US$350m to tackle skills gap

ACBF said that the shortage of human and institutional capacity had become a retrogressive factor to economic growth, poverty reduction and sustainable development in the continent.

In an exclusive interview, ACBF executive secretary Dr Souman Sako said Africa, despite abundant natural resources, which have become a catalyst for the developed world, still lags behind in technological proficiency, institutional capacity and human development.

Established in 1991, ACBF works closely with governments and non-state actors to assist them to build capacity to solve their own national developmental and governance issues.

Sako told The Southern Times that many African governments still lack the capacity to design, implement and monitor development programmes at the same time delivering programmes.

Sako ‘ a Malian-born and United States of America-trained economist who boasts of tremendous experience in development management, economic reforms, and development co-operation ‘ also said that the private sector in Africa, which should be the engine for economic growth, is crippled by inappropriate policies and poorly implemented economic reform programmes.

Africa has one of the world’s richest concentrations of minerals and precious metals, yet more than 300 million of its people survive on less than US$1 a day.

Widespread unemployment or underemployment has left many Africans without proper livelihoods or lacking in self-esteem, development experts say.

“The economic reform programmes have to be designed by Africans themselves, but they need capacity training,” Sako said by telephone from Harare this week.

In pursuit of this mandate, ACBF has established policy think-tanks and has been involved in financing the training of economic planners. The organisation has established the Economic Policy Management, which is being run at four universities on the continent and another one, Africa Economic Research Consortium, which is based in Nairobi and offers PhD and masters degrees in economics and agricultural economics.

Sako said that the US$350 million, to be used over a five-year period, is intended to fund programmes ranging from economic policy analysis and management, financial management and accountability, training on how to keep track of national statistics, public administration, parliamentarians and non-state actors.

“Donors used to shun the public sector in preference to private sector but we have discovered that every economy requires a strong public sector to put in place strong regulatory frameworks, as well as a strong judicial system, which is transparent,” Sako said.

“In every democracy, it is also important to have a strong and effective parliament which can deliberate knowledgeably on national budgets and can hold the executive accountable,” Sako added.

He said his organisation would also be making sure that design of national programmes ceases to be the preserve of governments.

Sako said that one area in which the continent has been lagging behind is knowledge management systems. He added that time was ripe for Africa to think on its own and not rely on the West for everything.

“We cannot afford to be just consuming ideas. We need to be able to think on our own, come up with our own solutions to be able to maintain and control our own destination,” Sako said.

The ACBF said it has upped its ante in fighting the negative impact of brain drain, one factor blamed for Africa’s slow pace of development.

“We also have a gender dimension to all our programmes and we want to target women organisations following a realisation that women across the continent are being marginalised in economic development. Even at decision-making level, representation is still very low,” Sako said.

Since it started operating in 1992, ACBF has so far spent US$294 million to help strengthen the continent’s skills base and training of legislators, among programmes.

ACBF has also maintained close co-operation with organisations such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

Sako said in 2004, ACBF extended US$2 million to fund the setting-up of the NEPAD Secretariat and an additional US$1 million to the NEPAD Stakeholders’ Forum.

ACBF has of late been promoting regional integration and has been working closely with the Southern African Development Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Economic Community of West African States and the African Union Commission.

“No country is an island and the need for regional integration is imperative,” Sako said.

But like any other civic organisation, ACBF’s programmes have also been negatively impacted by lack of funding. Sako said in most cases ACBF receives less finance that it bargains for.

He said ACBF has scored success in major areas and is proud of the training it has been rendering to the continent’s parliamentarians.

“Our mandate also goes to embrace governance and giving voice to non-state actors and promoting transparency in the use of public funds. We also want to broaden partnership for capacity building in Africa and broaden that capacity beyond the state,” Sako said.

October 2006
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