West Africa’s economy is booming compared to its sub-Saharan counterparts. This bodes well for the region, which can leverage improved output, trade growth and the recovery of international oil and metal prices to improve its economic outlook.
Pulling the region forward is Nigeria, which has reported 2.3% year-on-year GDP growth in the third quarter of 2019. Not far behind are Ghana and Guinea and other countries in the West African Monetary Union.
Understanding how West African nations can use this chance to overcome structural challenges and break new ground is one of the goals of the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA), which recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UNCTAD, becoming the organization’s fifth Centre of Excellence.
The goal, says the head of UNCTAD’s Africa and least developed countries division, Paul Akiwumi, is to develop closer ties through joint research and capacity building activities.
“Our Centres of Excellence serve as network hubs for capacity building in the African and Asian regions.”
“They provide opportunities for policy practitioners and stakeholders from the least developed countries and other developing economies to benefit from targeted and practical training on trade and development-related themes,” Mr. Akiwumi said after signing the agreement on 17 December in Abuja, Nigeria.
“We are delighted to join hands with the Centre for Study of African Economies, which brings excellent research-capacities as well as strong regional knowledge of the development challenges of Africa”.
CSEA executive director Dr. Chukwuka Onyekwena said: “We are confident that our collaboration with UNCTAD will significantly enrich our work and allow it to reach a wider audience.”
Hard at work
The agreement went into immediate effect in the shape of a workshop on fostering productive capacities, structural economic transformation and export diversification in West African Economies, held just after the MoU was signed, on 17 and 18 December.
West African policymakers came together to identify policies and measures that could assist their economies in overcoming their commodity-based growth pattern.
“The route to doing so is through planned and concerted structural transformation and export diversification,” Mr. Akiwumi said.
As the workshop highlighted, domestic efforts alone may not be enough to foster productive capacities and structural economic transformation.
Mr. Akiwumi told participants “a big push for international support mechanisms is urgently needed”.
UNCTAD is advocating for new international support measures that go beyond project-based financing and fragmented technical assistance.
“Only this will change the status quo and really allow West Africa to take advantage of its growth potential,” Mr. Akiwumi added.
CSEA will join other UNCTAD Centres of Excellence at annual meetings to identify new areas for partnerships and joint research, and for exchanges of experiences and best practices.
“This workshop on export diversification in West Africa is only one example of an issue where both of our organizations have done important analytical work, which can benefit policy-makers in the region,” Mr. Onyekwena said. “We look forward to carrying out more joint research.”
Drawing on their different strengths and expertise in various sectors, including sustainable development, poverty alleviation and policy cooperation, the UNCTAD Centres of Excellence will leverage South-South cooperation to provide better targeted policy advice and technical assistance to developing countries.
Outcome and Recommendations
At the end of the workshop, participants identified a number of policies and measures needed to build productive capacities, and to foster export diversification and structural transformation. This included the identification of sectors and products with export potential, as well as the policies and measures needed to promote them.
Download the full outcome document below.