It is time to act before all momentum is lost.
By Boaz Blackie Keizire
This week, several African leaders will meet in Kigali, Rwanda for the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) and to discuss how to use agriculture as a way to transform African economies faster.
This year the big question has got to be: will this forum be different from others or will it turn out to be just another ‘talk show'? The inevitable smiles when delegates meet will mask the bitter disappointment of broken promises and missed opportunities.
Yet there is always a frisson of excitement when leaders meet; a sense of opportunity hangs in the air that makes us want to believe that this could be the start of real change. Agricultural transformation by definition is all about change, but whether it is going to happen, particularly in Africa, rests in the hands of leaders who must paint the vision, and then make that vision reality. It is vital that agriculture is seen as an instrument to help leaders achieve their political ambitions and to drive economic goals. If not, agricultural-led economic transformation will remain a pipedream. Aside from a few pockets of progress, the African continent has by-and-large failed to use their agricultural business as a platform to create jobs and guarantee food security. Yet, twice every year, African leaders get together and make the same hollow promises to transform their countries' agriculture sectors and in turn impact the livelihoods of large sectors of their populations. Citizens wait with baited breath to hear their leaders' latest resolutions and commitments made at each African Union Summit, but are becoming increasingly sceptical that these may ever bear fruit. Despite this, there is evidence that a number of countries are making real progress and seeing the difference that honouring these commitments can make.
Dr Ousmane Badiane of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) has documented Africa's recent growth as promising, but noted that the continent has not yet recovered from previous decades of stagnation and decline. In fact, for decades after independence, economic growth strategies lacked coherence and consistency and did not produce intended outcomes. But as Ousmane says, business as usual will not make Africa achieve the vision set out in Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). In fact, African countries must further improve governance and institutional quality, and work to manage agriculture and other resources more effectively.
When leaders met in 2003 in Maputo, their vision for a continental framework, CAADP, was robust. However, the vision remains a dream and CAADP has made only modest progress. Although it has managed to raise the profile of agriculture in national, domestic and international development politics it has yet to fulfil its promise. Nonetheless, it is seen as a model for a home-grown, country-led, and stakeholder-inclusive agricultural transformation agenda. And there are instances of improved coordination, harmonization and alignment by various players across the continent. A number of countries have allocated additional resources to targeted programs that have huge potential to generate returns. Mechanisms, such as agricultural sector reviews at country level, are increasingly being used as review and dialogue platforms to foster accountability and drive results in agriculture performance. However, despite this, not enough has changed. Even accounting for the few relatively good performances it is obvious that continuing with business as usual will not achieve Africa's potential.
What it takes
The just released Africa Agricultural Status Report (2018) has explored the centrality of governments and the capacity of the state to set, lead and implement their national visions to accelerate the pace of a green revolution in Africa. The report clearly documents the kind of leadership required to translate vision into action, and clarifies that entrenched leadership and the mindset of a country's elite class is key in mapping out the vision in the right context and to chart a path for its implementation. This must include systems for its delivery and built-in accountability. The kind of progress we are seeing in countries like Rwanda, under the leadership of President Kagame, and in Ethiopia where it started with the late Meles Zenawi and was subsequently adopted by his successors Haile Mariam and Abiy Ahmed, the current Prime Minister, shows what is attainable under inspired and compassionate leadership. It is true to say that the main barriers countries face in implementing policy are rooted in their leader's commitment to set and implement their visions and strategies.
Monitor, monitor, monitor
To this end, the recently formulated Africa Agricultural Transformation Scorecard (AATS) was created to communicate and monitor the necessary peer review processes entrenched in the original New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) goals. The AATS was presented by the African Union for the first time in January 2018, and provides the status of agricultural transformation in African countries. For the first time, the scorecard generated some good momentum - 47 of 55 Africa Member States submitted data to produce reports that allowed direct comparisons of countries' performance against fixed and measureable goals. The AATS signals one of the biggest steps by African leaders to commit to measure and track their commitments.
The AATS will be an important tool for monitoring the progress we are making. However, the progress must not only be rooted in the technical aspects but should also trace the changes in livelihoods and this is why leaders should pay more interest. The ultimate goal remains to dispel the myth that scorecards are complicated documents whose aim is to vilify non-performers while rewarding success. The leaders' meeting in Malabo rightly confirmed that Africa is moving into a space where competition in development no longer matters, and that the failure of some countries adversely affects the reputation of the region as a whole.
The scorecard revealed that only 20 of the 47 Africa countries that reported are on track towards achieving the Heads of State agreements made in Equatorial Guinea in 2014. But looking at the numbers again, the progress areas are not the transformative ones. For example, the scorecard shows that almost all countries are committed to inclusive and evidence based policy systems, and yet in the same countries, the same policies are only on paper and never implemented to cause change.
As experts note, it is only when the average African realises that digging dirt is an honourable job, and develops the desire to be actively involved in it because of the financial liberation it comes with, that the continent will begin to achieve its economic development goals. Opinion leaders on the continent, such as Aliko Dangote, Akin Adesina and Strive Masiyiwa, are helping fellow Africans to champion the scorecard and African Union goals. But we need to do more. For example with over seven months passed since its introduction, it has not created the necessary buzz among leaders and citizens to make change reality.
What is now needed is for key institutions like the African Union to look at ways to use the scorecard as an instrument to trigger the pressure needed to drive the transformation. An example of how a scorecard can be used to do this is the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), a groundbreaking coalition of 49 African Heads of State and government working across country and regional borders to eliminate malaria by 2030. Agriculture is learning from this health-based example, but slowly. There are many partners willing to work and support the African Union to make the scorecard a strong tool and to trigger debate and dialogue amongst leaders, experts and stakeholders in all African countries. Rwanda is an exemplar of how it can be used to create competition and pressure to deliver, and the African Union needs to learn from their lessons. The AATS can also aid the private sector by showing where private investments are impacting the sector and holds up a mirror to whether these investments are pushing towards a country's economic goals. But without the commitment and foresight of its leaders Africa will not establish the visions and strategies necessary to allow the right forms of investments for optimal economic growth.
The lessons and outcomes of CAADP's implementation and its AATS are revealing, and demonstrate what is required of the state and its capacity to drive agricultural transformation. Government ownership must be unambiguous and steadfast, not just at ministerial level, but at the very top. Heads of State must take seriously the principle of ownership and lead their agriculture sector vision and policy agenda. In many governments today, this kind of ownership is praised but missing in reality because leaders and their technocrats are not on the same page when it comes to identifying and championing the priorities needed to drive agricultural transformation.
During the 2014 Malabo Summit a few Heads of State challenged the principle of allocating 10% public expenditure to agriculture, even though their own Ministers had approved and endorsed this same idea at a preceding ministerial conference. It can be tempting to choose politically attractive actions that raise their popularity, while ignoring truly transformational policies that may take time to reach fruition, and so any meaningful change and transformation fails to take root. Governments like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Morocco, where political leaders act in union with technocrats in shaping the visions and implementing agricultural plans, progress is seen faster than many other countries on the continent. Their strength of government ownership and leadership means they are able to switch priorities when circumstances change to focus on areas where they sense the ability to create greater impact on the agricultural sector and so fulfil their overall economic vision for their country.
To conclude, it is time to act before all momentum is lost. This year's AGRF must be characterised by more than empty promises and hollow rhetoric. Only our children will judge us.
The writer is the head of Policy and Advocacy at AGRA and also a 2017 Fellow for the Aspen New Voices Fellowship