African researchers have to speak out more

Interview with ECA Executive-Secretary, Abdoulie Janneh

According to Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), “African researchers have to speak out more”. In an interview on the occasion of the African Economic Conference, jointly organized by the AfDB and the ECA from 15-17 November 2007, he also said that African intellectuals in the Diaspora have a great role to play in the continent’s development.

Question: What are, in your view, the constraints on Africa’s development?
Answer: Africa has, over the last years, been growing at a near fast rate with growth rates of 6% registered by some African economies and this implies Africans are better managing their economies. They would however need to be assisted in this process by their partners. These growth figures which have been captured by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) have been supported by credible sources such as the recently published World Bank African Economic Indicators. However, I would like to stress that Africa needs higher growth which should be sustained in order to reduce poverty substantially. To achieve such growth, the continent needs to integrate and increase its competitiveness through the instrumentality of trade. Integration will help African countries to deal with major trans-boundary challenges, including the provision of infrastructure such as lighting up the continent with electricity. Similarly, trade needs to be centre-staged into national development strategies while efforts continue to bring about a fairer international trading system. While these efforts are going on, we must also strive to overcome supply-side constraints so that they do not impede Africa from benefiting from fairer international trade rules.

Question: What is your view of ADB-ECA cooperation?
Answer: The cooperation between our organizations is working very well. ADB is a credible development finance institution, which is committed to working together with the ECA. President Kaberuka is more than anyone else committed to ensuring that this cooperation works. I am similarly fully committed and our institutions are leading the way to provide a platform to create and disseminate knowledge. This evolving cooperation is reflected in the fact that we are jointly organizing this conference, which is a very important step, and we have also been working on various initiatives such as the joint publication of the African Economic Outlook. The two institutions are also working on the Aid-for Trade programme with the World Trade Organization as well as in several other areas. We have a common platform to ensure that there is no duplication in what we do and we also work very closely with policy-makers so that we can forge consensus and speak with one voice on important African development issues.

Question: In your view, how important is the African Economic Conference, jointly organized by the AfDB and the ECA?
Answer: The conference provides the opportunity to bring together African and non-African think-tanks, researchers, policy-makers, economists, members of the academic society and the civil society. Africa needs to develop homegrown knowledge and strategies that need to be enriched by external contributions and that is why we are working with non-African experts such as Professors Paul Collier, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz to mention just a few. It is important to note the presence of African intellectuals in the Diaspora, who have a great role to play in the continent’s development. Africa has a huge pool of intellectual resources out there and it is good to focus such resources on Africa’s development even though they are operating in a global context. I am therefore convinced that this conference will have the desired impact of generating knowledge to accelerate growth and development in Africa.

Question: How can African researchers become more competitive on the global arena?
Answer: I think African researchers have to speak out more. They need better platforms such as the African Economic Conference to exchange ideas and research findings. They also need to launch credible research initiatives. The conference offers a good opportunity for global partnerships in order to deal with global issues of interest to the continent.

Interview by Joachim Arrey,, and Magatte Wade,