Discussions on Africa, KazAID Open Astana Economic Forum
The Astana Economic Forum opened on May 21 with a variety of discussions, including two side panels organised by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the country’s nascent official development assistance programme (unofficially titled KazAID) and on Africa as a driver of the global economy.
At the aid panel, a gathering of international experts including representatives from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Red Cross and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) offered advice to KazAID and discussed their plans for aid in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“What’s clear is that the global architecture of international development cooperation is undergoing dramatic changes,” Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov said in his welcoming speech at the event, according to The Astana Times.
Keynote speaker Helen Clark, administrator of the UNDP, said that that official development aid (ODA) in 2015 must be bigger, bolder and more transformational, and take a holistic, integrated approach to development, incorporating economic, social and environmental goals equally.
ODA must build capacity in people and countries and catalysing other investment, she said. “Investment capacities must be strengthened to leverage all sources of development and public and private finance. I think the catalytic use of ODA is also very important in areas like disaster risk reduction,” she said. ODA should take on a stronger role in supporting countries’ capacities to trade, to attract investment, to collect taxation, to allocate funding, and to deliver on policies – making them less vulnerable when disaster strikes.
Panel member Kae Yanagisawa, vice president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, commented that the humanitarian crises in West Africa, due to the Ebola virus, or in Nepal after the recent earthquake, were not actually caused by the natural events, but were instead rooted in the existing fragility in society. In disaster responses, aid agencies must take a longer view when building back.
Christine Beerli, vice president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, echoed this. Today, “resilience is extremely important,” she said. The most vulnerable and poorest people live in conflict zones and violence-prone regions, and this must be taken into account when aid is considered. Extreme vulnerability stems from state fragility, a lack of governance and violence, and more money should be channelled toward these contexts, she said, where there is no chance for investment or tax collection to support development.
Advising KazAID, the experts recommended what the organisation is already working toward: an initially limited focus on key capacities in the limited neighbourhood of Central Asia. However, don’t limit your openness to partners, said Yanagisawa: be open to working with a variety of actors. And don’t limit your thinking, advised Bernard Doyle, regional coordinator of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Central Asia. “We need new ideas,” he said.
Opening the panel on Africa, Idrissov said, “Africa is something new for Kazakhstan. Of course, we knew about Africa from schools, but we didn’t have much of a relationship. And there is no one to blame for that, your focus was on your development and we came from the same challenges of independence emergence. But times are changing, the global situation is changing. A few years ago we started turning a keen eye on Africa. We believe it is a historic time, when Africa should receive a full focus. We recognise that Africa is a continent with huge potential. It is rich in human capital, and a large young population. Now, everything depends on people, especially investment in people.”
“The African growth story is impressive; the narrative is real. We have much to gain from mutual cooperation,” said Abdalla Hamdok, deputy executive secretary of the European Economic Commission of the United Nations in Africa.