UNECA’s Claver Gatete: “We need to focus on a practical, collaborative and regional approach”

The executive secretary of UNECA says that the organisation is finding the best ways to collaborate with African countries to achieve their mutual ambitions

Conversation with


This article is sponsored by UN ECA

Omar Ben Yedder: You’ve sat on the other side of the fence as Minister of Finance and later of Infrastructure. What are your plans for the ECA to ensure it is relevant to policy makers?

Claver Gatete: One thing that we support countries with is macroeconomic management. The African Union has a vision for 2063 and we have assisted them with the second 10-year implementation plan. Together with the Sustainable Development goals, we have to look at how we can assist them to achieve these objectives. We also have to look at trade, working with the 8 regional economic communities to bring down the barriers to trade so that all countries can benefit. There are issues of energy security and climate, which is going to be very important for the continent. Another is technology, which can fast track the entire development process. Our job is to support these processes, using a regional approach so that we can help many countries at once. We have quite a lot to do and we are trying to find the best way to contribute in a way that is most impactful, working with all the relevant stakeholders, sharing knowledge and scaling up best practice to a continental level.

OBY: In terms of practical solutions, does that mean bringing new stakeholders on board and looking at things more from a data and evidence-based perspective?

CG: The role of financial institutions is critical. We have our traditional institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and Afreximbank supporting trade. We have to see how to coordinate and work together to address specific issues.

OBY: How do you see the role of philanthropies, which are playing a bigger role in the development agenda?

CG: It’s another contribution which is very useful. They are putting money in education, in health and the areas that we need so it is a wonderful addition. The most important thing is working with them to make sure that the money is put to where it’s most needed.

OBY: What is the ECA’s position on the reform of the global financial architecture?

CG: The current arrangement was established when very few countries had been born and so it worked for those countries who designed that model. This model has been found to be inefficient so we need to adapt it to the new century. There are some proposals, including the Bridgetown Initiative and some from the G-20, all of which revolve around making sure government, private sector and international financial institutions all participate in the solution. But we need to move with greater urgency.

OBY: You’ve been calling for greater regional thinking. Can you elaborate?

 Government has to create a conducive environment but it is the private sector that has to invest. For example, in Zimbabwe and Zambia, how can we create an agro-processing zone where we can bring in the private sector, government can invest in infrastructure, we can do that de-risking and the private sector can establish companies so that we can process rather than export raw products. How do we expand that to critical minerals, for example, so we can create jobs, the money remains in Africa and the development is at a higher speed because it’s regional in nature.

OBY: Lastly, you’re opening a division to focus on technology. How can we harness technology and take full advantage of it?

CG: Technology is the one thing that can affect all the SDGs and that’s why it’s so important. There are 1.6 billion people who are not connected globally and most of them are African. So the first thing is infrastructure and connectivity and the rest is how to benefit from that kind of infrastructure. That also goes with energy because we can’t do technology without energy. Secondly, how do we document all the innovations happening in the continent so they can be replicated in other countries? For example, if one country has digitised its tax systems, can we get other countries to learn from them? Lastly, we are also developing and enhancing data sets [for the continent], because data is very critical, especially with the advent of AI.