Since starting as UK International Development Minister with responsibility for Africa, I have been struck by the strong growth rates and enormous economic potential of many African countries. But a key block to further growth is the difficulty of trading within Africa due to tariffs, red tape and a lack of infrastructure to connect countries and peoples. Multi-country infrastructure projects – like roads, ports and regional power plants – are complex and expensive. They require political cross-border agreements and policy reforms.
This is one of the areas where the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) mandate and expertise can help to turn Africa’s economic potential into reality. The AfDB – Africa’s premier economic development institution – focuses on driving inclusive growth through the private sector and improving governance, as well as breaking down trade barriers. It provided $4.4 billion financial flows to Africa in 2011.
I am currently at the AfDB Group’s annual meetings. The theme this year is ‘Africa’s structural transformation’. The UK, along with other donors, will decide later this year on our contribution to the next cycle of the AfDB’s concessional lending fund (2014-2017).
In advance of our decision, I have been pressing the AfDB President, Governors and senior staff for the Bank to focus on: supporting economic growth for all, not just the elites; leveraging much-needed finance from the private sector; ensuring investments are resilient to climate change; supporting the economic empowerment of women and girls; and responding more effectively in fragile and unstable states. I have urged the Bank to deliver and demonstrate results and value for money. And I have emphasised strong UK support for their plans to help transform Africa’s infrastructure and economic integration.
The UK’s priorities for the G8 this year complement strongly this agenda by focusing on global economic growth – advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency. This agenda has particular relevance for Africa. The AfDB is in a unique position to lead Africa’s economic transformation – increasing jobs, improving governance and raising living standards for all.