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Africa at a Fork in the Road

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization hosted a colloquium on African human and economic development April 13-15 titled Africa at a Fork in the Road: Taking Off or Disappointment Once Again? Conceived by Center Director Ernesto Zedillo, it was the second in a series of colloquia whose general purpose is to discuss in depth key aspects of the economic evolution of some of the emerging players in the global economy. Latin America was the focus of the colloquium in April 2013, and once the Yale Africa Initiative was announced in the fall, the Africa colloquium was accelerated to take place in the spring of President Salovey’s inaugural year.

wolfensohnThe conference aimed to assess the key development opportunities and challenges of Africa, which, as a whole, still lags behind many other developing economies in key developmental indicators. Africa remains the poorest region in the world, malnutrition is still unacceptably high, and inequality continues to permeate the continent. Furthermore, aggregate statistical trends mask the substantial disparities that exist among different countries in Africa. Though some have expressed unprecedented optimism about the future prospects for the region’s development, others remain skeptical and continue to assert that recent trends are just another phase of Africa’s history of boom-and-bust cycles.

The YCSG convened a select group of academics, practitioners, and policymakers at the Greenberg Conference Center to examine the sustainability of Africa’s current trajectory, to explore which policies and practices have proven most effective throughout the region, and to inquire what needs to be done to keep growing and address more effectively the acute poverty and human development problems that persist in some countries. An e-book containing the participants’ papers will be published in follow-up to the colloquium.

The conference opened with a dinner and keynote address by Mr. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank from 1995 to 2005. The first day’s lineup included opening remarks by Donald Kaberuka, the President of the African Development Bank. His presentation was followed by a panel that explored the main opportunities and challenges facing Africa today. Speakers included Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa; Shanta Devarajan, the Chief Economist of the Middle East and North Africa region at the World Bank; and Ernest Aryeetey, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana. Other sessions the first day examined “How Globalized is Africa?” “Actors of Change: Of Men, Aid and Business,” and “Disparities in African Growth and Development.”

President Salovey honored the conference participants with a luncheon that included remarks by Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance. Participants in the second day of the colloquium explored “Better Governance for a Stronger Africa,” “Are Natural Resources an Opportunity or a Curse for Africa?” and “Feeding a Growing Giant: Agriculture, Food Security and Environment.”

Other leading figures who participated in the colloquium included, among others, Sam Dryden, Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was the decision maker on how over $2 billion was spent to lift smallholder farmers in Africa out of poverty; Daniel Kaufmann, the President of Revenue Watch Institute and former Director of the World Bank Institute where he pioneered new approaches to measure and analyze governance and corruption; Leonce Ndikumana, Director of the Africa Policy Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Leonard Wantchekon, Professor of Politics at Princeton University; Haroon Bhorat, the Director of the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and adviser to the Finance Minister of South Africa; Aly Mbaye, the Dean of the School of Economics and Management at the University of Dakar; Stefan Dercon, the Chief Economist at the UK Department for International Development (DFID); and Dambisa Moyo, award-winning author and economist. Yale participants included Ian Shapiro, Henry R. Luce Director of the MacMillan Center; Chris Udry, Chair of the African Studies Council; and Dean Karlan, Founder of Innovations for Poverty Action.

The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization is devoted to examining the impact of our increasingly integrated world on individuals, communities, and nations. The Center aims to bridge the gap between the worlds of academia and public policy, and it is particularly focused on practical policies to enable the world’s poorest and weakest citizens to share in the benefits brought by globalization.