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ECA’s 2021 Conference of Ministers to focus on sustainable industrialisation and diversification in the digital era


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Preparations for the fifty-third session of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) have reached advanced stages. The Conference of Ministers will be held virtually from 17-23 March, 2021, under the theme “Africa’s sustainable industrialisation and diversification in the digital era in the context of Covid-19’.

The theme recognizes the continent’s desire to industrialize and create jobs for the millions of its populace, in particular the youth joining the labour market annually. ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division Director, Stephen Karingi, says with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) now up and running, the theme comes in handy, offering ministers and experts a platform to discuss the need to ensure that digitalization strategies are integrated into policy and planning frameworks for industrialization.

“The AfCFTA comes in handy during these difficult times where the continent is fighting COVID-19. It is crucial that our governments establish institutional arrangements for cooperation on the digital economy, and provisions to support digital capacities and industrialization and connect African businesses,” said Mr. Karingi.

The coming into force of the AfCFTA signalled a unique turning point in the continent’s pursuit of industrialisation; with e-commerce, a key catalyst in digitalised economies, being a key cornerstone of the pact’s infrastructure.

A main element of this year’s theme is the recognition of the need for African countries to achieve rapid economic growth without exacerbating the environmental cost of development. It calls for an alignment of development strategies with climate change mitigation measures, recognising that industrialisation while being an effective engine of growth for many developed countries, has come at a severe cost to the global climate.

According to the ECA, African countries will need to implement development strategies that recognise that better, safer and more inclusive growth is one that involves strong climate action and efficient use of natural resources.

The theme also recognises that Africa’s developmental path must minimize the aberration of developed nations and instead seek to embrace modernization through digitalization and less climate-costly industrialization activities.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected Africa’s economy pushing it into contraction, for the first time in more than 20 years, by an estimated 2 to 5.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020, it has further highlighted the need for accelerating Africa’s digitalization.

If emerging digitalization can be scaled, it could be transformational, helping Africa to sustainably industrialize and diversify within a global digital economy estimated to be worth more than $11.5 trillion.

The ECA argues that Africa must embrace environmentally sustainable industrialization and diversification as a pathway to creating decent jobs for the 170 million African young people set to enter the job market between 2019 and 2030, building forward better from COVID-19 and ensure resilience to future shocks.

Deliberations at the conference will centre on how countries can leverage the rapid technological innovation to foster stronger economic growth and promote sustainability and inclusiveness, against the background of the urgent action that is needed to offset the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s economies and economic trajectory.

The conference, which will draw seasoned and high-level panellists from within and outside Africa, promises to be very exciting and engaging, with outcome decisions that will have important implications for Africa’s future.


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