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Ibrahim Mayaki: African Perspectives on Youth Employment, Food Security and Climate Actions

Keynote address of NEPAD’s CEO at the 2017 SNRD Africa Conference in Pretoria – Towards Implementing the Agenda 2030

Towards Implementing the Agenda 2030

The Role of Food and Nutrition Security, Youth Employment and Climate Action in African Rural Development

Keynote by Ibrahim Mayaki

[Follows a verbatim transcript of the statement made at the conference in Pretoria in May 2017. The video placed online shows a pre-recorded version, which might differ in parts.]

The theme of the Sector Network for Rural Development conference is towards implementing the Agenda 2030. We focus on the role of food security, youth employment and climate action. I am supposed to talk on the African perspective regarding these three issues.

Africa was the only region that designed a common position in the negotiations leading to the Agenda 2030. That common position was based on the development of productive capacities in order to boost industrialisation. As you know, the levels of industrialisation on the continent are quite low, except maybe in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Algeria. But the foundation of that common position was that in order for Africa to create sufficient jobs for the youth Africa needed to industrialise.

Now, the way that African countries look at industrialisation within Agenda 2063 is to construct industrialisation on the basis of agricultural transformation. If agricultural transformation does not take place, it will be difficult to lay the basis and the foundations for industrialisation. Most of the population we have are still in rural areas, and even if urbanisation rates are accelerating, we will still have a huge proportion of our population in the rural areas by 2030. And that rural population will have a key dimension in issues of policymaking in all of our different countries.

What does agriculture transformation means in order to lead to industrialisation? – It means creating wealth related to agriculture, but going beyond the agriculture sector. It means empowering smallscale farmers, and it means attracting the private sector in the agriculture transformation processes governments will not create the jobs in the rural sector. The jobs will be created by the private sector. The private sector is also composed of small-scale farmers. Let us not forget that small-scale farmers in Africa, which are contributing to producing 80% of the food we eat, are investing out of their own pockets $100 billion according to the FAO in the development of agriculture on the continent.

By having an agriculture transformation based on empowering small-scale farmers, diversifying the farmers in the rural areas and by attracting the private sector, we can lay the basis for job creation for the youth in rural areas.

The second point is the distinction between rural and urban areas territorially, is being weakened and has to be revitalised. What we see in most of the regions of the continent is the creation of medium-sized towns, which are between urban and rural areas. Which are giving a totally new definition of the space dimension. The boundaries between rural and urban are not as evident as they were 30 years ago, which means for policymakers the necessity to take into account the spatial dimension in terms of planning is extra important. So, agriculture transformation will also need to take into account the rural and urban space shifting boundaries.

My third point is for all African governments, everything is a priority: agriculture is a priority, health is a priority, education is a priority, energy is a priority. And, in each one of these sectors, you have specific sectoral policies. The problem is the challenge of youth employment is multi-sectoral. If you do not connect the dots between the policies that are linked to education, to health, to energy, in order to boost youth employment, the creation of jobs will not happen – because the conditions set for those jobs will not be created. So, the role of government is not to substitute itself for the private sector, but it is to connect the dots between all these sectoral policies so that you have a private sector which sees the opportunity to invest in small and medium enterprises to create the jobs for the youth.

The other point of this conference is the issue of climate action, and how climate change can be transformed into an opportunity. As you know, Africa will need to do a double-green revolution: A green revolution in its industrialisation strategy, and a green revolution in its urbanisation processes. So, we have the possibility of picking innovative solutions that have worked elsewhere in order to make sure that our industrialisation doesn’t have a cost in terms of climate consequences. And the same needs to happen for urbanisation. By having a new industrialisation strategy that will be sustained by a green approach, we will be able to create jobs for the youth that can limit the effects of climate change.

Evidently, this looks theoretical. But what we see today is a radical change in terms of policy processes. And, these radical changes are at two levels: The national level, where governments are more and more aware to connect the dots between the policies and not have them in isolated frameworks; the local level, it fully centralises processes, from East to Southern to West and Central Africa, the local level is being more and more empowered. The change I’m referring to, we will cease slowly to give privilege to a top-down process and give more importance to bottom-up processes. And these bottom-up processes – where the local dimension will be empowered – is extremely important because it can give confidence to local communities on the way they manage the future. And, as we all know, the issue of jobs has to be looked at in terms of massive numbers. In the next 30 years, hundreds and millions of jobs will need to be created. This will not happen by a miracle. It will have to happen through systematic policies. But most importantly it will have to make sure that the youth is part of the solution, and part of a solution means they will need to be part of the policy processes. If they are part of the policy processes, then we limit the dimension of a time bomb, and we form our governance systems so they have more confidence in themselves. And, they can see that the solutions that are being designed are constructed with them.

Referring to NEPAD, as you know, we are being transformed internally to become the Development Agency of the African Union. This is a challenge for us; it is a structural challenge and a functional challenge. It is a structural challenge because we are having to reform the way we are intervening on the ground, by redesigning our programmes. But whatever we design, we do. Agriculture will still be a key and fundamental dimension of our activities. And agriculture seen in the multi-sectoral dimension I was referring to. That transformation of NEPAD is also a functional challenge, because we will need to demonstrate at the continental level, that our actions have impact on the ground. That will mean a different way of interacting with governments, regional economic communities and local communities. As you know, GIZ and the BMZ have been supporting NEPAD in CAADP, in skills issues and these two dimensions are interrelated in the way we will organise ourselves.

Things are not really in coherence with our cultural policies. So, Malabo tried to say, how could we reinsert theoretically, and give a coherent strategic framework that will allow the experts to better implement? I’m insisting on experts, because as I was saying earlier, that shift took place from a political positioning of CAADP and agriculture, to a more technical positioning. From Malabo, we have a sound technical instrument. Bu, my take is that we do not have the same political support that we had in Maputo.

This is where I would come to my fourth issue, which is about the political context. The fact of having within Malabo a clear strategic, a clear results framework, coherent implication of these issues of climate, of youth employment, framed in an expert manner, now has to be implemented. How can it be implemented if a political buy-in is not as strong as in Maputo? You will tell me, “Well, Malabo was adopted by a conference of Heads of States in Malabo, and normally it should have a political buy-in.” Yes, it is true. But, the new words – this will lead me from point 4 to point 5 – the new words in development today in the speeches of policymakers are “industrialisation,” fundamentally, and “creation of new jobs.” These are the two words that most frequently come into the mouths of policymakers. And then, you have a third word, which is systematically common, which is “infrastructure.”

What I want to say is when you look at most of the speeches of policymakers at the political level, no longer do you see at a high intensity [the words] agriculture, or rural development. You see industrialisation, you see infrastructure, and you see jobs. And why do you see these three terms? Because, in the meantime, Africa has had the narrative of rising between four and six percent. And, we started to boast about our sound economic progresses. But the end of the cycle of commodities boom, brought us to reality. But that reality has not been fully reflected in the political positioning that we are taking. The “Africa Rising Narrative” focused our policymakers on these words: industrialisation, infrastructure, jobs.” But the fact of focusing on that is still prevalent. For example, at NEPAD what we try to do is to reinstall agriculture development, rural development, in the centre of gravity, by linking agricultural development and rural development to these new words.

Industrialisation – we insist on the fact that industrialisation will not take place, if agricultural transformation will not take place. We insist on the fact that the jobs will not be created if agricultural transformation does not take place. I always like to give the image of a medium-sized African country of 20 million inhabitants, with 70% of population in rural areas, with a demographic profit of 3.2. And this medium-sized African country, which is far from achieving its demographic transition, sees coming on the employment market every year, between 250,000 and 300,000 cohorts of young. And these cohorts of young by 2050 will become 400 million, and they are already born. So how can this medium-sized African country, which has an insipid industry, which cannot hire and create jobs within the public service, then what will it do? It will have to tap into agriculture. And agriculture transformation, and known agricultural activities within the rural areas will be the way to create the jobs, and will be the way to lead to industrialisation.

What we are playing is a kind of “catch-up” because of the narrative of policymakers’ focus on industrialisation and infrastructure has moved very quickly. And, the issues of rural development and agriculture have stayed behind. It is our responsibility to do that “catch-up,” and show what the consequences would be if in terms of strategic design and implementation, we put aside these critical issues of agriculture and rural development. How should we all constitute an active group to lead and impose that perspective? Both intellectually and in terms of processes in whatever we do.

I see three key solutions. The first one is to alert, with an evidence-based approach, to alert on the consequences of going back to a neglect of rural development and agriculture. By working on the scenarios and by gathering the data, we can tag it to what the consequences will be.

The second one is to empower the non-state actors, in terms of necessity argumentation. So, that they can have influence on the policy-making processes. And I am talking about the farmer organisations, and the youth organisations, the women organisations. Why? Because the context in which we are, we notice what varies in the differences in speed in the thinking of the governments, and the thinking of the non-state actors. Most non-state actors – the youth organisations, the farmer organisations – do not recognise themselves today in the speed in which the governments are going. They think it is too slow. They don’t believe in long-term strategies; they want results today. And, they are pushing. As you know, democratic intensity within this continent, is increasing quite significantly. Even within countries that could be looked at as dictatorships – there are not many, but there are still a few. There is that boost, in terms of democratic intensity. Why? Because of the change in terms of power relationships. The youth, the women, the non-state actors are realising that they can very easily, when they are organised, mobilise a significant number of people, and start shaking the governance systems. And governments are aware of that. They are aware of that, and what we should do, evidently, because of the characteristics of political transitions in Africa are always based on a violent dimension. Our role is to try to give to these non-state actors the necessary arguments that can lead them to a type of interaction with governments, in order to really weaken the context of violence which might occur when changes are happening.

We have a median age of about 19 and in other countries about 18. The governance systems need to be profoundly reviewed. The way we design policies and the way we implement them, needs to be changed. Because if they are not changed from what they are now, what we might see in the ten years to come, are very dramatic changes within the continent. It has started somehow in West Africa. It will start in Central Africa. It does not have the amplitude I could think of in East Africa, because of the fact that the civil society has a custom itself, and a custom with government [to have] better interaction. What brings the higher type of relative stability, it has started in North Africa. Remember Tunisia? Good agricultural production, good roads, good ports, highest literacy rate of girls, highest penetration on the continent, and you see what happened in Tunisia?

This bulk of young people will dramatically change the continent within the next ten years. And in the next ten years, 90% of the current heads of states, of leadership, will no longer be here for mathematical reasons. You will have a totally new leadership. Where this leadership will come from, we don’t know. How this leadership will behave, we don’t know. But what we know is that in this political process, the role of these groups will be so important. It will shape what the leadership will be.

Lastly to the way we see the issues regarding the interlinkages between climate action, youth employment, rural development, the rural space. Let me illustrate it by one example: We gathered three years ago in Pretoria – 35 director generals of planning coming from all over the continent. I asked them, “How many of you know what CAADP is?” Seven of them raised their hands. Sevenn out of 35 said, “We know what CAADP is.” [This] meant that you had a huge majority that didn’t know what CAADP was. These were director generals of planning. Normally, they should have known by working with the agriculture ministries that there was a CAADP process, national agricultural investment plans, etc. But seven of them only knew. Our homework is considerable in what relates to the interlinkages, because what we keep saying is that we will not do business as usual and we need to push multi-sectorally. But in reality, we still have a lot to do to push that multisectoralism.

We have a tendency to react to fashions and to moods. When the climate issue becomes fashionable and COP21, then all the systems tend to boost these issues, and revisit the instruments we have. This is not the way of going about it. The best way of going about it is evidently multi-sectoral. And it is good news to see that our teams who are going on the ground today, refuse to meet only agriculture ministries, functionaries and experts; but insist in meeting all those in the chain of interlinkages – environment, planning and health, regarding nutrition. This is the way we should go about it.

Finally, 400 million jobs will need to be created in the next 35 years. The systems as they are today cannot produce these jobs. How many will be created if we keep the systems as they are? We don’t know. But we know what the numbers very well.  What transformations need to take place? Three key issues regarding transformation:

1) Bottom-up processes in terms of policy design, which means that the experts are no longer at the centre of the policy design process but they should be supporting the bottom-up processes by including the local communities. If local communities do not transform, transformation will not take place.

2) The issue of rural space is absolutely critical because the transition which is taking place spatially will need to be managed in order to have pertinent policies within geographical space. 3) Rural development and agriculture should fundamentally be led by the leaders who are coming. If it is not led by the leaders who are coming, we will face critical challenges.

Thank you!

Q and A