The 2017 Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) officially kicked-off in Addis Ababa today with Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Abdalla Hamdok, calling on Africa to stop exporting raw materials and primary goods to feed industries of the developed world.
In his welcome remarks to delegates, Mr. Hamdok said exporting finished products would help Africa empower its people by eradicating some of the challenges it is currently facing, in particular unemployment and poverty.
"It is high time that the continent really changed this outdated model which we inherited from colonial rule, of continuing to export raw materials and primary commodities.
"Africa has to take a bold decision and say to itself 'stop exporting raw materials'. We have to add value to our commodities and that is the surest way of creating decent jobs, addressing unemployment and related issues," said Mr. Hamdok.
He said Africa should resist the continuing economic model that is benefiting outsiders more than local populations if the continent is to successfully implement Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
Mr. Hamdok, who enumerated the ECA's work on trade and industrialization, statistics, climate change and other efforts with its partners to help the continent implement the two agendas, also said African countries should take advantage of the ongoing protectionism debate in the West and concentrate on increasing trade and investments amongst themselves for the betterment its people.
"Many have seen this as an alarming signal but I see it as an opportunity which will allow us to develop our intra-Africa trade," he said.
Mr. Hamdok said every ARFSD is a stark reminder that the clock is ticking very fast for the continent.
"We have a narrow window of opportunity to march boldly towards reducing poverty. The challenge is huge but the opportunities for transformational development are limitless," he said.
For his part, Ethiopia's Water, Irrigation and Electricity Minister, Seleshi Bekele Awulachew, said the theme of the meeting; "Ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth and prosperity for all" would be rendered meaningless unless the continent started addressing vulnerabilities on the continent.
"Inclusiveness, citizen participation, peace and security are key pillars to the achievement of the development agendas," said Mr. Bekele, adding good governance and leadership were also crucial ingredients to a peaceful and prosperous Africa.
He applauded the ECA for partnering with Ethiopia, through its finance ministry in the area of statistics, which he said will allow the country to monitor and track progress in the implementation of its developmental priorities.
The African Union Commission's Economic Affairs Commissioner, Anthony Mothae Maruping, for his part, said the AUC, working with its partners, was doing its best to ensure Member States domesticate Agendas 2030 and 2063.
He said partnerships with the outside world should be in the context of the two agendas.
Mr. Maruping said Africa can only grow if it empowered its youth and women and invested in the necessary infrastructure, adding Agenda 2063 seeks to achieve accelerated, stable, inclusive and real economic job-creating growth in Africa.
He said no form of poverty was acceptable on the continent, adding domestic resource mobilization, including stemming illicit financial flows, was crucial if the continent is to fund its development.
"Africa knows what it wants, what should be done to get it or to get there and with what to get there and when to get there," said Mr. Maruping.
"There's coherence, consistency and alignment in Africa. We just have to stand up and implement both agendas," he said, adding the AU is also reforming itself to make sure that it is fit for purpose to deliver prosperity to the African people in an efficient and coherent manner.
Egypt's Deputy Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Ms. Nehal Magdy Ahmed Elmegharbel, shared her country's experience in domesticating and embedding Agendas 2030 and 2063 into its national plans and vision.
She highlighted the need for data and information in helping Africa monitor the implementation of the two agendas.
Egypt was the chair of the Bureau of the 2016 ARFSD.
The 2017 ARFSD is in preparation for the 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) that will be held in New York in July under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) under the theme; "Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world".
The ARFSD tracks progress in the implementation of the 17 SDGs that are at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.