A rallying call for upskilling towards sustainable growth in Central Africa

Yaounde, 12 November 2020 (ECA) - A two-day virtual meeting of the 36th Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICE) for Central Africa kicked off Wednesday with focus on strategies to enhance skills to accelerate economic diversification in the Central African subregion.

“Without an efficient and inclusive skills development system, it would be impossible to achieve sustainable, resilient and inclusive economic growth in Central Africa as stipulated in the ‘Douala Consensus,” said Ingrid Olga Ghislaine Ebouka-Babackas, Minister of Planning, Statistics and Regional Integration, Republic of Congo.

Ms. Babackas cautioned that the effects of COVID-19 should serve as a reminder of how fragile Central African economies are in the face of external shocks, noting that economic diversification and structural transformation are “our only way” to sustainably shield the sub-region in times of crises. 

“We need an adequate workforce to facilitate economic diversification and industrialization.

This requires a reform of the education system. Our technical and vocational training systems need to be strengthened to enhance productivity,” the minister noted.

The 36th ICE is organized by the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Office for Central Africa under the theme: “Building skills for economic diversification in Central Africa.” 

United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA, Vera Songwe, said the impacts of COVID-19 call for a renewed approach to development in Africa. She underscored the growing importance of digital technology and the 4th industrial revolution to bolster the resilience of economies and boost intraregional trade in Africa, especially given the establishment of the AfCFTA.

“A better integrated sub-regional market will play a catalytic role in the industrialization and structural transformation of Central Africa, with its about 130 million people.”

Ms. Songwe noted, however, that “we are faced with the urgent need to revisit our training curricula” to encourage critical thinking and creativity in our schools and training institutions. She pointed out that industrialization and economic diversification today require mastery of digital technology and capacity building in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The ECA Chief posited that any effective and inclusive skills development can only be conceived in a partnership between the State, professional associations, trade unions, companies, and development partners. Such a system “should be supported by a demand-based approach thus allowing the private sector to participate in the definition and provision of training as well as in the accreditation, financing and evaluation of related programs.”

Given the high stakes of upskilling to transform the economies of Central Africa in order to build back better, Ms. Songwe encouraged ECA’s subregional office for Central Africa, member States and the regional economic communities to declare 2021-2030 as the ‘Decade of Economic Diversification in Central Africa’ with goals and actions to realize it.

In her remarks, outgoing Chairperson of the ICE, María del Mar Bonkanka Tabares, Advisor in the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Planning of Equatorial Guinea - said she was pleased to announce that a recommendation by the 35th ICE, held in Malabo in 2019, for the establishment of a sub-regional “one network” (mobile roaming) to accelerate digital transformation in Central Africa has come to fruition.

“It is with great pleasure that I announce that this network will see the light of day on January 1, 2021, in accordance with the decisions taken in August 2020 by the Council of Ministers of the Economic Union of Central Africa,” said Ms. Tabares,

She emphasized that economic diversification and industrialization must be based on the ecosystem of the 21st century economy, engined by the 4th industrial revolution.

“Several studies confirm that digital innovations are transforming almost all sectors of the economy by introducing new business models, new products, new services and, ultimately, new ways to create value and jobs,” she stated, adding that this “can only be effective through the availability of adequate human capital, and a skilled and agile workforce.”

Meanwhile, Minister Babackas of the Republic of Congo thanked the ECA Office for Central Africa for its role in ensuring that stakeholders meet annually to discuss Central Africa’s economic and social challenges with a view to harmonizing policies for development. The minister cited the Commission’s support in formulating Congo’s “Vision 2048” to facilitate structural transformation and promote sustained growth, as one of the many ways in which the UN body supports her country and other member states.

The virtual event also serves as a unique opportunity for experts to emphasize the need for Central African countries to capitalize on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to immediately change their productive system from rents-collection through the exploitation and sale of raw materials, to considerable value addition through tech-based and digitally enhanced manufacturing, knowledge production and high-end services, based on a paradigm shift of skills building in the productive sectors such as Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics as well as Innovation. 


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