“Which way for African development?” was the name of the session of Economia Viva 2017 organized by the Nova Economics Club, the Nova Students’ Union, and the NOVAFRICA knowledge center. The session was moderated by Ana Paula Gomes and the panel of speakers was composed of Maria Hermínia Cabral, Miguel Silvestre, Paula Barros, Patrícia Maridalho and Pedro Vicente.
It was an exciting session as each speaker added a unique perspective to the debate. The discussion ranged from a macro perspective, in which general guidelines for development agencies were discussed, to impact evaluations of specific actions taken by these agencies. For those who could not join us, some of the highlights of the discussion are presented below.
The session started with some statistics on the African continent. This was the way chosen by Maria Hermínia Cabral, the spokesperson for the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, to introduce the current situation in Africa as well as the latest developments. It became clear that discussing a continent as a whole may in itself be a hurdle to its development. Each country offers clues for the development of the whole continent. However, the diversification of the economy, green industrialization and sustainable urbanization were mentioned as concrete measures for development across nations. Moreover, it was emphasized that any sort of development action must be planned so as not to promote corruption in the African society.
The following presentation focused on the relevance of Africa, more specifically of sub-Saharan Africa, for Portugal. Miguel Silvestre, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke about three pillars of development: diplomacy, development and security. The importance of peace and security for African development was thus introduced to the discussion. Special attention was given to the construction of mechanisms that allow for an early detection of conflict so that preventative actions can be implemented in order to avoid them. Democracy, governance and humans rights were also mentioned as important avenues for development.
The Instituto Camões was represented by Paula Barros, who introduced the idea of cooperation into the discussion. She highlighted the importance of specific responses in the social sectors, such as education and health. However, the actions taken towards development in these sectors have to go beyond the building of infrastructure: they need to inform the citizens of the existence of these services and of their right to use them. Also mentioned were new aspects of development and sustainability, such as climate change. In doing so, Paula Barros made it clear that the concept of African development must not be restricted solely to the realm of economics but should span other disciplines as well. Paula Barros also emphasized the role of firms, particularly in the manufacturing sector, in adding value to Africa’s natural resources.
The next discussion was led by Patrícia Maridalho, the spokesperson for the NGO VIDA. She brought to the discussion a smaller-scale vision of what is considered to be crucial for development. For VIDA, the answer for development starts in each individual, then in their family, then in their community and finally in their region. The training and empowerment of each individual is, therefore, the way forward for African development. She stressed that this plan would only yield results in the medium to long term, meanwhile persistent daily field work would be necessary. The joint work that is being undertaken with NOVAFRICA was also mentioned as an opportunity for quantifying the impact of some of the projects developed by VIDA in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.
Lastly, Pedro Vicente, scientific director of NOVAFRICA and professor at Nova SBE, highlighted the role of human and physical capital, as well as good governance as vehicles for development. The crucial role of political accountability that connects existing public policies with the population was also mentioned. Prof. Vicente spoke about some of the impact evaluations conducted by NOVAFRICA that seek to provide a quantitative and precise way of understanding not only the impact that development projects have on the individuals but also the mechanism through which this impact occurs. Finally, some challenges were issued to the audience. Such challenges included the creation of exchange programs with Africa that would allow foreign workers to join governmental agencies as a way to promote interaction and experience between individuals at the decision making level.
Written by Matilde Grácio, PhD student of Nova SBE