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African Ministers Mull Government’s Role in Development

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi, center (File Photo)

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi, center (File Photo)

Ethiopia’s prime minister says Africa needs a new development plan in which the state replaces the private sector as the main engine of growth. The shadow of recent uprisings hung over a conference of African finance ministers, where officials talked about ways to satisfy Africa's growing population of restless youth.

In his keynote address, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said decades of experience with what he called the neo-liberal paradigm of growth have failed to bring prosperity to Africa. He said such policies have led to a widening of the income gap, and urged Africa to reject western prescriptions for private sector-led development.

"Their three-decades long campaign against state activities has not resulted in sustained growth and economic transformation. It has failed to do so because, among other things, its restless campaign to enfeeble the African state and its role in the economy has not succeeded in overcoming the environment of unproductive and pervasive rent seeking," he said.

Mr. Meles said it is time for the public sector to take the lead role in developing an African infrastructure that can spur growth.

"The state has to play the leading and vital role in the sector. Three decades of waiting for the private sector to address our infrastructure gap has only served to widen the gap. We cannot wait any longer," he said.

Speaking at the same podium, African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka cautioned ministers to ensure their policies address the aspirations of all rungs of society. He said recent events in North Africa are an urgent reminder of the challenges of inclusive growth, job creation and opportunities for the young.

"We all know very well that economic growth that is not inclusive, that leaves some behind, as we can see again from North Africa, is neither economically, nor politically sustainable and will only lead to frustrations and social explosion," Kaberuka said.

Kaberuka said economic growth projections for North Africa are being revised downward because economies in the region are still reeling in the aftermath of the recent uprisings. But he said the bank is preparing to make huge financial commitments to help recovering economies such as Tunisia and Egypt.

"We are all set to commit to Tunisia close to $1.2 billion to help their country recover. We are in discussions with Egyptian authorities and we will be doing so for other countries in the region," he said.

Kaberuka told the ministers “the youth of Africa have spoken" of their aspirations.

Speakers at the two-day conference noted that Africa’s exploding population means the continent is getting younger. They said 40% of the more than one billion Africans are under the age of 15, and 70% are under 30.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping said projections are that within two decades, the population will have jumped to 1.4 billion.