ECA consultations on Agenda 2063 commence in Rabat

Rabat, 03 June 2013 (ECA) - Intense moments of thought and exchange took place last Wednesday in Rabat when the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) organized a dinner-debate that focused on: “Agenda 2063: What will North Africa look like in half a century?”. The event was held under the patronage of ECA’s Executive Secretary, Mr. Carlos Lopes. The get-together took place to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of ECA’s North Africa Regional Office.  

Eminent panelists from the subregion made presentations on a number of topics that were selected based on their strategic importance in shaping up the future of North Africa. These included: What is North Africa’s vision for 2063?; North Africa’s geostrategy in 2063;What long term challenges North Africa will face in the energy sector?; What are the demographic challenges North Africa will face 50 years from now? ; What will North Africa’s cities and societies look like in 2063?

The get-together provided ECA with the opportunity to share its views on these issues and initiate a debate in the sub region on the prospects for long-term development in Africa as a whole, and the sub-region in particular. It also served as an opportunity for the Commission’s  Executive Secretary, Mr. Lopes, to introduce the main themes and major findings of  ECA’s Economic Report on Africa 2013 entitled, "Making the Most of Africa’s Commodities: Industrializing for Growth, Jobs and Economic Transformation”. The report emphasizes that “massive industrialization in Africa based on commodities is imperative, possible and beneficial.”

According to the report, transforming Africa structurally means first benefiting optimally from its commodities and using them to spearhead the continent’s industrialization. This will require adequate development planning frameworks and efficient industrialization policies, which are informed by reliable data. It would also take into consideration the determining links between different sectors and the structural specificities of each country which underpin these links.

“To ensure the efficiency of this transformational process, it is important for North Africa to strengthen its ownership of its geostrategy in its vision 2063,” underlined Professor Mahmoud Ould Mouhammadou (former Mauritanian Foreign Affairs Minister and Regional Programme Director at the Geneva-based, Political Security Centre). He said that in the short and medium term, North African countries should reconcile their identity claims with the requirements of modernity, improve good governance and circumvent the emerging conflict in the Sahel-Saharan region.

He underscored that in the long term, the region needs to address the challenges of (i) state building around societal projects based on consensus; (ii) progress on political transitions towards mature institutions, and (iii) ensuring a greater involvement of the sub-region in international relations, given its plural identity:  African, Arab, Muslim and Mediterranean. The Maghreb integration should become more effective and provide the strategic framework for North Africa’s repositioning in the configuration of economic groupings that is currently shaping up.
Regarding energy, which has an important place in the sub-region’s economies and should be central to any industrialization policy, Ms. Amina Benkhadra, Director-General of Morocco General Office of Hydrocarbons and Mining and formerly, Energy Minister, stressed that at the global level, the energy sector is in full transition in a context that is marked by growing demand, associated with the need to reduce CO2 emissions.

She said that fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) will still play an important role in the energy mix, with a predominance of gas. However, diversifying energy sources has become a major objective of the energy policies of countries that rely on the optimization of all existing potential, including renewable energy, whose share is likely to increase significantly. Faced with an increasing energy demand, particularly for its electricity needs, North Africa has set ambitious objectives to enhance its large potential of  renewable energy (including solar and wind) and develop industrial sectors  (local manufacturing technologies). To support this momentum and the ongoing efforts in this area, greater regional integration will be necessary to encourage the creation of a large market, promote technological innovation and mobilize funds.

As to demography, she noted that the majority of North African countries have started their demographic transition back in the 1950s. The average fertility rate in the region has decreased in fifty years, from 5-6 children per woman to 2-3 children. The main factor that triggered this trend is access to education by the population in general and girls in particular,  which has also  allowed the decline of fertility rate due to the delay in the age of marriage, increased women activities, but also because of the economic and housing crises.

“On the other hand, a longer life expectancy- despite its advantages such as availability of expertise and increased consumption for example- will surely produce new economic challenges , especially in terms of funding for social protection and health systems. “Because of all these factors,” underlined Mr. Youssef Courbage (Research Director at the Paris- based National Institute for Demographic Studies).

He said that future generations will have fewer children compared to their parents. “But while these trends will facilitate demographic control for better development planning, they will however lead to profound changes in social relations within the family, and hence in the city, the community, the country and the whole sub-region," he stressed.

“Such changes will also affect urbanization,” said Mr. Halim Faidi, an Algerian Architect and Town Planner, who insisted in his presentation that North Africa’s speedy urbanization process must be coupled with “a voluntarist policy that promotes a sustainable socioeconomic environment, in order to boost productivity and alleviate poverty.”

“We must rethink the city so as to enhance its physical, socioeconomic and intellectual value. In the future, North Africa sub region will be seriously challenged by its cities; and our societies must address this situation through innovation and adequate governance,” he said and added: “We need to transform a movement that generates urban poverty into a real social dynamics, with the active participation of the community and local and national actors. This must go hand in hand with regional planning and development that is inclusive and mindful of all regions, especially the most vulnerable among them”.    

The dinner-debate was attended by senior officials from the subregion who represented public institutions, the academia (teachers, researchers and students); as well as representatives of the private sector, the UN system, civil society, youth organizations and national and regional media.

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