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The Role of Capacity Building in Reversing Poverty

From a statement by Abdoulaye Mar Dieye
Chief Economist, Regional Bureau for Africa, UNDP

As President Mandela eloquently put it: "Africa is beyond bemoaning the past for its problems. The task of undoing that past is on the shoulders of African leaders themselves, with the support of those willing to join in a continental renewal. We have a new generation of leaders who know that Africa must take responsibility for its own destiny, that Africa will uplift itself only by its own efforts in partnership with those who wish her well."

From UNDP's perspective, there are five broad areas where strategic intervention and support can help swing the region away from a downward spiral of poverty, despair and destruction and onto the path of peace and sustainable reform: First, the most important task is to build and retain real, indigenous capacity. The key to doing that lies in local institutions as much as national governments. More broadly, sound institutional frameworks give a platform not merely for attracting new foreign investment but stimulating critically needed domestic capital formation that does not then immediately flee the country for safer havens.

First, the most important task is to build and retain real, indigenous capacity. The key to doing that lies in local institutions as much as national governments. More broadly, sound institutional frameworks give a platform not merely for attracting new foreign investment but stimulating critically needed domestic capital formation that does not then immediately flee the country for safer havens.

Second, we also need much more financial flows to developing countries, and Africa in particular, through more official development assistance and foreign direct investment. Formal aid flows are still critical if the poorest countries are to succeed in laying the necessary environment to start attracting bigger proportion of private money. But we must go beyond and directly tap resources in the private markets.

Third, the world needs to take a bolder and more coherent approach to help dealing with Africa's health crisis. HIV/AIDS is clearly the most urgent and important challenge, already dragging down life expectancy in worst affected countries by as much as 17 years. Unless the spread is stemmed, its tragic effects will reverberate on other continents.

Fourth, we have to recognize that deregulating economies and providing sound institutional frameworks will not alone help meet the needs of Africa's poor. The easiest first step is for rich countries to open their markets completely to all goods and services from Least Developed Countries, the overwhelming majority of which are African.

Fifth, we need to help African countries develop a proper strategy for addressing the "digital divide." The longer African governments wait in creating a favorable legislative and regulatory environment and broader IT strategies, the further their countries will be left behind.

While Africa's challenges may indeed be vast and deep-rooted, that is far from the same thing as insoluble. If we can combine internal reforms and capacity building with serious, sensible, sustained support from the international community, development is feasible. And then we will really be able to get Africa out of the grooves of poverty and talk about a true African Renaissance. And that will be our collective tribute to President Mandela.