Planning for Economic Development in Africa

The continent of Africa is rich in natural resources that support the main economic activities of its individual countries.  In addition, the continent has the second largest and youngest population in the world, which positions it as a major world market in the coming years. 
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Sadly, in the post-colonial era, development planning at the macro-economic level has failed to create matching economic opportunities for young populations to boost economic growth. Planning is often influenced by donor needs, commitments and compliance with international goals, at the expense of sustainable exploitation of natural resources.
With the President of the Republic of Uganda (in white shirt)
after a consultative African Union's-APRM meeting at the State House in Entebbe-Uganda (2009)
My previous work with Uganda’s National Planning Authority gave me insight into the complexity of creating National Development Plans.  This process requires integrating local sector plans, bi-lateral and multi-lateral plans of action, and internationally agreed goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It takes effort to integrate all these actions, priorities and goals into a single National Development Plan, without losing sight of the salient needs of the predominantly informal economic sector.
Attending the African Union's APRM Summit in Sirte, Libya

Trying to keep up with these rapid changes in plans and programs has, in a way, enticed governments to borrow from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and from specific developed countries. The inability of many African countries to meet all their budget requirements internally stems from a narrow domestic tax base; high expenditure on public administration; unsatisfactory returns on exports; low foreign direct investment, to increase the tax base; and poor tax administration.

As a result, the capacity of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa to develop self-reliant and self-sustaining economies is constrained by challenges of unsustainable debt, energy crises, and low human capital development, among others.

There have been attempts to improve revenue performance and increase the share of internally generated funds to cover projected expenditures. It is, however, rather difficult to generate revenue from largely informal sectors and small family-owned businesses which do not necessarily embrace corporate governance principles.  

One of the ways some countries have tried to become players in the global economy is by becoming members of different regional economic blocs to improve trade. This has also not worked well for small economies that fail to position themselves well in the economic blocs. These countries need to identify their main resources, exploit them sustainably and position themselves competitively in the regional and global economy.

In my opinion, especially with the newly launched Continental Free Trade Area, development planning will not only need to improve the areas mentioned earlier, but also to include the creation of trade corridors; improve transportation infrastructure; preserve the organic informal ecosystems; and increase access to local markets, to raise incomes, boost economic growth and strategically position the continent for making its mark in the global economy.

For more about Africa, her people and how she connects with the rest of the world, e-mail me at or watch our videos on the youtube channel.

Vivian Birchall

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