The Sierra Leone Web


Intervention By His Excellency
Alhaji Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah,
At The Extraordinary African Union
Heads Of State And Government Summit
On Employment And Poverty Alleviation
8-9 September 2004,
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Mr. Chairman
My dear brothers, Your Excellencies
Mr. Chairman of the African Union Commission
Mr. Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO)
Distinguished participants
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like, first of all, to convey my sincere appreciation to our host, His Excellency, President Blaise Compaoré and the Government and people of Burkina Faso, for the kind reception accorded us since our arrival in this beautiful city, Ouagadougou.

I want to also express my thanks and appreciation to the Chairman of the African Union Commission, His Excellency President Alpha Konaré and his staff, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other partners for the excellent preparations for this Summit.

This extraordinary Summit convened specifically to address the subject of employment and poverty alleviation in our region is timely. It is fitting that the Summit is chaired by our dear Colleague and Brother President Olusegun Obasanjo who will no doubt use his extensive experience and skills to guarantee that tangible and practical results emanate from our deliberations.

Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies,
Indeed, the bleak job picture, in terms of outright unemployment and underemployment, is practically one of our most urgent and destabilizing problems in Africa. The lack of employment opportunities compounded by inappropriate remuneration, fuel social tensions and encourage the migration of well-trained and talented Africans out of the Continent. Regrettably, for many years since independence, we have also tended to marginalize the problem in our national socio-economic strategies and policy interventions.

In Sierra Leone and other post-conflict countries, our employment situation is even more critical, given the addition of hundreds of thousands of ex-combatants, displaced persons and refugees into our unemployment statistics. Furthermore, agriculture, which is the main stay of our economy and employs the majority of the population, however has little impact on the employment problem, largely as a result of its underdeveloped and subsistence nature. Properly developed, agriculture offers a reliable avenue for absorbing large numbers of unemployed labour particularly the youth. It can also be a ready source of export revenue and wealth particularly in light of the concessions offered to us under the US AGOA programme as well as the EU "everything but arms" programme. Since one of the quickest ways to generate large-scale employment in some of our economies is through the proper development of our agricultural sector, this sector therefore can be considered as a prime candidate for urgent donor support not only to produce more agricultural products but add value thereby creating well-deserved wealth.

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies,
The many young men and women who have been exposed to conflict can easily find themselves trapped in the cauldron of violence that may continue to threaten the stability of our countries. Any failure to address the employment concerns of these categories of persons and on a timely manner could reverse the progress we are making in rebuilding peace and security. To do otherwise will be sowing the seeds of future conflict. In general, therefore, any long-term development framework has operational meaning only when it is translated into opportunities for gainful employment for all.

I am delighted therefore that employment creation is gaining explicit consideration as we actively begin the process of formulating and pursuing "second generation" reforms, in the context of the PRSP framework, NEPAD, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and, of particular significance, at the level of the African Union. These are certainly powerful tools that should provide a sound basis for addressing the problem of unemployment in Africa.

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies,
Many of our countries have made impressive efforts to improve the climate for growth by restoring and maintaining macroeconomic stability, raising educational standards, opening up their economies to the private sector, and integrating into the global economy through trade liberalization and other market-based policies. Our governments have also adopted effective measures to run the affairs of their states in a manner that is calculated to provide hope for their citizens particularly in the areas of responsible management of their nation's resources and in maintaining open and inclusive political systems that guarantee freedom of expression and protect human rights. However, there still remain formidable obstacles to overcome if we are to achieve the objectives of creating jobs and improving the living standards of our people as envisaged in the "African Union Action Plan".

Specifically, we still need a bigger leap in GDP growth. Factors constraining GDP growth must be addressed. More detailed macroeconomic analyses would be necessary to identify the pro-growth sectors and mainstream them into national poverty reduction strategies, even as we are mindful that inducing more labour-intensive productivity may lead to lower wages.

While the public sector remains the main driver of employment and job creation, as employer of last resort, it is no longer sustainable, given its inability to create jobs fast enough to accommodate the rising numbers of new entrants into the labour market. However, it is still feasible for government-led strategy for job creation to be implemented if substantial external resources to support such pro-employment schemes as road construction and other public works are provided.

The private sector has not achieved much in the way of growth and job creation, particularly compared with more dynamic emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. This is in spite of the extensive investment and other incentives that our governments have offered to private investors. What may be required is an injection of massive and sustained development assistance to upgrade our infrastructure, including energy, telecommunications and transport facilities, as well as the need for donor countries to be more proactive in encouraging potential investors in their countries to invest in Africa.

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies,
It should now be clear that many African countries cannot by themselves mobilize the volume of resources necessary for the level of investment that will lift their economies from the low level of performance in which they currently find themselves. This as we all know is not always due to lack of sincere effort on our part but also due to historical factors and prevailing conditions in the international economic environment. Therefore, the role of development assistance is critical in creating the conditions for raising the level of employment in our countries. In this connection, I would like to acknowledge the role that South Africa and Nigeria in particular have played as more advanced countries in Africa in extending their investments to other African countries in need of such investments. We therefore hope that other African countries that are able to do so will emulate this bright example.

I should state, however, that some of our experience has been that even in cases where development assistance is offered there are often delays in administering such assistance coupled with a web of complicated procedures that minimize its impact. It is therefore important that this situation is critically examined to provide the necessary relief to developing countries that is intended by donor assistance.

Finally, Mr Chairman, we fully appreciate that there can be no employment without investment, nor can there be meaningful investment without adequate security. Therefore the role of the African Union in strengthening cooperation in the areas of regional security and peace building should be intensified.

I thank you for your attention.