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Africa Policy Journal

Topic / Development and Economic Growth

Interview with Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO of NEPAD

Interview conducted on Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mpumelelo Nxumalo (Africa Policy Journal Editor-in-Chief), and Elizabeth Bennett (Africa Policy Journal Senior Editor of Interviews), recently had a chance to sit down with Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Planning and Coordinating Agency. Their conversation covered a range of relevant African development policies, focusing on demographic trends and the future of African agriculture. The following is a slightly revised transcript of their conversation.

Africa Policy Journal (APJ): Will you tell us a little bit about your role as CEO of NEPAD and how your job has evolved over the past few years?

Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki: First, let me contextualize NEPAD, historically. NEPAD was formed in 2001. Globally, Africa was coming out of a severe structural adjustment process. The two main policy instruments that were then offered to Africa were the Millennium Development Goals and the poverty reduction strategies of the World Bank and IMF, whose focus was mainly on poverty management. The main objective of leaders, like Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo and Abdoulaye Wade, was to say: “Look, Africa has a high density of natural resources. Why should we focus on poverty management and not wealth creation?” By making that paradigm shift, they were able to look at the main conditions that could really lead to wealth creation, beyond poverty management only. Evidently, the Millennium Development Goals were important, the social sectors were important, not least because the structural adjustment programs had really weakened the social sector. The priority, in our view, had to be wealth creation – inclusive wealth creation. And to foster such inclusive wealth creation, we targeted a single fundamental and essential condition, which was governance.

Governance is the base of the foundation of NEPAD. Governance of natural resources, economic governance, corporate governance…from the beginning, NEPAD put the emphasis on governance. The way the program was structured took into account the fact that the challenges facing Africa were not mono-sectorial but multi-sectorial. The structure of the NEPAD program was therefore framed with governance at its core, knowing that to tackle multi-sectorial challenges we had to be precise, and our instruments had to reflect the capacity to address them. When the African Union was established one year after NEPAD, NEPAD became the program of the African Union. This meant that the integration of NEPAD into the African Union was done programmatically but not structurally. Structural integration took about ten years. My role in 2010 was to integrate the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency into the African Union’s structure and processes.

Since then, my role has evolved in two main directions: First, we play a role of think tank for the African Union Commission [AUC]—this can be on economic-issues, industry-issues or sectorial issues. On the other hand, we play the role of implementing agency of key programs of the African Union (like infrastructure, CAADP and Agriculture, etc). Our integration into the African Union has allowed us to expand our original mandate to play these two roles.

APJ: Pertaining to NEPAD’s role as a think-tank, how exactly does it work? Suppose governments have pressing issues in infrastructure in their countries, do they request NEPAD to undertake a study? Or do you go to the government beforehand?

Dr. Mayaki: We act as a government body and respond to continental requests, or regional requests. We don’t respond directly to a national request by, say, Malawi or Senegal in the area of agriculture, but we respond to requests from SADC, CEMAC, COMESA, etcetera. We also respond to requests coming from the African Union Commission (AUC). We are, for example, working on a white paper on African agriculture, to look at how Africa will be able to tackle the issues of food security for the next 20 years. This is part of the role we play as a think-tank.

APJ: We are aware of your passion for rural development, and we wanted to go back on the issue of inclusive growth. Today, there seems to be a lot of unshared growth coming from the oil, in countries like Equatorial Guinea, for example. A lot of people feel that there needs to be some improvements, perhaps fiscal rules to tackle this issue. In your annual report, there was a heavy emphasis on inclusive growth. Could you speak to that a bit?

Dr. Mayaki: Many Africans boast of having six of the fastest ten growing economies in the world, but at the same time, what we don’t generally say is that we also have seven of the ten most unequal economies.  If we look at the GINI coefficients, Africa is the most unequal continent in the world today. Added to that specificity, there is another dimension: 75% of Africa’s population is under 25. So, governance-wise it’s extremely risky, in terms of policy design, if you don’t have policies that are inclusive enough. By ‘inclusive enough’ I mean creating jobs for the youth and facilitating access to public services. If you don’t do this you are really putting in danger the societal equilibriums.  Inclusivity is an absolute prerequisite for political stability. We had an interesting model that failed last year, or rather 18-months ago, which was Tunisia. Tunisia was praised for its good transport system, highest penetration of IT on the continent, good ports, relatively good airports, not bad agricultural production, highest literacy rate of girls… and we saw what happened in Tunisia. Fundamentally, the majority of the population did not perceive the level of inclusion of the youth as satisfactory. This is why whatever we do in agriculture, infrastructure, ICT, if we do not resolve the key issue of inclusiveness, we are carrying very fragile systems that at one moment or another will implode. So, inclusiveness is really fundamental.

If you look at the history of demographics, Africa is in a very particular situation. We still have growth rates between 2.8 and 3.2. Our population is mainly rural, and it will be so for the next 35 years. The largest proportion of our population is very young. If we take a medium-sized country (such as Mali with 18 or 19 million inhabitants), about 200,000 to 250,000 young people enter the employment market every year and cannot be employed by any industrialization. The civil service cannot employ them either because of the microeconomic constraints. If we don’t look at rural development as a key issue for real transformation, we face severe issues in terms of the fragility of our systems. This is why rural development is a fundamental issue for realizing inclusive growth.

APJ: There seems to be disagreement on the subject of trying to improve inclusive policies before adding a level of growth that’s significant enough to ‘share the pie.’ Can you comment on that? Do you think Africa is at a point where they can do so?

Dr. Mayaki: It is true. There is a big discussion amongst economists on whether you need to grow first and redistribute afterwards. The main issue, I think, is that Africa is in a very particular situation because of its demographic structure. With a high share of young people and a growth rate at seven or eight percent over the last eight or nine years, the case of Tunisia is a quite interesting illustration that models no longer exist. If you stand by the thought that models no longer exist, that inclusivity is important, that top-down processes are not conducive to inclusiveness, you then rethink the way policies are designed. We generally tend to think that policies are rational processes, but behind these rational policies, you have power relationships. So if we could look at the policy design process as a derivative of power relationships, we could open the span of actors participating in policy design. In the case of Africa, and given its demographic structure, we need to look at that. We shouldn’t think about ex-ante design models to be thrown at the population. We should encourage a more consultative process, in terms of policy design, which is bottom-up rather than top-down. We need to think about how we can empower local communities.

APJ: I think that’s a great segue into the work you have been doing, at least in terms of the African Union Agenda 2063. Can you comment on the African Union’s relationship with agencies like the IMF in designing these policies, in terms of bringing more people to the table that seem to be directly affected by these decisions? What’s the objective of Agenda 2063 in regards to creating homegrown policies?

Dr. Mayaki: The main objective of Agenda 2063 is to create a space of conversation and dialogue, between Africans. We know that a 50-year span of time contains a high level of uncertainty, and you can, through perspective analysis, target several scenarios. The uncertainty is quite high beyond ten, some say five, years. But the added value of Agenda 2063 is to really say to Africans, “Let’s work inward and discuss long-term issues.” We know, for example, the world will have to produce the same amount of food which has been produced over the last 3000 years. Which continent has the highest proportion of arable land? It’s Africa. So Africa will have to play a critical role in feeding the world, and feeding its own populations. If we think long-term, how do we deal with land grabbing, how do we deal with small-scale farmers’ empowerment? How do we deal with women’s empowerment since women form the majority of small-scale farmers? The discussion is therefore about resources. We need to take the path that is most consistent with the interest of the African continent. It’s not about having the perfect framework for 2063 – that wouldn’t make any sense. But it’s about facilitating a discussion, making the right choices, looking at the interests of a continent, and having the policies geared in that direction. Those are the objectives of Agenda 2063.

Concerning our relationship to the World Bank and IMF, I think they have changed a lot after the structural adjustment policies. The World Bank and IMF were the most hated organizations by the African youth in the 1990s, simply because they were seen as exercising a kind of dictatorship on economic policies. Structural adjustment was absolutely necessary because we needed to reimburse a debt. But the negative consequences of structural adjustment were that it didn’t take into account rebuilding the capacities of the African state. It was just cutting in social sectors in order to reimburse the debt. The capacity of the state to reconstruct and think strategically was totally put aside. And I think that both the World Bank and the IMF have come to recognize this. Their discourse today is to say that we need to align ourselves with African priorities, defined by the Africans. This is a huge transformation.

APJ: Continuing with agriculture, we noticed in the annual report, you have food and nutritional security programs. In your opinion, where is the Green Revolution in Africa? As you mentioned, we have the largest share of arable land, and yet we have large numbers of starving people. What is holding Africa’s Green Revolution back? Hinting to your fertilizer program as well, in addition to the food security program, what do see as the greatest ‘binding constraint’?

Dr. Mayaki: A long time ago, an African president was asked why he was caring more about the cities than the rural areas. He said, “Well, in the cities they protest. And in the rural areas, they don’t.” So it goes back to the issue of power relationships. The small-scale farmers are the ones who are feeding the continent today—just like in Brazil. Eighty percent of food production in Brazil is by small-scale farmers, even though we tend to think it’s by bigger businesses. In Africa, small-scale farmers are the ones who are feeding the continent. But they are doing so with very little means, with an access to seeds that is not satisfactory, with biotechnologies that are quite weak. By empowering the small-scale farmers, by giving them access to land, to training and to new technologies, we could really foster the Green Revolution. But it has to be a public choice. And in order to move in that direction, you need to prioritize agriculture, and agricultural development. The agricultural development strategy around small-scale farmers has to be about gaining access.

NEPAD has a clear strategy for agriculture – the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP). CAADP has two key targets. One is to push the governments to invest 10% of their public resources into agriculture. And the other target is to reach 6% agricultural productivity growth rate. But in order to get there we have several pillars related to: land, trade, training, etcetera. Thirty-three countries on the continent are involved in the CAADP process. What we do is to support countries, through the regional economic communities (RECs), to design CAADP compacts and national investment agricultural plan, looking at both domestic and foreign investment. In doing so, we consider the small-scale farmers as private sector farmers. The main aim is to transform small-scale farmers into micro and meso-entrepreneurs. Therefore, behind that strategy, the thinking is that agriculture is a business. Agriculture is not a social sector; it’s a place where the small-scale farmer can make money. And that’s where the revolution will take place.

APJ: Along those lines, in what areas do you see the potential for the most growth?

Dr. Mayaki: If you try and classify the African economies today, you see that quite a good number of those that have high growth rates are mineral- or oil-exporting countries. In the second category, you have economies that have started to industrialize. These countries are doing quite well. In the third category, most of the GDP is coming from the agricultural sector. But for agriculture to reveal its full potential, we need to think about it as a multi-sector relation. The state needs to invest in rural roads in order to reduce post-harvest losses. Africa loses between 30-40% of its agricultural production because we don’t always have the roads to take the products to the market. It’s one of our big concerns. So, looking at agriculture as a multi-sector issue, trade issues, infrastructure issues, ICT issues, IT issues, is really what will help boost growth in these countries.

APJ: Are there any countries in particular, as far as the agricultural sector, that you think have the potential to significantly increase their production capacity over the next decade or so?

Dr. Mayaki: Well, Zimbabwe is a good example, Mozambique and Tanzania are other. Nigeria is also doing quite well now, so is Kenya. Cameroon is a bit more complex, but it is improving. CAADP has helped a lot in repositioning agriculture as a priority.

APJ: And somewhat related to that is the subject of natural resource management. You have a natural resources management program, within NEPAD. How does this program work? What do you currently have in place? Do you have any case studies?

Dr. Mayaki: Under our natural resources governance program, we work with Paul Collier at Oxford on what we call the Natural Resources Charter. The Natural Resources Charter is a key instrument to improve the governance of natural resources, by looking at taxation, geological mapping, contract negotiation, etcetera. What we do is to make a diagnosis of how these dimensions are being managed, at country level, target the gaps and the deficits, and  propose a capacity development program, to help improve their governance. We are currently working with seven countries.

APJ: Contract negotiation seems to be a difficult hurdle for countries with newly discovered natural resources. Is this information publically available? What kind of access do people have to the Natural Resources Charter? Is it widely shared?

Dr. Mayaki:  A key component of the program on natural resources that is very important for us is the public geological mapping. It is critical for all the citizens of a country to know exactly what they have beneath their soil, and public geological mapping is a key instrument in this respect. Now, you were referring to contract negotiation. Countries like Guinea and Niger are renegotiating contracts with Russia or China because previous governments had not always negotiated in a satisfactory manner. In these types of contracts you have two issues: the intrinsic capacity of a government ministry with a legal department of two lawyers, negotiating with Russian or Chinese counterpart with fifty lawyers on the other side of the table; and you also have the issue of corruption. These two issues must be looked at, but Africa is improving quite significantly. There are weak countries, but there are also many countries, like Zambia, that are very tough in their negotiations today because they have increased their capacity and take their time before signing these types of contracts. This shows that governance is improving – this is also absolutely essential to reduce illicit financial flows. When you look at illicit financial flows on the continent, they are essentially not due to corruption; they are mostly due to tax evasion. Studies done by the World Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa really show that the capacity of governments to have the right information, in terms of taxation, is critical to avoid illicit financial flows.

APJ: Related to leadership, we recently found out that another year has gone by without someone receiving the Mo Ibrahim Prize. Do you think these awards have a place? What are your thoughts?

Dr. Mayaki: I think that Mo Ibrahim and the Index of Governance he developed is doing a lot as far as putting governance as a fundamental issue on the table. But, linking that governance issue to leadership, my thinking is that the current leaders of Africa’s transformation are not at the top, they are at the bottom. We tend to rely too much on the necessity of having visionary leaders at the top that can set the basis for transformation, but they are only the visible part of the iceberg. The invisible part of the iceberg are all the entrepreneurs, all the illiterate farmers who can use a cell phone by typing in symbols and check the price in the market which is 50 kilometers away. Those are the real leaders that will transform the continent. And that will be the main contribution of Africa to the world. I think we will be providing a new form of leadership which has not been conceptually seen up to now, and which will not be rewarded with $5 million but is shaping the future of the continent—whether they are small-scale farmers or private sector operators in the informal sector or technology operators, everywhere. The type of leadership that will emerge will emerge from the bottom; it will not emerge from the top.

APJ: This upcoming week you will be representing NEPAD at the United Nations. Regarding Africa’s performance on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), does NEPAD have a plan to move beyond 2015? In terms of reaching the key indicators of the MDGs, how do you think we fared?

Dr. Mayaki: The good thing about the MDGs is that they brought back the importance of the social sector. We have been planning systems and revitalized others in order to move towards these social indicators. Now, there is an unfinished job in these MDGs. But what Africa needs to concentrate on is beneficiation, value-addition, and economic transformation. This is the path we need to take. Our essential preoccupation is that we need to think inwards and shape our own strategy. On this basis, if the universal goals designed under the Post-2015 agenda reflect the choice that we have made then it is fine.

APJ: We’ve had an opportunity to talk about three different themes today: The first being the demographic potential that Africa is currently experiencing, regarding the youth becoming working age, the second being the untapped potential of the agricultural sector, and the third being a desire for inclusive growth. In your mind, how do those three come together to make the continent stronger?

Dr. Mayaki: We tried to conceive the theory of change that NEPAD will be working towards under our strategic plan for 2014-2017. That theory of change looks at institutions, actors and the state, and what we propose, mainly, is to reshape the way in which the state is formulating its policies. Reshaping policy formulation means that we will have to combine top-down and bottom-up approaches, and not only top-down plans. So, how do these three issues relate? Most of Africa’s population is young, and most of Africa’s population lives in rural areas. If we don’t transform the rural areas, in order to create growth in rural areas, there will not be inclusiveness.

Edited by Elizabeth Bennett (APJ) & Davina Makhan (NEPAD)