On 28 April, Carlos Lopes, Professor at the Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town and former Executive Secretary of UNECA was joined by members of our Now Generation Network (NGN) for a discussion about public finances in Africa.
This wide-ranging discussion explored the complex nature of Africa’s public finances including challenges and opportunities. Professor Lopes started the session by reflecting on the shortfalls of his generation and previous generations, explaining that “we have not done a good job in terms of making public finances, sustainable, resilient and an instrument to propel Africa's growth and development.” He further explained that this is largely due to the continent not being able to change its colonial model with many African countries still being extractive economies dependent on commodities.
In the discussion that followed, NGN members highlighted the potential within the continent’s information economy with regards to taxation. They also agreed that African countries need to invest in and modernise their financial systems.
The impact of Africa’s external debt was a key topic of discussion. Professor Lopes highlighted some challenges the continent faces in relation to this, from accessing capital to perceptions and dynamics that disadvantage African countries when negotiating international system conditions. Though NGN members agreed with this assessment, they also called for accountability.
I often worry when we frame Africa generally as victims of the West or China or UAE. And sometimes that sort of helps us evade accountability.
~Natasha Kimani, Now Generation Network member
Africa loses around $89 billion per year to capital flight and illicit financial flows. The group identified that this is a shared problem between the continent and developed countries. They also highlighted the global mechanisms that enable illicit financial flows such as tax evasion and avoidance.
I agree that countries need capital to modernise and industrialise. Don’t you think that the international financial architecture is rigged against African countries because we know we have our own corrupt leadership but someone makes it too easy to transfer and move money around?
~Fernandes Wanda, Now Generation Network member
There's also an element of political will here because when you look at some of the issues and gaps in the public finance spaces, there's a lot of low hanging fruit that needs to be addressed. Why are policymakers putting policies in place that seems to not really be attracting FDI but in actual fact are just hurting the continent?
~Awele Okonta, Now Generation Network member
The discussion concluded with the group reiterating that good governance is key to addressing challenges in Africa’s public financing systems. Professor Lopes described the characteristics of this leadership as, “ambitious, focussed and coherent.” The group also highlighted the role of young Africans in solving these challenges, specifically through harnessing technology.
We're seeing an increasing trend in young people leveraging technology growth, how do we capitalise on this and how do we assure that it's not the same old story where these solutions don’t triumph?
~Emmanuel Adegboye, Now Generation Network member
Carlos Lopes was joined by:
- Awele Okonta, Nigeria/South Africa
- Emmanuel Adegboye, Nigeria
- Emmanuella Matare, Zimbabwe
- Fernandes Wanda, Angola
- Natasha Kimani, Kenya
Watch the conversation: