High-level conference on the Sustainable Development Goals: Africa's perspective


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

New York, 28 September 2015

(As prepared for delivery)



Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


On Saturday, leaders laid out the foundation for a sustainable future: they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Today, the work of achieving those goals begins. And I am certain of this: Africa will play a make-or-break role in how the SDG story plays out. Under the leadership of the African Union, Africans have already adopted their own development roadmap. From Agenda 2063 and its implementation plan to the Common African Position, Africans have spoken with one voice in designing their own development milestones within the global development agenda.


So, I very much welcome this conversation. The OECD, including our Development Centre, is proud of our strong partnerships throughout the continent. In about a week, we will mark the first anniversary of the signature with Chairperson Zuma, whom I am glad to see here, of the Memorandum of Understanding between the African Union Commission and the OECD. We are already delivering on many commitments of this MoU, from the Africa Forum we just held in Berlin to our joint work on global value chains, natural resources and revenue statistics. We have worked also with the African Development Bank—and more recently the United Nations Development Programme—in producing our African Economic Outlook.


Later today, Mario Pezzini will present the Outlookthe 15th of its kind. I think this year’s Outlook sheds light on some of the most urgent challenges standing in the way of opportunity.


First, consider the challenge of demography and employment. Between now and 2030, as the report shows, on average 29 million young people will be entering the labour force each year, looking for jobs. Creating those jobs requires competitive companies on the demand side and the right skills on the supply side. From dialogue on participating in global value chains to work on youth inclusion, the OECD offers lessons and tools to support policy makers.


Second, consider the challenge of space. This year’s Outlook looks closely at promoting a more inclusive development process—one that does not leave rural areas behind and creates conditions to benefit from Africa’s demographic transition. We found that regional development strategies can leverage the immense potential of Africa’s spaces. These include natural and cultural endowments that hold great potential for developing eco-tourism. They include the agricultural produce in protected geographical areas that could be transformed successfully into exports. Not to mention the untapped potential for renewable energy or the continent’s vast reserves of labour and land that can be mobilised to feed fast-growing urban markets.


Third, the challenge of climate change is part and parcel of Africa’s demographic and economic transition. Africa did little to exacerbate this problem, but it will bear a great share of the consequences. 60% of the continent‘s urban population live in low elevation coastal zones and are vulnerable to rising sea levels and frequent floods brought on by climate change. The OECD continues to press for credible and predictable climate policies toward zero net greenhouse emissions globally. When the Paris Conference is held later this year, we want to hear from Africa about its concerns and proposals. And we stand ready to put our expertise at your disposal.


I could mention other pressing challenges such as gender discrimination, access to and quality of education and health systems, deficient private investment or the infrastructure gap, but let me close by stressing Africa’s challenges around domestic resource mobilisation. At the end of the day,that is what development is dependent on. And while the average African tax revenue as a share of GDP has been increasing since the early 1990s, this positive trend has been driven largely by natural resources-related tax revenues. (As Mexico’s former Minister of Finance, I know too well the challenges of such dependence.)So, how can African governments generate more revenue from corporate and personal income taxes? 


The key pillar of our support is to strengthen domestic tax collection. Back in July in Addis we launched with UNDP the Tax initiative, which already during its pilot phase has helped African nations recover millions of dollars of tax revenue. And we plan to launch the first edition of Revenue Statistics in Africa early next year jointly with the African Union, the African Development Bank and the African Tax Administration Forum. Comparable data on public revenues and taxes will provide governments with critical information to better mobilise domestic resources.


Our efforts to tackle tax evasion and avoidance are also critical. More than 60 countries, including many African nations, are involved in initiatives such as the automatic exchange of information and the G20/OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project, to put an end to double non-taxation.


Ladies and Gentlemen, Africa’s future depends above all on the good steering of policymakers, creating the right conditions for its population to thrive. The OECD puts at Africa’s disposal its toolbox of indicators, policy analysis and discussion fora to help you tackle the challenges ahead. We offer you a stronger partnership to support the wellbeing of your citizens.


As the old African proverb says: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.


Together, let’s go far in delivering better policies for better lives in Africa and beyond.