“The 2030 Agenda forms the new global development framework anchored around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a total of 169 targets covering economic, social development, and environmental protection… In particular, Africa can take advantage of this universality of the 2030 Agenda to create partnerships across the goals and ensure effective implementation.”
Maged Abdelfatah Abdelaziz, UN Special Adviser on Africa
Our second international conference on ‘Sustainable Development in Africa‘, held in late November 2015, was part of a broader effort to build development partnerships in Africa — in this case by establishing a new UNU institute in Dakar, Senegal. This second conference featured more than 100 researchers from mostly African countries, as well as numerous policymakers and development agents. Together with our local partners, we also provided financial support to 40 young African researchers to enable them to attend the conference and to share their research. We spoke with Prof. Théophile T. Azomahou, one of the convenors, to learn more about the new institute, its goals, and how it fits into the UN’s 2030 Agenda.
1. The new institute will focus on sustainable development. What does this mean exactly?
TTA: We already know that the focus of the new institute will be to conduct quality research on the different socio-economic aspects in Africa with the aim of facilitating research-based policymaking, And of course we know that the new Sustainable Development Goals are important to the work of the UN and its 2030 Agenda. Accordingly, the particular focus of the new institute will be to conduct research into the emergence of African economies.
In this context, I see sustainability as having three pillars: economic, social and environmental. The intersections between these three pillars are what we call ‘sustainability’. Some policymakers see sustainability as a Western concept, designed to keep many countries in a state development. However, I believe that we need to embrace it and participate.
It is my personal view that we cannot choose between sustainable development and economic development. ‘Emergence’ has become a major target for African leaders and this is rightly driving economic policies across the continent. Within this context, I believe we should embrace sustainability and make the bridge with ’emergence’ — in the sense that the sustainable aspect of development is the key factor of emergence.
2. Why are we planning to set up this new institute in Senegal in particular?
TTA: All of this cooperation we have been developing with Senegal happened because of our long-term partners at the ‘Consortium pour la Recherche Economique et Sociale’ (CRES), and that began in 2009 when we organised the first conference, GLOBELICS. Everything has been revolving around this institute. After our successful conference in November 2013 we decided that the next conference should take place in two years’ time. And here we are.
While organising the conference, we saw an opportunity to push the institute. We realised that we could involve policymakers and, most importantly, there was in fact a discussion between the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Economics & Finance, and Higher Education & Research about finalising the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). In 2014 UNU Rector David Malone and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Senegal signed the Seat Agreement of the institute. The MoA will formally found the Institute, and the key player is the Minister of Economics & Finance, who will fund the operation of the new institute.
3. Taking a regional perspective, Nigeria is now the largest economy not only in West Africa but also in the whole of Africa. Are you taking any guidance from Nigeria, in terms of both strengths and weaknesses?
TTA: The first point to make is that Nigeria is Anglophone and therefore more US-centric, but it still has a profound impact on Francophone Africa and the wider regional economy. We clearly have a lot to learn from them, particularly how they approach and ‘fix’ certain economic issues. We can then translate these experiences into research thinking and policy recommendations.
At the same time, Nigeria has a lot of problems, chief among them environmental, exploitation of natural resources, as well as security. With their new government, they are trying to fix these things. Also from this perspective, there are many things that we can learn from Nigeria, as well as other African countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But ultimately, the new institute in Dakar will not only be for Francophone countries – all countries in the region will be welcome.
4. How will the new institute target the international community, from the African Union to the United Nations and beyond?
TTA: We are indeed going to target all development actors that work to promote sustainable development in Africa, and we aim to do so in parallel. Of course particular emphasis will be given to the African Union (AU) and the various agencies and bodies of the United Nations.
First, I think we need to pay attention to UN concerns in Africa because we are a part of the system. Second, we have to work with the AU because it is one of the key development actors in Africa. Working with the AU will allow us to have a border outreach in the whole of Africa. Overall, we are very keen in making them strong partners.
CRES — Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale; Flickr / J. Attaway