(AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK) - The African Development Bank’s research director, Dr. Hanan Morsy, reacts to the charge that “there is no reliable research” on the continent. Speaking on the sidelines of the African Economic Conference (AEC) taking place in Kigali, Rwanda, 3-5 December 2018, Morsy agrees that the role of research in regional integration has not in the past been given the importance it deserves. She emphasises the critical role African researchers will be playing in the next few years, and in particular how the Bank will help its regional member countries to translate research results into concrete actions for improved economic integration. She also notes that African researchers have increasingly had their work published in top-tier international journals on topics related to Africa’s development. “With some very talented researchers, the Bank has worked on some significant and compelling research themes,” Morsy told the Bank’s Communication Department.
Question: The continent’s integration agenda has been discussed for far too long. Do you think there is reliable research on the continent today?
Hanan Morsy: Given the importance of the topic for Africa’s development, I honestly think that we have not given the theme of regional integration the attention it truly deserves. This year’s Conference is only the second to discuss the issue of regional integration in Africa.
In general, Africa has not been best served when it comes to economic research, either by the global knowledge community, or by African researchers due to many constraints, but especially the availability of reliable and timely data on national economic and social statistics.
But there have been rapid improvements in recent years. Africa’s national statistic agencies are becoming better organised and equipped, and have started to collect reliable data on various aspects of the regional member countries’ economies, with the technical and financial support of partners such as the African Development Bank.
In addition, African researchers are also increasingly publishing their work in top-tier international journals on various topics related to Africa’s development, including regional integration. Although there is still a long way to go, we can commend African countries for the significant progress they have made so far to improve the reliability of data and the quality of research on the continent. African countries just need to keep the momentum going and improve their efforts to produce more reliable research.
Question: Everybody has a role to play, to support the integration process – policy makers, civil society organizations and the private sector. Would you agree with those who feel the Bank Group’s research department has not done much in this area? What is your take as the Bank’s research director?
Hanan Morsy: I can’t agree with the assertion that the Bank Group’s Research Department hasn’t done much to support Africa’s integration process.
The Department has enhanced the Bank’s policy advice to regional member countries on regional integration issues and in supporting the Bank’s Integrate Africa priority. Almost each year since its inception, the department has produced numerous high-quality publications and reports to inform the Bank and Africa’s policymakers on regional integration. For instance in 2014, one of the department’s flagship publications, the African Development Report, analysed the issues of Africa’s regional integration, demonstrating that regional integration was not an end in itself but an important means for enhancing growth and fostering inclusive policies.
The following year, another publication, the African Economic Outlook, featured regional development and spatial inclusion in Africa, reviewing Africa’s progress towards regional integration. These are just two examples of the department’s committed work in knowledge provision that have analysed different aspects of Africa’s regional integration issues.
This year’s African Economic Conference on regional and continental integration in Africa was organised under the leadership of the research department, together with the regional integration complex of the Bank. This is a good example of the active role and the leadership of the research department in supporting Africa’s integration process.
Question: To what extent would the Bank help African governments translate results of research into concrete actions for the continent’s transformation, given that national laws and administrative procedures continue to impose unnecessary restrictions, costs and delays to regional trade?
Hanan Morsy: One of the key constraints on Africa’s economic development and prosperity is the limited capacity of African governments to leverage knowledge to improve their policies. In line with its Ten-Year Strategy (2016-2025) and its High 5s, the Bank has implemented its new Development Business Delivery Model to enable, among others, the research department to deliver market-driven, higher quality policy-oriented research that reflects economic realities in the regional member countries.
This means that the research department is now working more closely not only with the Bank’s operational complexes but also with African governments to produce research from the regional member countries. The Bank has produced regional economic outlooks for each of its five regions, tailoring policy recommendations relevant to the realities of these regions. This collaborative spirit between the research department, African governments, and the Bank’s operational complexes will guide other flagship publications of the department such as the African Development Report and the African Competitiveness Report.
Question: Africa needs to move towards regional and continental integration for its development. What practical role can researchers play in the next couple of years to achieve this goal?
Hanan Morsy: With the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March 2018 in Kigali, the continent has reached an important milestone on the road to the economic integration of the continent. However, the implementation of the AfCFTA will not be easy for various reasons, including the lack of evidence-based knowledge of real benefits, costs, and the practical challenges of such an important trade agreement. This is where evidence-based policy advice comes in.
We have already witnessed the concerns of some African countries about signing the agreements, fearing the loss of national sovereignty. Additional challenges should be addressed such as important discrepancies in national laws and regulatory frameworks among signatory countries, questions of environmental depletion, and protection of intellectual property and the promotion of national enterprises.
Evidence-based research will help shed light on these issues and contribute to ensuring a smooth transition from a continent of fragmented trade areas to a single and common market. Researchers will inform policymakers on the best ways to harmonise their legislation with the AfCFTA agreements and support their firms – in particular the small and medium sized enterprises. As part of the Bank’s Integrate Africa priority, the research department has set regional integration among its core research pillars and plans to arrange several high-level policy dialogues on different issues related to Africa’s regional integration over the next few years. These dialogues will help to maintain the dynamic momentum of Africa’s continental integration.
Question: How would you describe the cooperation between the African Development Bank’s research department and African researchers as a whole?
Hanan Morsy: One of the core mandates of the department is to promote close collaboration, networking and partnerships with Africa’s research institutions. I am proud that the Bank’s research department cooperates regularly and well with African researchers and research institutions.
For example, we have a long track record of collaborations with the African Research Consortium, the Economic Research Forum and several universities, think tanks and economic associations from all over Africa.
Between 2016 and early 2018, as part of an agreement between the African Development Bank and the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), the research department hosted more than 30 young talented African researchers who spent three months in Abidjan conducting high-quality research under the mentorship of the department’s staff.
The objectives of this programme were to showcase the research activities done by the department and to improve the analytical skills of these young researchers in order to help them acquire state-of-the-art methodological expertise. The department also regularly uses the expertise of African universities and think tanks to draft chapters for its flagship publications such as the African Economic Outlook, the African Development Report, or the Bank’s Annual Report. Bank staff have also co-authored many publications with African researchers, including articles in peer-review journals, working papers, and policy briefs on Africa’s development.
Finally, the department often collaborates with African research institutions to conduct policy-relevant research on specific topics such as agriculture under the Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces project.