Headline: What does it take to forge a partnership with Africa?

Initiating a new partnership with Africa was a key priority of the German G20 Presidency and one of the topics on the agenda at the G20 Summit in Hamburg last weekend. In their Leaders’ Declaration, the heads of the 19 major industrialized and emerging market economies and the EU underscored their commitment to “foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development, in response to the needs and aspirations of African countries, contributing to create decent employment particularly for women and youth, thus helping to address poverty and inequality as root causes of migration.” This is an ambitious declaration, but what were the specific outcomes of the summit in relation to Africa? Here, we take a closer look at the four pillars of the G20 Africa Partnership:

Pillar 1: Improving inclusive economic growth and employment

The first pillar of the new G20 African Partnership addresses the nexus of rural development, employment, empowerment of women, and economic growth. One of its key elements is the G20 Initiative for Rural Youth Employment. This initiative highlights the important role of the agricultural sector and rural businesses as the backbones of employment in rural areas. In concrete terms, the G20 pledge to foster the creation of approximately 1.1 million jobs for young men and women by 2022. Furthermore, the G20 aims to increase their support to projects for employment-oriented skills development with the aim of benefiting at least 5 million young men and women in the next five years. Related to this, a particular focus is given to the development of information and communication technology (ICT) skills of girls and women, and to fostering their participation in the digital economy. For that purpose the #eSkills4Girls Initiative for low income and developing countries was announced, making it the second key element of this pillar.

The focus on the development of job opportunities in rural areas and the particular efforts to strengthen girls’ and women’s employment opportunities are highly commendable. Despite the projected increase in rural to urban migration in most African countries, current estimates show that more than 60% of the populations in Sub-Sahara Africa live in rural areas. Given the known burdens associated with overpopulation in urban areas, creating opportunities that encourage and enable young people to make a decent living in rural areas is a step in the right direction. However, considering the scope of the youth employment challenge – 10 to 12 million young people enter the labor market in Africa each year – the concrete commitment of the G20 to create 1.1 million jobs in the next five years seems like a drop in the ocean.

The G20 Leaders’ Declaration points to a plethora of challenges related to youth employment, ranging from the creation of enabling environments and adequate financing instruments for rural small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to the improvement of education and training and the provision of key infrastructures for access to clean water, sustainable energy and the internet. Yet, there is no clear reference to the investment initiative that is the third pillar of the G20 Africa Partnership, the so-called Compact with Africa. This risks fragmenting efforts and raises the question of whether the current initiatives, actions, and partnerships proposed by the G20 are capable of complementing and supporting each other in an effort to tackle the challenges at hand.

Finally, the Initiative for Rural Youth Employment and the #eSkills4Girls initiative are right in highlighting the opportunities of new ICTs. However, a more comprehensive approach to digital development in Africa is needed. It should go beyond the discussion of infrastructures and new business models and also address the challenges of digital transformation, such as data security and privacy issues, cyber security, societal changes related to the omnipresence of ICTs as well as possible changes in global value chains and what they could mean for economic and industrial development in African countries.

Pillar 2: Developing quality infrastructure, especially in the energy sector

In the second pillar, the G20 Africa Partnership recognizes the role of infrastructure and natural resource management as a leading enabler for sustainable development and the well-being of the people of Africa. It puts a particular focus on sustainable energy and universal energy service access, with the G20 members stating their commitment to the continued implementation of the Energy Access Action Plan, an outcome of the Brisbane Summit in 2014. The G20 also offers to voluntarily support the already existing efforts by the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) and NEPAD Renewable Energy Access Project (REAP). These efforts are aimed at accelerating access to renewable energy and facilitating transitions to sustainable energy systems.

The G20 Leaders´ Declaration provides a comprehensive assessment of the complexity of the energy challenge, including the health, economic, social, and environmental burdens and risks associated with the use of biomass fuels and technologies for cooking and lighting. Unfortunately, the second pillar of the G20 Africa Partnership makes no mention of how these burdens could be lessened. This is an unfortunate omission given the large percentage of people relying on high-carbon biomass fuels and technologies concentrated in the African continent.

In a recent article, Rebekah Shirley notes that with regard to access efforts there is often more talk than action by the G20. She points particularly to the lack of financial commitments by its key members. Most efforts such as the production and distribution of clean and renewable energy options, according to Shirley, remain “under-supported and underfunded” making it difficult to reach remote and rural areas, home to the most underserved communities. It remains to be seen, whether the reference to the G20 Energy Access Action Plan in the second pillar of the G20 Africa Partnership will revitalize financial contributions by the G20 members to pursue the aim of providing universal access to sustainable energy or not. Finally, it is important to point out that achieving the goal of clean and sustainable energy access will likely remain elusive unless clear implementation and governance mechanisms and sustainable pathways are rolled out. Equitable, inclusive and sustainable energy services cannot be achieved in the absence of capital and proper investments to develop infrastructures, capabilities, and institutions. Besides, more efforts are needed to empower end-beneficiaries to utilize energy services to effectively meet social and economic needs.

Pillar 3: Compact with Africa – strengthening the framework for private finance

The “Compact with Africa” forms the third pillar of the G20 Africa partnership. It aims at fostering and strengthening private investments especially in infrastructure development by improving policy frameworks and business environments in African countries. The G20 point out that the Compact with Africa is “demand-driven and focuses on country-specific circumstances and priorities”. In a first step, possible objectives, priorities, and contributions are discussed between a country and the relevant international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and the World Bank, and a formal commitment to work on a compact is stated by a country. Subsequently, concrete reforms and measures are specified. These measures are implemented in a third step. G20 members as well as other partner countries and institutions are invited to contribute to the compacts and support their fulfillment. At the G20 Summit, seven countries, namely Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia, presented their commitments for individual compacts, with more countries signaling their interest.

There has been much criticism directed at this initiative on the grounds that it is overly simplistic and assumes foreign direct investments would trickle down from the top to the bottom (a development model that has frequently failed to live up to expectations). Further, the compacts are set to be first applied to countries that are already on the path to mastering the challenges of structural and economic reforms. This conditional and rather exclusive character of the Compact with Africa raises the concern that only the countries that provide attractive investment opportunities will benefit while those still struggling will continue to be disadvantaged due to lack of opportunities.

The Compact also fails to seize on the opportunity to commit investors to adopting the SDGs as their frame of reference when engaging with African countries. This could be achieved, for example, by providing investors with guidelines and incentives to put an emphasis on the ecological and social returns of their investments. As it stands and as mentioned above, it also remains unclear how the compact can support the other pillars of the G20 partnership with Africa, in particular, fostering youth employment and inclusive development.

Pillar 4: G20 Africa Partnership Conference

This final pillar of the partnership refers to the G20 Africa Partnership Conference that took place in Berlin in June 2017. However, it fails to provide a perspective on whether and how the G20 Africa Partnership Conference will continue to exist as a forum for furthering discussions on the aims and instruments of the partnership. Having a regular forum for exchange between the G20 and African countries could strengthen commitment and ownership on both sides and benefit the further development and adjustment of measures and strategies to support sustainable development on the continent. Such a forum should also empower and include youths and civil society actors to actively contribute in shaping this partnership and a World they desire to live in.

So, what does it take to forge a new partnership with Africa? While the analysis above is far from exhaustive, some clear points emerge of what it would take to build and sustain a robust partnership with potential to deliver change: a shared and comprehensive understanding of the current and projected challenges and opportunities, common objectives and clear commitments from both G20 members as well as African countries to tackle existing challenges for current populations while bearing in mind the needs of future generations and protecting the environment. Whether the G20 Africa Partnership can live up to its aspirations and contribute meaningfully to sustainable development in Africa remains to be seen. Its success will be judged by its positive contributions to the livelihoods and general well-being of ordinary African people.

Header image: istock/czekma13

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