Africa must set itself higher targets to get ahead

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. FILE
Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. FILE 

Mukhisa Kituyi caught global headlines when he became the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) back in September 2013.

Dr Kituyi is next month expected to take centre stage when Kenya hosts the UNCTAD ministerial conference in Nairobi.

NTV’s Laban Cliff Onserio interviewed the former Kenyan MP and Trade minister on the sidelines of the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda.

Let us talk about UNCTAD 14. Give us a snippet of what to expect as the chair of the organisation committee. 

We selectively invited presidents and heads of government from around the world representing different regions. So far I have most of the invitees. I have confirmed the participation of the presidents of  Ireland, Mongolia, Columbia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Chile.

I have a pending invitation to the Prime Minister of  Canada. At the presidential high level segment I am already  satisfied we have reached our targets. 

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has confirmed. I have the confirmation of at least six fellow Under-Secretaries-General of the United Nations, so the UN Agencies level is sufficiently covered.

The World Investment Forum, which for the private sector is the most exciting, has a trading floor as it were. We have a match-making tent where entrepreneurs can meet impact investors, meet fund managers and innovators looking for partnerships to Africa.

We have progressed very well in partnerships to this. We will also have a commodities forum. We also have the Youth Forum which is very exciting. The momentum is very good. 

You have the youth, civil society, where are the women? 

Women are not a stand-a-lone group in our work. However, we have a day dedicated to strengthening the women enterprise. 

During the conference, we will have a gala night awarding the most successful women entrepreneurs. We will also have a Kenyan cultural fashion show. 

We are looking at the three regions in Africa. From where you sit, what are their economic potential? 

Southern Africa has been hit more than any other region in Africa apart from Nigeria from the burst of a commodity super cycle. South Africa last year realised a 74 per cent decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) compared to 2014.

West Africa has a mix of beneficiaries from countries that are not energy-dependent and those like Nigeria that are substantially energy-dependent.

The post-Arab Spring countries of northern Africa are still grappling with the challenges of terrorists and threats to the national state and the recovery from the collapse of politics of countries such as Libya.

Eastern Africa has realised the most stable increase in FDIs in spite of the slowdown globally. Most importantly, Eastern Africa, as a net importer of oil, has been a beneficiary of the collapse of oil prices.

It’s very telling, if the conditions improve in East Africa, the possibility of becoming a major driver in manufacturing-related investments  exists in a scale that has not been witnessed before. That said, there has to be a coherence between the spoken and the implemented.

There has to be a coherence between the private sector needs and public sector engagements. There has to be a lowering of political tensions and insult exchanges, and  generally reducing the cost  of the political campaign for the next one year, a critical year to build up on the momentum that had started building. 

Africa is a rich continent, what is holding it back?

A combination of things. You settle for very low ceilings, you set very low targets, you are not ambitious enough. Secondly, you let petty things like petty corruption among individuals distort your priorites and sap your energies.

Thirdly, you do not find synergies between the different groups, you find more competition than synergies when you are able to grow together and the sum total of your efforts is larger than your numbers but you don’t realise this. 

You have been quoted several times saying that there is much talk without action. Do you think the WEF is also more talk than action?

First of all this forum has been very interesting. After attending several functions with heads of government, it is very practical to have specific suggestions. We had a number of specific suggestions.

What is the responsibility of  leaders, the private sector and the academia in creating the dynamism of Africa again  to  realise the agenda we set for ourselves over the past few years?

We are making very useful and interesting progress. I was particularly impressed by some government leaders who said they had wished more of their  policy makers were in Kigali and get a bit bigger than the pettiness that has been informing our policy narrative at home. 

Speaking about Kigali, the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, said that  right now is not about  FDIs but how Africa can come to a level playing field (sort of) with international investors.

If you take the year 2014, global foreign direct investment to Africa totalled $52 billion. In the same year, investment related to tax evasion, tax avoidance and illicit transfer out of Africa equalled $100 billion. 

That means that, if we level the investment field, we reorganise to sustainable levels the investment agreements we have with others. We can slow down the loss of money which is much more than what we are getting compensated by new investments into Africa. 

So levelling the investment field is important, international cooperation on avoidance of illicit transfers is important. International governance on avoidance of illicit transfers is important.

International governance on tax evasion  and smoking out the corrupt thieves who have stored our money on corrupt havens is critically  important.

Foreign aid is not going to be sufficient for the ambitions we have on infrastructure development. 

Isn’t this an issue of social fabric?

African social fabric issues are challenging but of a different nature. First of all, in some countries, the cultural tolerance to corruption inhibits the war against the crime.

In some societies, you are comfortable with the person who is generous with money without caring where he gets the money. That is contrary to the culture of fighting corruption. We have developed the notion that everybody should get rich quickly.

You start telling young people, the main thing they should ask is, where are the low-hanging fruits for us?

The society that drives the desire for long-hanging fruits for young persons is a society that is mainstreaming the culture of easy-gotten wealth. This is the first step towards corruption.

Due process is the structure of predictable society where sound investment, thrift or hard work is rewarded but shortcuts punished severely. 

There has been talk that the WEF suits foreign investors, and that Africa doesn’t have an equal participatory level. What are your sentiments on this?

There are two sides. First of all, Africa must talk with itself but also talk with the rest of the world. We relate with the rest of the world. 

We talk about what can be done in policy terms but also how we can encourage greater investment in the world. Having said that,  it is true that Africa has surrendered space to the World Economic Forum, which is a Geneva-based NGO.

We have failed to create a forum where African academia, civil society, government and private enterprises talk together about what our challenges are. How can we raise the ceiling? How can we find synergies in our policy coherence between governments?

That discourse is possible without having to go through a Geneva-based NGO, but we haven’t developed it. So WEF has moved into a space which Africa has not created to itself.