Africa Policy Network Inaugural Symposium

April 23, 2024

Last Friday, on April 19th, 2024, the Africa Policy Network, a Princeton student organization led by Funke Aderonmu, MPA ‘24, and Nick Brown, MPA '25, hosted its inaugural policy symposium. Held at the newly established Washington, D.C. office of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, the event was a collaborative effort with the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy & Finance (JRCPPF), focusing on the theme of “Financing Sustainable, Inclusive, and Rapid Growth in Africa.”

The symposium featured distinguished speakers and Princeton alumni: Professor Shantayanan Devarajan ‘75 from Georgetown University, James Ladi Williams ‘18; associate consultant at McKinsey & Company; Jane Rhee ‘06, chief of staff at the U.S. Development Finance Corporation; and Darius Nassiry ‘96, vice-president for climate, resilience, and sustainability at WSP. Over two panel sessions, the speakers and attendees delved into the intricacies of mobilizing finance to drive climate adaptation and foster inclusive economic growth across the African continent.

Following a welcome by JRCPPF director Atif Mian, symposium organizer Funke Aderonmu, MPA ‘24, laid out the challenges facing African countries. Although the region has had high average rates of economic growth over the past two decades, that growth has not been equitable. The continent has an overwhelmingly young and poor population that is set to double by 2050. She noted that many African governments are struggling with domestic insecurity, climate vulnerability, limited fiscal capacity, and debt distress, all while attempting to pursue the twin goals of growth and sustainability.

Funke Aderonmu

In the first session moderated by Lilian Best, MPP ‘24, Devarajan and Williams began with a discussion of what defines inclusive growth in Africa.  Both panelists articulated that growth is inclusive when the most marginalized sectors of society actively participate in both driving growth in the economy (ex. through decent employment) and reaping the benefits of economic growth. Devarajan noted that inclusive growth is further evidenced when the income of the bottom 40% of the population rises at a pace faster than the national average, thus reducing inequality. Williams highlighted the importance of effective policy and regulatory frameworks, or what some might call institutions, along with the right incentives to enable governments to invest in their populations and deliver growth. Both agreed that these measures are necessary ingredients for ensuring that the benefits of external investment and financing reach the poorest Africans.

(L-R) Lilian Best, Shanta Devarajan, James Ladi Williams

The second session, moderated by Zama Ngawne, MPP ‘25,  examined the challenges of securing adequate climate financing for Africa.  Rhee and Nassiry highlighted the inherent tradeoffs involved in funding climate-related projects, which necessitate rigorous diligence processes to meet environmental and social standards. However, meeting these standards is necessarily time-consuming which means projects may not be implemented at a fast enough pace to be responsive to rising climate risks. Attendees also posed questions concerning the implications of a just energy transition for Africa and the relevance of promoting climate mitigation strategies, considering the region's modest contribution of only 3% to global greenhouse gas emissions.

(L-R) Zama Ngwane, Darius Nassiry, Jane Rhee

A recurring theme across both sessions was the prevailing perceptions of risk associated with investing in Africa–the notion that a coup in Mali affects the risk associated with investing in Tanzania. Panelists advocated for a more nuanced approach that acknowledges the diverse economic, political, and regulatory landscapes across African nations, challenging the monolithic view often held by private creditors. Another cross-cutting point was that unlocking inclusive economic growth will require not only ramping up investment but also broad structural transformation to channel financing to the most productive sectors. Lastly, Nassiry encouraged students to think boldly and innovatively as future leaders, about reshaping the global, multilateral financial architecture to tackle the challenges of sustainable development. “These Bretton Woods institutions were not always here and may not serve to address the challenges of today or tomorrow,” he said. “People like you built them, and you can build new institutions better fit for purpose.” 


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