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UNU lays TICAD II groundwork
Our understanding of the development process no longer only focuses on the accumulation of capital, but also increasingly highlights the importance of knowledge. Work by the World Bank and others clearly shows that having access to knowledge is crucial to improving the living standards of the poor.
In some ways, knowledge is even more important than money as it can help to develop better institutions and spur more creative ideas. Sharing knowledge in the sense of ensuring a more equitable and fair distribution of knowledge could contribute importantly to closing the gap between rich and poor countries.
The theme of mutual learning between Asia and Africa has been a particularly valuable intellectual contribution of the TICAD process. We have been trying - and will continue to do so - to identify key policy lessons, both from East Asia's era of rapid growth as well as from the current economic crisis.
But getting the economic policies right in Africa is not enough. There is now substantial evidence that institutional weakness in many African countries is a critical obstacle to economic performance. Surveys on the obstacles to business in Africa highlight the damage caused by the unpredictability of changes in laws and policies, the unreliability of law enforcement, and the impact of corrupt bureaucracies.
I would also like to draw your attention to the valuable role for research and training institutions in Africa. We have heard a lot about the crucial importance of primary education over the last two days and rightly so. But I also believe there is a need for a bit more balance. This is in line with the outcomes of UNESCO's World Conference on Higher Education two weeks ago.
No commodity is more expensive than "knowledge." An Africa without a sustainable, strong knowledge sector of its own will always remain in a dangerously dependent position. Research and training institutions on the continent can make a critical contribution in at least three ways: by making the most of existing indigenous knowledge; by accessing the vast reservoir of existing global knowledge, as well as the ongoing advances in understanding, and adapting them to suit specific local conditions; and, by helping to find innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
There is a need to strengthen universities and research centres at the national level so that they can fulfil these tasks. But, given the limited scope at the national level there is a valuable place for "Regional Centres of Excellence" on research and training in key development issues, both in terms of policies and in terms of actually doing things.
Regional networks can be of high value both when linking regional centres of excellence together, as well as when linking such centres with well-chosen minor centres, through which the high-level centres can more easily provide the needs of society at greater distance.
We at UNU/Institute of Natural Resources in Africa (UNU/INRA) hosted by the Government of Ghana, for example, are committed to assisting African Universities and research institutes to build the endogenous capacity needed to conserve, maintain and effectively use Africa's natural resources.
The (TICAD II) Agenda for Action is a very comprehensive and valuable document. It provides a whole range of very agreeable proposals and the organizers must be commended. I would like to make a few suggestions, not directly on the agenda per se, but more concerning the ways of following it up. I do not plead for not having all the specific guidelines and actions, but to complement these in the short term with a few concrete and implementable commitments in key areas.
For example, one issue must be to resolve the debt problem before the end of the century. In our view there is an overwhelming case that significant reductions in the external debt of African countries would improve growth rates. The debt issue was highlighted at TICAD I, and yet five years later, there has been very little relief on the ground.
As was the case yesterday and today, in our preparations we often discussed the obvious fact that war and instability are key hurdles to sustained development in Africa. The human and economic costs are too high not to give these issues the highest priority. The conference should send a strong message that without widespread and lasting peace in the region, there can be no growth.
We also believe that some of the concepts and definitions need to be more clearly defined. For example, a prerequisite for regional cooperation is complementarity. Without complementarity, regional initiatives are more likely to lead to competition. The analysis could also be pushed a little further. For example, it may be appropriate in the first instance to try to stop capital flight and the brain drain before trying to encourage foreign direct investment.
There is also need in the implementation phase for a more flexible approach at the national level since Africa is such a diverse and multifaceted continent. Problems are best solved by those closest to them. We feel it would also be valuable to broaden the process to involve other important stakeholders. There is a strong case that civil groups, including research institutions and NGOs, could be included more closely.
I would like to conclude by highlighting that His Excellency Thabo Mbeki gave a lecture on "The African Rennaisance" earlier this year at UNU Headquarters. Mr. Mbeki started off by quoting the Latin expression meaning "something new always comes out of Africa."
Improved economic performances are one of the new and positive things to emerge out of Africa in recent years. And I would like to pay tribute to the efforts of countries that have persevered with economic and political reforms in very challenging circumstances.
The development of Africa will be something that only Africans themselves can do. That is why endogenous capacity and capacity building are so important. But they do deserve greater help from outside - or to paraphrase President Rawlings of Ghana, they deserve a more supportive and fair approach to the issues of debt and trade.
I hope this conference will help cement the commitment of countries in Africa and external partners to choosing approaches that will lead to greater peace and prosperity on the continent in the 21st Century.