20 July 2015 – Pretoria – Developmental states in southern Africa will only be attainable and sustainable if they ensure the wellbeing of all citizens. This was the key message emerging out of the first day of a regional conference on strategies towards building developmental states.
Keynote speaker Prof. Thandika Mkandawire of the London School of Economics and Political Science refuted the notion that dictatorships are more efficient than democracies in delivering speedy development and economic growth. “There is no such thing as having to meet an economic threshold before democracy,” he asserted. “Most countries in Africa have chosen democracy. That is a given. How do we help democracies achieve their developmental objectives?”
The regional conference Building Democratic Developmental States for Economic Transformation in Southern Africa has brought together prominent scholars, outspoken members of civil society, and high level policy makers to debate strategies for building democratic developmental states in southern Africa. The grouping of experts are meeting from the 20 to 22 July 2015 at Kievits Kroon Country Estate, Pretoria, South Africa.
The influential regional gathering is hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Southern Africa Office) in collaboration with the UNDP South Africa, Southern Africa Trust and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).
“We have to find ways to achieve high development but also allow our states to perform well by providing social welfare,” Prof. Mkandawire said, emphasising the balance between economic growth and human development. “Social policy creates stability because it reduces inequality”.
UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative, Gana Fofang, emphasised the importance of a visionary leadership. “We need a plan that translates aspirations into concrete benefits for the citizens of our continent,” he said. “I don’t sense that we have a credible vision to build a developmental state. It’s not just economic growth. People have to have something to work towards.”
In the current global order, a developmental state is increasingly likely when regional agendas are in sync with national agendas, stated McBride Nkhalamba, the Southern Africa Trust’s head of programmes. He reflected on the roles the Trust plays to support the secretariat of the Southern African Development Community to mobilise national planning commissions to domesticate the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP).
Speakers pointed to efficient tax collection and use of resources as essential components to funding development. “Tax policies need to be progressive, fair and equitable. Tax should be used to support long term developmental outcomes rather than short term revenue collection,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Deputy Director of the Open Society Institute in Southern Africa.
But tax resources must be used to advance development, rather than depleted through corruption. Speaking on the experience of Mauritius – often seen as a miracle state – Sheila Bunawree of the University of Mauritius made a plea for ethical government and leadership. “Even if we have the best vision, if we don’t have integrity the developmental state won’t work.”
The exact process of economic transformation for each country, however, has to be one of trial and error, said Said Adejumobi, Director of UNECA Southern Africa Office. Rather than importing models full scale, the methods used have to be contextually relevant and appropriate.
The organisers anticipate that the conference discussions will inform the policy direction of development in the southern Africa region.
The programme and background materials are available on www.developmentalstatesconference.com.
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