YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Carlos Lopes, head of the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Africa, says sustained growth in Central Africa is important for the region to tackle poverty, but it must transform its overall economic structure.
On a trip this week to Central Africa, Lopes, said he believes countries within the region are in a unique position to achieve significant economic growth given its enormous natural resources and current efforts to improve its infrastructure.
Lopes said it is also important to attract foreign investment in the region, which has suffered from a number of armed conflicts as well as chronic poverty and malnutrition over the years.
The U.N. official said he discussed with Cameroon's Prime Minister Philemon Yang, the possibility of creating an attractive business environment for private sector investors, especially foreign entrepreneurs.
Last month, the European Union announced about $4 billion worth of grants will be given to countries and organizations in Central Africa to boost investments that generate growth.
Several African countries are experiencing a favorable economic climate, with some having unprecedented levels of financial reserves that have reached $500 billion, an average inflation rate of 7 percent, a well regulated financial sector and managed levels of deficits.
But the economy of the Central Africa region has struggled. In 2012, the region anticipated a growth rate of 4.1 percent which was never reached.
Lopes called on Central African countries to work hard to increase their growth rate to 7 percent to attract investors.
He said he does not want investors and those who are interested in economic development to be discouraged because of the bad news from the region. "We want them to know that there are lots of opportunities," he said.
A report released by the U.N. last month notes that Africa's recent growth has been driven by commodity production and exports, but remains far below the continent's potential. It said meaningful job creation is weak and growth is not tackling the high poverty rate and rising inequality in many countries.