The 58th Biannual Research Workshop’s plenary session of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) took place virtually, emphasizing the need for continental unity in trade to expedite the recovery agenda.

During the conference, Prof. Benedict Okey Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of The African Export-Import Bank, highlighted that despite regional integration agreements and treaties, the growth of African regional trade has fallen short of expectations. Currently, intra-Africa trade stands at 15.4%, and Africa’s share of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) trade is estimated at 2.6%, despite comprising 16.3% of the world’s population.

“It is crucial for countries to promptly reduce the current debt burden through economic reforms, cost-effective financing, and case-by-case debt restructuring. The international community should also intensify efforts to enhance debt restructuring processes, including the G20 Common Framework, to ensure timely and efficient delivery of debt relief where it is needed,” stated Prof. Oramah.

The plenary session also acknowledged progress in certain sub-regions, where trade integration, financial cooperation, and labor mobility have shown improvement. It recognized that maximizing the benefits of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreements and strengthening regional integration and trade prospects are key avenues for capitalizing on the vast opportunities available.

Highlighting the importance of education in generating impactful research for the future, Prof. Théophile Azomahou, Executive Director of AERC, emphasized the need for selective research conducted within specific thematic areas.

“While education is inclusive, research should be focused and taught in a manner that encourages young and upcoming researchers to be methodical in their approach, narrowing down topics to thematic areas. This will contribute to building knowledge in various focus areas for policymakers and help develop solutions to everyday challenges,” Prof. Azomahou emphasized.

Several steps were discussed during the session as potential solutions to mitigate the impact of these multiple shocks. These steps include investing in the transformation of African economies to reduce the negative correlation between price cycles and commodity prices, developing capital markets, addressing infrastructure deficits, particularly in the power sector, to overcome chronic electricity shortages that hinder productivity and industrial output, and enhancing the relevance and impact of AERC networks in policy and development arenas, among others.

Other discussions highlighted that nearly 60% of Africa’s GDP growth is influenced by temporary, cyclical factors, but with significant variations among countries. The ongoing recovery from the current shock poses a risk of exacerbating differences within Africa and between Africa and the rest of the world.

Moreover, the economic repercussions of productivity shocks on agriculture, food security, and land productivity resulting from climate change cannot be underestimated. There is evidence suggesting that climate change leads to increased poverty and inequality, extending beyond marginal areas. International development partners’ commitments to finance climate change initiatives have been slower than expected, hindering efforts to address resource challenges in Africa. However, there are opportunities to leverage domestic resources, such as creating shallow water wells for pastoralists in marginal areas to minimize conflicts.

The plenary session included presentations by prominent economists on four topics: “The Impact of the War in Ukraine on the Recovery and Resilience of African Economies” by Dr. Hanan Morsy, Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Addis Ababa; “Development Narratives and the Political Economy of Development in Sub-Saharan Africa” by Prof. Stefan Dercon, Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom; “Accelerating Climate Action and Sustainable Development in Africa: Meeting the Financing Challenge” by Dr. Amar Bhattacharya, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, USA; and “External Shocks and Fiscal Space for Climate-Resilient Development in Sub-Saharan Africa” by Prof. Kevin Gallagher, Director of the Global Policy Center at Boston University.

Distinguished panelists in the policy roundtable included: Prof. Amanda Guimbeau from the University of Oxford and Fellow at Pembroke College, United Kingdom; Dr. Selma Karuaihe, Head and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension, and Rural Development, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Dr. Paul Mpuga, Country Chief Economist at the African Development Bank Group; and Prof. Amanda Guimbeau from the Département d’économie, Universite de Sherbrooke, Canada.

The concurrent and technical sessions of the workshop will take place from Tuesday, 23rd May 2023, to Monday, 29th May 2023. These sessions will feature 80 presentations covering research proposals, work in progress, final reports, and interim PhD thesis reports.