JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (ILO Online) – Government, worker and employer delegates from the ILO’s African Member States, key regional and international experts, development partners and participants to the special debate, highlighted Africa’s economic resilience and the fact that the continent has weathered the global economic crisis better than others.
Introducing the new ILO Report on “Efficient growth, employment and decent work in Africa”, Mr. Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Director for the ILO’s Employment Sector, acknowledged “evidence of growth acceleration over the last 10 years in Africa” which he said had stimulated some new-found optimism for a region marked by negative perceptions.
However, delegates also pointed to the huge employment challenge of creating millions of productive jobs, and the inability of many African countries to diversify their economy and promote productive employment for a fast-growing labour force.
Africa needs a change
“We need a change of course towards a home-grown employment centered growth paradigm”, underlined ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia in an official opening ceremony preceding the Special Debate.
The message was echoed by French Ambassador Gilles de Robien, who highlighted during the debate the need to find a link between growth and development as well as between growth and decent work.
“(In their recent meeting) the G20 labour Ministers also believed that we can’t have growth without quality employment, especially for youth,” Mr. de Robien said and insisted on the need for a completely new vision on Africa’s growth.
Participants also acknowledged that a sustainable economic and social development in Africa requires effective social protection policies as a key investment in human development and a contribution to growth, productive employment and Decent Work.
Criticizing the current pattern of globalization, Hassan Soumonu, Secretary-General of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) reminded participants that “for four decades the ILO has been preaching the gospel of making social development the foundation of economic development but nobody listened. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift into the new vision of putting people first”.
South African Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel said his country was not spared by the recent global economic meltdown. “South Africa’s economy was badly affected and we lost one million jobs,” he said.
Due to South Africa’s financial and trade links with the world, the effects of the crisis first became evident in the fourth quarter of 2008 when real GDP growth declined 0.7 per cent. The economic contraction intensified in the first half of 2009 but GDP returned to positive growth in the second half of the year. Overall, GDP declined 1.8 per cent in 2009 compared with a moderate expansion of 3.7 per cent in 2008. This was the country’s first recession since 1992.
Jobs give meaning and purpose to young people
“Jobs matter; they create means to address social challenges. Jobs give meaning and purpose to young people,” Patel said. “Investing in people must be the most sustainable investment that a country can make”, underscored the Minister.
South Africa formulated a New Growth Path framework which is expected to boost and create jobs. The main challenges are increasing job creation in the formal economy, particularly for low-skilled workers, and supporting unemployed persons during their job search. Creating a positive labour market environment for discouraged workers, whose numbers have reached peak levels, is also an important challenge to policymakers.
“Infrastructure is literally the foundation of jobs. Jobs are created as we build roads, railway lines, communications networks and others,” Minister Patel said.
Participants also noted Africa’s significant improvements in infrastructure over the last few years. However, they also acknowledged that this is only part of the story and that daunting challenges remain: only one in three rural Africans has access to an all-season road; African consumers pay twice as much for basic services as people elsewhere in the world; and a monthly basket of prepaid mobile telephone services costs $12 in Africa but only $2 in South Asia.
According to the World Bank, an annual spending of $93 billion would be required to close the infrastructure gap with other parts of the world, meet the MDGs, and achieve national development targets in Africa within 10 years,.
“To deal with the three challenges – unemployment, poverty and inequality – we have to accelerate economic growth and transform the quality of that growth”, concluded H.E. Dr. Jacob Zuma President of the Republic of South Africa in his Keynote Address prior to the Special Debate of the 12th ILO African Regional Meeting.