Creating the ADF


Africa’s economic performance, since the mid-1990s, has raised hopes of a possible turnaround, compared to the stagnation of the previous two decades. The new trend is largely credited to policy reforms and better governance, which are taking a hold in many countries, where improved confidence has translated into positive economic growth. Nevertheless this progress is still fragile, and the need to deepen, sustain and spread its benefits to more countries hardly needs debate. There is also evidence that in the global environment of the 21st Century, sustaining economic growth at levels adequate to address poverty will require more focused actions and concerted effort on the part of African development stakeholders. This will necessitate new forms of partnerships---partnerships where the Africans take the lead in forming a new, shared vision of the continent, setting the development agenda and implementing it with the appropriate support from the international community.

Considerable collaboration among African governments and their development partners—UN and other multilateral organizations, bilateral agencies and civil society—has taken place in the past. But as is now acknowledged by most parties, the Africa development agenda has evolved in a somewhat fragmented manner and largely reflects uncoordinated initiatives of different external agencies. Responding to this problem, the UN, through frameworks such as the Special Initiative for Africa (SIA) and the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), has sought to minimize program duplication and to tap synergies of its various agencies. But the OECD-DAC and the UN Secretary General’s reports, and the October 1998 address to the Board of Governors of the World Bank by its president--followed by his comprehensive development framework report 1-- remind us of the continuing need to effectively move away from a piecemeal approach to Africa’s development.

The key message in the above-mentioned reports is the emphasis on a more holistic, longer-term vision of an Africa-driven agenda that reflects a consensus among major partners to the continent’s development, each finding a niche on the basis of their respective comparative advantage. Thus a feeling of agreement appears to have emerged that a successful partnership in the way forward will be one where governments set priorities, articulate them, seek the best policy advice and bring the international community on board to support home-grown programs.

Where no common position has yet emerged is the process by which development goals are reached and an agenda for attaining them. Lack of such consensus has led, and continues to lead, to a proliferation of new individual agency initiatives towards this objective. Yet without clear leadership by Africa in this process, these efforts are not likely to yield durable relevant results. Moreover, experience has further shown that donor-driven forums on Africa tend to address multiple issues and set manifold goals, which become overwhelming and difficult to build a commitment to and to follow through. Priorities are often not clear, making implementation, beyond token reactions, difficult. By merely reacting to external initiatives, rather than driving the process, Africa may be unwittingly abandoning her legitimate responsibilities and negating the intended impact of aid. This is a deficiency that deserves urgent rectification.

In response to the above need, following consultations with a number of African governments, bilateral and multilateral partners, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in association with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) will create the Africa Development Forum (ADF). The Forum, to be convened biennially, will facilitate the process of consensus building towards a shared vision of the continent and the strategy and instruments for realizing that vision. It will bridge, and hopefully make unnecessary, the continued proliferation of new external agency-led initiatives towards this same goal—initiatives which, in any event, have proved difficult to translate into cohesive programs. It will also answer the call of the UN Secretary General to Africa’s regional institutions to take the lead in facilitating a well thought out and articulated development agenda for the continent, which is Africa-led and appropriately supported by the international community.


The overall objective is to facilitate a process of consensus building among the key stakeholders of African development—the African governments, civil society, researchers and academics, intergovernmental organizations and donors. We expect some 200 to 300 invited participants at each forum, which will be a clearinghouse of ideas towards the formulation of shared goals and priorities for the continent. The forum will result in sharply defined, time-bound actionable programs that can be implemented within the capacity of African countries. Because selected partners will be invited to participate in proceedings of the Forum, or its other activities, the Forum will facilitate donor contribution to consensus building. It will also enhance the donor community’s familiarity with African development aspirations and priorities, which will enable donor programs to be more responsive to locally determined needs. As a consequence, the Forum will bring cohesion in multi donor assistance programs and tap synergies of various agencies in support of Africa’s development.

Another objective of the Forum is to create a mechanism and process for linking African policy decision-makers with the best possible policy advice that is rooted in state-of-the art analytical work and relevant experiences of other decision-makers in Africa and overseas. Selected African research networks, and overseas institutions whose analytical work focuses on Africa, and prominent individual researchers, including visiting scholars engaged at ECA under a program to augment the Commission’s capacity, will be invited to sessions or working groups of the Forum. Through the Forum, their analytical work would be discussed directly in the context of its application and decision-making with respect to a theme selected for each Forum, thus enhancing the impact and relevance of research on the course of African development policies and programs. In the process, three related objectives could be realized. The Forum would create feedback loops to facilitate demand-driven inquiry within African research networks in response to policy-makers needs as articulated in the Forum. It would identify key areas of study that are likely to make the most contribution to addressing urgent development policy issues. It would also facilitate the participation of expatriate African expertise in the Diaspora in shaping the African development agenda.

Implementing the Forum’s Programs:

The Regional Forum will convene yearly and:

  • Focus on one selected theme—to be chosen through the consultative mechanism built in the Forum process.
  • Receive a report on the status of implementation of the work program agreed by the previous forum;
  • Discuss policy papers in various sessions and working groups as determined in each year’s forum format;
  • Draw up a time-bound action plan to implement its recommendations and a work program for the following year, which includes implementation and monitoring arrangements;
  • Ensure reflection of the regional action plan priorities in national plans and programs; and
  • Ensure that its work program calendar relates to those of the ECA and the OAU inter-governmental machinery, so as to maximize opportunities for contact with top government decision-makers. For example each forum will be arranged to coincide with the Conference of African Ministers responsible for either finance or economic and social development and planning.

To reflect the regional action plan priorities in national plans and programs, depending on the Forum’s theme, representatives of relevant national institutions will be invited to participate in the Forum’s proceedings. They will pursue country-specific policy interests at the regional forum and feed national concerns and perspectives into the regional forum’s deliberations and programs. They will have responsibility for incorporating the regional forum’s action agenda into their respective national work plans. Together with donors who have country focused support programs, they will be responsible for reflecting the ADF consensus in country level programs, including the assurance of public resource and aid allocations that are in line with the priorities identified in the forum. They will also subsequently report back to the Forum on the status of implementation of the programs.

The two-way relationship between the Regional Forum on the one hand and the national institutions and donors of relevance to a particular Forum theme will ensure exchange of information relevant to the country and regional agendas as well as implementation at the country level of regionally agreed programs. The first couple of forums and their themes will be a learning experience and will help establish the interface between the Regional Forum and country operations and the role country-level official and donor agency programs in implementing the vision of the Forum. To underscore the importance of the learning experience necessary and to recognize the evolutionary nature of the Regional Forum-country level interface, the first forum will feature a theme where the elements of this interface are better known to ECA2.

The underlying preparatory work will be undertaken and/or guided by the Forum’s Technical Advisory Committee (ADFTAC)—comprising seasoned policy researchers, policy practitioners and three eminent visiting scholars dedicated to these activities under the ECA multi-year Visiting Scholars’ Program3. The Committee may co-opt additional experts in its work depending on the theme of the forum and the task at hand. State of the art analytical work will underpin the consultations and policy position papers, which will be the basis for the discussions in the forum’s plenary and working group sessions. Before each forum, with ample lead-time, the ADFTAC will announce the Forum’s theme, commission the necessary research and policy position papers, along the theme and sub-themes of the forum. The Committee will also commence preparatory work in the countries where the national forum idea is to be introduced during the following year. The draft papers will be discussed and finalized at a second meeting of the ADPTAC prior to the forum. That meeting will also finalize the work program of the forum, defining the focus of the plenary sessions and the working groups. The working groups will identify the most important issues in particular sub-thematic areas and suggest concrete goals and time-bound actions that decision-makers should undertake in order to address the issues before the Forum.

The first ADF will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the United Nation’s Conference Center, in November 1999, on the theme: The challenge to Africa of Globalization and the Information Age4. The ADFTAC for the forum was constituted in February 1999. Intensive analytical research in the general theme and sub-themes is on-going and will produce policy position papers, which will be reviewed, discussed and finalized at a workshop of the ADFTAC and invited researchers, in August 1999. The workshop will also finalize the October 1999 forum work plan. At the conclusion of the forum, its recommendations will be presented by the Secretary General of the OAU to the Summit of Heads of State and Government for their consideration---a step necessary for support and effective implementation of the Forum’s action plans at the highest political level.

Summary of the Forum’s Broad Activities:

The Forum’s activities will be organized around the following components:

  1. The constitution of, and support to the Forum Secretariat, which will assume the planning and administrative responsibilities for the business of the Forum. The Forum Secretariat will initially comprise two higher level staff and one secretary.
  2. The constitution of, and support to the Technical Advisory Committee of the Africa Development Forum and the assignment of 3 eminent scholars in the ECA muti-year Visiting Scholars’ Program to the ADFTAC.
  3. The organization and conduct of the Technical Preparatory Workshops to guide research for the conference policy papers, review, discuss and finalize the draft policy papers and the conference work program.
  4. The researching and writing of the conference policy position papers
  5. The hosting and implementation of the forum and conference work program;
  6. The publication and dissemination of the Forum’s proceedings and policy papers in the Journal of the Africa Development Forum, to be launched on the occasion of the first forum.

Outcomes of the Forum Process:

The Forum is expected to enhance consensus on the direction and priorities of African development and the quality of policy advice available to African decision-makers. It will make unnecessary the multiple donor driven conferences in an effort to identify Africa’s development priorities—efforts that consume a lot of time and other resources of institutions and top officials, and lead to unclear priorities and programs that are difficult to implement. Because the Forum will focus on one theme each time, it will result in fewer program objectives and time-bound action plans that can be followed through at the country level by the relevant national agencies with appropriate donor support. The specificity of the Forum’s agenda and action plans auger well for implementation within the capabilities of African countries. For example, the 1999 ADF activities, which focus only on globalization and the information age, will identify specific, feasible, phased and agreed monitor-able actions to accelerate implementation of the African Information Society Initiative, which was launched by the African Ministers responsible for Economic and Social Development and Planning in 1996.

The forum will promote indigenous solutions to policy problems and African ownership of policy programs. It will focus external support for Africa’s development on Africa’s own programs, thereby improving aid effectiveness and policy outcomes. Bringing research networks, policy analysis centres and policy practitioners together in the ADF process, and linking them to decision-makers develops a two-way bridge between policy-making and research, thus promoting demand-driven, policy-relevant inquiry among institutions that now focus on what is commonly referred to as "academic" research. The Forum will facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences and strengthen networks and relationships.

The sharing of information and best practices with non-forum participants will be accomplished through the dissemination of conference proceedings and the Journal of the Africa Development Forum. By facilitating the process of learning from each other among decision-makers, researchers and donors, the Forum will enhance the effectiveness of each of these constituencies in contributing to Africa’s development.

The project time frame is three years. Additional details on the project are contained in the full project document and will also be available in the implementation manual.



1. Shaping the 21st Century, OECD-DAC, 1996; The Causes of Conflict and the promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development—Report of the UN Secretary General to the Security Council, 16 April 1998; A Proposal for a Comprehensive Development Framework (A Discussion Draft)—Report by World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn to The Board, Management, and Staff of the World Bank, January, 1999.

2. Under the African Information Society Initiative, the relationship between the Partnership for Information Communication Technologies (PICTA) and its technical advisory committee (ATAC) on the one hand, and country-level programs on the other, is quite well established.

3. This program will be funded under a separate proposal "Strengthening Development Policy Analysis and Decision-making in Africa through Research Partnerships and Networks"

4. See footnote 2.