they relate to home-crafted initiatives, it is imperative that we do not drift away from a continental vision. Not only do Africa-grown plans have higher chance of success than the one-size-fits-all imported solutions, but consistent and combined efforts in the same direction reinforce confidence, emulation, and attract supportive attention. It implies that the fulfillment of intergovernmental agreements requires first and foremost their adaptation to local realities in a domestication process that is respectful of the policy space. Mainstreaming adjustments can be later conducted according to evidence-based and data-driven experiments. Between these global engagements and national procedures, the regional dimension is the indispensable link: Enabling countries to bypass the artificiality of borders inherited from colonial times and offering concrete options to eradicate poverty in a united-we-stand fashion. Regional integration is therefore a prelude to sustainable development operationalization within Africa and a key step towards its active partaking in the global arena. Regionalization can also trigger international relations shift provided that it encompasses fair multilateralism and sustainable management of global knowledge. Indeed, the resulting openness and the complexity encountered are useful parameters to enrich the conception of relevant local answers.
These success stories show the great potential for new experiments and synergies. To me, they inspire the promise of a better world. The one I like to imagine is characterized by mutually beneficial ecosystems for the people and the planet. It encourages win-win reverse linkages, or in other words, more positive spillovers of developing economies on industrial countries. It is a place where, for example, an African region could draw lessons from the Greek crisis and the other way around: China could learn from Africa’s Maputo Development Corridor for its Silk Road Economic Belt. Twin institutes performing joint research among regional knowledge hubs would flourish. Innovative Fab Labs would be entitled to strive after spatial adventure with e-waste material recycled into 3D printers. In that world, innovative collaborations in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) would be favored and involve not only women but also the diaspora in order to develop environmentally sound technical progress. Commensurate efforts, persistent willingness, indigenous ingenuity, and unbridled creativity place this brighter future within our reach.
Beyond the recognition of the African voice throughout the intergovernmental processes, Africa should now consolidate its gains by firmly maintaining its position and safeguarding its winnings throughout the preliminary phase. The continent should urgently set singular tactics with the greatest potential in terms of inclusiveness and creation of productive capacity. While doing so, African development actors should initiate a “learning by doing” virtuous cycle to create an endogenous development narrative cognizant of adaptable best practices as well as failures. Yet the only approach capable of generating both structural transformation and informative change that are in line with continentally own and led long-term strategies is … regional integration.
 Respectively resulting from the intergovernmental negotiations on the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD3), the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and the U.N. Convention on Climate Change (COP21).
 As stated in the Addis Agenda for example: “We urge the international community, including international financial institutions and multilateral and regional development banks, to increase its support to projects and cooperation frameworks that foster regional and subregional integration, with special attention to Africa, and that enhance the participation and integration of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, particularly from developing countries, into global value chains and markets.”
Africa is the world's breadbasket—or should be. It has vast arable land, grows a wide variety of crops and has vast irrigation potential with seven major rivers. Yet, Africa imported $43 billion worth of food items in 2019. Digital technologies ... are eliminating the traditional inefficiencies of smallholder food production and helping to close the yield gap.