Effective policies and citizen resilience brighten Africa’s prospects

A positive cycle of enterprise financing and increasing citizen empowerment is slowly improving Africa’s economic prospects and reducing poverty, according to findings from a development summit in Brussels

African societies are tangibly improving their living conditions, economies and industries, it emerged during a development and international cooperation summit organised by the European Commission in October.

At the European Development Days (EDD) event in Brussels, European and African policymakers focused on promoting inclusive and sustainable growth for human development. But EDD also demonstrated how resilient citizens from developing countries are slowly getting themselves out of extreme poverty, suggesting that a positive cycle of progress is gradually emerging.

While Africa still has the lowest level of human development globally, between the years 2000 and 2011 it became the second fastest economy for annual growth, and specialists are confident that the continent’s circumstances are advancing.

Speaking in London in March, American economist and former advisor to UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Jeffrey Sachs, noted that Africa’s poverty rate had dropped from roughly 44-45% to 22% in recent years. “Progress is accelerating,” he said.

The private sector is making a significant difference to development in Africa, according to delegates at the EDD event, who discussed how organisations such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) are focusing on funding innovative small and medium enterprises in developing countries.

For example, in Mali, Princess Abzeita Djigma opened AbzeSolar in January, a solar panel company based in Bamako, which trains local people to install and maintain solar power in their own communities. Originally from the Mossi population of Burkina Faso, Princess Abzeita said she created the business because she felt “a responsibility to provide tools and means for the people in the old Mossi Kingdom to develop and to empower themselves.” She added: “For me this means providing light to students and energy to women and small businesses.”

Speaking at EDD, Princess Abzeita said she wished grassroots organisations had more space to describe their projects to policymakers.

However, Brussels-based grassroots association FireFec was able to take the floor during the conference. Created by a group of Congolese women, FireFec is an inter-regional forum of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) promoting international development. In Brussels, they organised a workshop on microfinance as a support to small and medium industries in the DRC, which has Africa’s largest microenterprise population.

Microfinance is an alternative way to subsidise small private enterprises in developing countries that do not have access to bank systems.

Oxfam campaign director, Ben Phillips, saw such financing methods firsthand during his trips to Africa. “I met a wonderful group of women in Tanzania who have made their own bank. They lend each other money for schemes so that they can grow,” he told Positive News.

“In East Africa, women’s groups were supported to get more money for what they’re doing. And that’s happening across Africa.”

Andris Piebalgs is development commissioner at the European Commission and organiser of the European Development Days. Speaking to Positive News, he said he was “optimistic” about Africa’s economic future.

“If you see how many wars there have been in Africa, how many coup d’états… it’s evident the continent has enormously improved.”