Ministers in talks to create jobs

Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has crept up from barely 3 percent in 2000 to stabilise above 5 percent, but that has made little impression on widespread poverty. The jobs many Africans are crying out for have not materialised. “Economic growth does matter, but economic growth must be broadly shared, and it must create employment,” African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told delegates. The meeting in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou is a follow-up to a summit of African leaders here nearly two years ago which agreed to help create jobs by, among others, fighting corruption, promoting agriculture and regional integration. “It is self-evident that the private sector will have to be the driver of growth,” Kaberuka said. “Progress has been made in creating a positive investment climate, but progress is behind the rest of the world.” Analysts say poor economic and employment data, given the fact many Africans work in informal or unregulated jobs, makes it hard to precisely quantify unemployment. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the past two years had seen good economic growth, but it fell short of the 7 percent average the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) deems necessary to halve poverty by 2015. “The growth is not as pro-employment as we would like,” Okonjo-Iweala, outgoing ECA chairwoman, told Reuters. “Though there may be growth occurring in sectors that are more capital intensive ‘ mining, oil and gas and so on ‘ those don’t create jobs. What we need is more growth in the agricultural sector, which is a big job creator.” The two-day meeting is due to conclude on Monday with a communique from the continent’s finance ministers, but some delegates questioned the value of another statement of intent just two years after the last Ouagadougou summit. “We have so many declarations on labour issues we know exactly what we want to do: we want to create employment,” said Duncan Mlazie, Botswana’s assistant finance minister. “What we don’t seem to do is address the ‘how’ part of it, and implementation,” he told Reuters. The conference also discussed the mixed blessing of high commodity prices, the staple of many African economies. As Africa’s top oil producer, Nigeria has cashed in on record high oil prices, allowing it to pay off a large tranche of its foreign debts. But historically, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has also suffered from what economists call “Dutch disease” whereby other sectors of the economy are neglected due to the focus on primary commodity exports. “Dutch disease . . . is very rife in Africa and very strong because of the high commodities prices,” South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told the meeting. South Africa has its own battle, with one in four of its workers unemployed. But although its gold mining sector, once its economic mainstay, employs a fraction of the numbers it once did, the country’s diverse industrial, financial and agricultural base puts it way ahead of other African economies. Manuel said African countries needed to invest more in infrastructure to allow agricultural and other industries access to markets, and in training to improve workforce skill levels. But he also quoted a figure of 70 000 Africans leaving every year to work overseas even while expatriates were being hired to work on the continent, suggesting that Africans in the diaspora could play a part in the continent’s economic revival. ‘ Reuters.

May 2006
« Apr   Jun »