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In this interview, Dr. Mayaki shares his reflections on Africa in the global system, the milestones achieved by AUDA-NEPAD and its contribution to achieving the Africa We Want, as well as his vision for the future of the continent.

On the UN General Assembly

1. Dr Mayaki, in September, we concluded the UN General Assembly where you participated in several engagements. Can you tell us more about your perceptions of the Continents’ engagements and priorities during the high-level debates?

The 2021 UN General Assembly theme: “Building resilience through hope - to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainability, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalize the United Nations,” was very timely for the whole world and, specifically for Africa.

I believe that for one to consider recovering, rebuilding or responding fully, there’s a need to evaluate what is present, so as to determine what needs “saving.” It goes without saying, therefore, that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the already weak systems and institutions of not just Africa but countries globally.

To place this in full perspective, I must state that Africa has known its first economic recession for the last 25 years. It is recognized by the multilateral institutions that we had had good economic growth rates and well-designed macro-economic policies generally – of course, not everywhere but generally. However, the quick and decisive response by leaders on the continent contributed to avert huge crises arising from the effects of the pandemic, with key actions taken by sovereign States, as well as interventions by the African Union, the Africa CDC and AUDA-NEPAD’s COVID-19 Response Plan. Additionally, the economic model we have been following is a consequence of structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s and 90s; this has not been sufficiently inclusive. The COVID19 pandemic accentuated existing fragilities, which can be seen mostly in the social sectors – education, health, etc. We are still the most unequal region in the world. Inequality and youth unemployment are very critical issues.

During the UN General Assembly, representations from Africa gave concrete substance to the concept of regional integration. As a continent, we have been promoting, discussing, reflecting on African integration. In this particular situation and in response to global climate change, we could see an integrated reaction to how Africa is responsible for a tiny percentage of climate change causes but on the other hand, suffers from its disproportionate impact. Another area in which Africa’s leaders presented a unified voice relates to calls for due representation in the security council.

It was made clear at the meeting that African countries, together with development partners, need to actively promote human resource capacity and knowledge for the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, which requires highly skilled personnel. There is no other time like now to expedite and support the local production of pharmaceuticals and the health industry on the continent. We also called for inclusive and solution-oriented approaches to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Another clear message that emerged at the 76th UN General Assembly by Africa as a whole, was on an equally important matter - that of food systems. In a unified voice, the message was lucid that now is the opportune time to empower people globally to leverage the power of food systems to drive the world’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth mentioning that even before the General Assembly, the Rwandan president, H.E Paul Kagame, in his capacity as Chairperson of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee, made remarks during the official opening ceremony of the UNFSS Pre-Summit, where he outlined the common African position to transform food systems. The African Union Development Agency-NEPAD worked to create a common African position ahead of the Food Systems Summit in line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the SDGs for Africa to pursue solutions in its priority areas.

2. Your recent visit was also an opportunity to renew AUDA-NEPAD’s strategic cooperation with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) through the signing of an MoU. How will this MoU support the pursuit of Africa’s development objectives?

The ECA and AUDA-NEPAD signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance partnership and collaboration to accelerate the achievement of Africa's Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The MoU aims to harness synergies arising from the two organisations' mandates and establish the non-binding and non-exclusive arrangements necessary to ensure effective cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

The objective of this MoU is to implement the institutions’ joint work programme for the period 2021-2023 in six broad priority areas in order to build resilience for sustainable development in Africa as per Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030. Areas of cooperation under the MoU include, among other things, Climate Resilience and Governance, Environmental Sustainability and Natural Resources Management; Sustainable Energy, Nexus Energy-Water-Food and Empowerment of Rural Communities; Knowledge Management and Evaluation, and Human and Institutional Development; Science, Technology and Innovation; Economic Integration, Macroeconomics and Governance Policy; Wealth Creation and Industrialization.

On Africa’s Priorities and Cooperation with the UN

3. More than ever, climate is at the heart of national and global development policies. From the perspective of the link between sustainable development and climate, what are some of the initiatives put in place by the African Union to tackle the effects of climate change and ensure sustainable development in Africa?

Indeed, the seriousness of climate change in Africa was also brought to the fore in the first-ever stock-take on restoring Africa’s forests and landscapes, launched during Africa Climate Week in September. The report, published by AUDA-NEPAD and FAO, shows that more needs to be done to fully tap into the enormous opportunity for the continent to return the land to sustainable production, protect biodiversity, and shield livelihoods in the battle against climate change. The urgent need to reverse these negative and devastating trends has prompted African leaders to commit to the restoration of the continent’s ecosystems. Through its roadmap for development, Agenda 2063, the African continent commits to ecosystems restoration by protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests and combating desertification.

As the development agency of the African Union, we have a multi-pronged approach towards addressing climate

· African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) - a country-led effort to restore 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa by 2030.

· The Gender Climate Change and Agriculture Support Programme – through this programme, we recognise the fact that women’s contribution to agriculture and the broader agro-food system is significant. Given the level of women’s role in agriculture, supporting women agripreneurship is critical for transforming the economic and social well-being of households, communities and economies across the continent in the context of environmental sustainability.

In addition, this year’s “Africa Pavilion” at the COP26 in Glasgow was the go-to venue in the annual UN climate negotiations summit. Together with our collaborating partners, we have designed it to project an ambience of an emboldened continent proactively tackling the climate crisis; the African Pavilion at COP26 served as a platform in advancing the interests of the continent.

On AUDA-NEPAD/End of Tenure

4. Under your leadership, the African Union Development Agency evolved from NEPAD to AUDA-NEPAD. What is the justification for this change, and how does it affect the mandate of the agency?

At the 31st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government in Nouakchott, Mauritania, African Heads of State and Government received several reports, including the status of implementation of the AU Institutional Reforms presented by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. During that Summit, a decision was officially taken on the transformation of the NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency into the African Union Development Agency. The Assembly approved the establishment of the first African development agency as the technical body of the African Union with its own legal identity, defined by its own statute.

Hitherto, the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) facilitated the translation of African Union continental frameworks at the regional and national level, with the aim to design and implement development policies. Areas of overlap and duplication between the African Union Commission’s departments and NPCA required a clear delineation of roles in order to augment synergies and complementarities upstream and downstream delivery. There was also limited prioritization and consolidation of NPCA’s development programmes, which blurred the visibility on significant results it had achieved in nine years.

Thus, the decision was made to establish AUDA-NEPAD as the development agency of the African Union (AU), firmly setting the new organization on the road of transformation towards becoming the knowledge engine for Africa’s development. A strong AUDA-NEPAD with an expansion of the scale of implementation and a proper institutional repositioning and delivery model will contribute to solving the issues stated above and support a more purposeful and impactful African Union.

The new mandate of the AUDA-NEPAD is as follows: (i) To coordinate and execute priority regional and continental projects to promote regional integration towards the accelerated realization of Agenda 2063; (ii) To strengthen capacity of African Union Member States and regional bodies; advance knowledge-based advisory support, undertake the full range of resource mobilization, and serve as the continent’s technical interface with all of Africa’s development stakeholders and development partners.

5. As you get towards the end of your tenure as CEO of AUDA-NEPAD after serving in this capacity for 12 years, what would you like to share in terms of your experience and reflections over this time?

The impact of AUDA-NEPAD can be felt through political impact– the value of ownership was enhanced from the start through partnership and leadership. Partnership at national, regional and global levels for Africa to speak with one voice. It can also be felt through economic impact. Economic value is observed through regional integration from continental strategic frameworks that are translated regionally and nationally, for example, in the frameworks for agriculture development, infrastructure, and others in environment, technology, et cetera. All these were reflected in the Yellow Book for the founding of NEPAD.

My reflections and memories of both the successes and challenges that I faced during my tenure are, therefore many, but I would like to summarize my experience in only two parts:

Firstly, I would like to state that my tenure as CEO of AUDA-NEPAD has been both humbling and fulfilling. The organization has gone through a number of transformational phases, all of them necessary in order to ensure that the organization becomes more agile and efficient in the delivery of its mandate.

Secondly, the successes of the organization would not have been possible without the dedication and professionalism with which its staff perform their day-to-day duties. For this, I am very grateful.

6. How do you envision the strategic objectives of AUDA-NEPAD in the next ten years or so?

During my tenure at AUDA-NEPAD, Africa admirably doubled the size of its economy — in the last 15 years. At the policy front, what comforts me is that many decisions were taken in the last years, especially since 2016, at the AU level, to make the AU Commission more efficient towards policy development and implementation continentally.

The continent also adopted critical frameworks, one of which is the AfCFTA, to support continental trade. As AUDA-NEPAD, we have made great strides. As NEPAD turned 20 years old this year, I must point out that an impressive accomplishment of the organization has been the strengthening of partnerships with the rest of the world. Moreover, our agency is the only continental level development agency that exists. I am of the firm belief that in the next 10 to 15 years, AUDA-NEPAD will have a greater scope of activities and will be a fully owned African agency.

7. How do you see the future of Africa?

The continent has made progress on various fronts in pursuit of some of Africa’s aspirations – such as “A peaceful and secure Africa” and “An integrated continent, politically united that is based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of an African Renaissance”. It is also clear that alongside the progress achieved, there are opportunities to further strengthen policy harmonization, deepen integrated multi-sectoral planning and effectively deploy additional resources. This is a necessary pre-condition for a high standard of living, quality of life and well-being for all African citizens and will also serve as enablers for inclusive growth and sustainable development on the continent.

In conclusion, I will end with one critical point. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that Science, Technology and Innovation play a vital role in fighting the devastating impact of the pandemic. The continent, therefore, needs to look inwards to develop, strengthen and upscale innovations that could help fight the pandemic and build greater resilience in the post-COVID-19 era.

Dr. Mayaki, we thank you.

Interview by Ms. Lorraine Kepeden

Pictures: AU Observer Mission and UN Photos

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