A Year Like No Other: ACET’s 2020 in Review

December 23, 2020
Introduction: The African Center for Economic Transformation has had quite an eventful year, although not as anticipated. While some of our most important products and activities had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic— including the latest edition of the flagship African Transformation Report (ATR) and the third African Transformation Forum—we adapted, along the rest of the world. Despite the disruption, ACET has worked as hard as ever to promote ACET’s economic transformation by informing policy, supporting policymakers, and galvanizing action through many diverse events, studies, and publications 

Going forward, all those with a role to play in African development—in government, business, and civil society—face tough challenges. Working together, we can strive to ensurAfrica recaptures the gains that have been lost and stays firmly on the path to sustainable, inclusive development. 

Below we offer a roundup of some of ACET’s notable contributions in 2020, before a short preview of what’s to come next year. 

New research on financial inclusion is published 

ACET opened the year with the release of findings from a three-country financial inclusion studyPromoting FinancialInclusion of Women and Youth for Entrepreneurship and Job Creation: A Comparative Study of Selected Sub-Saharan African CountriesResearchers conducted the study in 2018 and 2019. The synthesis reportas well as the individual country reports for the three countries studied—GuineaSierra Leone, and Zambia —were published in the first quarter of 2020. 

According to the research, major barriers still threatened women and youths’ financial inclusion, including cultural and social norms that shape women’s access to and control of resources and lack of assets for collateral. However, the study found that mobile devices were promising enablerof access to financial services.

Download the full report here

Transformation Leadership Panel (TLP) convenes throughout year 

The TLPan ACET initiative, is comprised of more than a dozen eminent leaders in the public and private sectors from around the world, all committed to supporting policies and actions to drive transformation. Launched in 2019, the panel convened a few times this year, but just once in person. In February, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) hosted the TLP at its headquarters in Addis Ababa for their first meeting of yearMembers of the panel, including Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the ECA, discussed how to ensure a coordinated approach to addressing Africa’s many development challenges. 

TLP members met in Addis Ababa in February to discuss more coordinated approaches to policy action and support. 


While in Addis Ababathe ACET delegation, led by President and Founder Dr. K.Y. Amoako, was received by Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde at her official residence 

K.Y. Amoako meets Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde

Dr. Amoako also had the opportunity to present copies of his newly published book, Know the Beginning Well, to members of the TLP at a dinner hosted by Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. 

K.Y. Amoako presents copies of his book to Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

After the pandemic for many scheduled events online, the TLP convened two virtual meetings: in May to discuss policy priorities for Africa’s post-COVID19 recovery, and in November to take stock of global efforts to support Africa’s pandemic response, including efforts made by panel members’ organizations. 

Watch a short video on the TLP’s February meeting below

Key policy priorities for Africa’s COVID-19 recovery are outlined 

The pandemic has severely strained African economies, threatening to undermine decades of progress and jeopardize long-term goals, including economic transformation. In line with our goal to provide evidence-based recommendations to policymakers, ACET in May published a major policy paper: “COVID-19: Ten Policy Priorities for Africa’s Recovery, Growth, and Transformation”. 

The premise of the paper: certain policy measures, if prioritized, can help economies rebound more quickly after the immediate crisis and keep the transformation agenda on track. The recommendations cover four main areasresource mobilization and management; governance, effectiveness and transparency; business and investment environment; and digital innovation and entrepreneurship. 

“Even after the immediate crisis abates and the necessary economic and social adjustments are made,” the paper argues, “African governments and their development partners must ensure that Africa’s transformation agenda—which is critical to the continent’s long-term sustainable and equitable growth—is not permanently derailed.” 

The policy recommendations were met with broad approval and endorsed by the leadership of numerous development organizations, including the World Bank, African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), and Mastercard Foundation, among others. More importantly, policymakers took notice.  

Working in collaboration with the World Bank’s Chief Economists of Government networkACET surveyed 40 African governments and received numerous responses highlighting local priorities among the paper’s recommendations. Subsequently, the Government of Germany provided resources for ACET and the Bank to launch a recovery program to take the recommendations forward. As of December 2020, almost half a dozen countries had indicated high levels of interest. 

Download the full report here

ACETIMF partner for COVID-19 webinar  

In July, ACET formally entered the world of webinars by hosting a virtual discussion around its post-pandemic policy recommendations for Africa’s recovery, growth and transformation. The webinar provided an opportunity to bring other stakeholders into the discussion, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Abebe Aemro Selassie, IMF African Department Director, was featured as special guest. Other panelists included K.Y. Amoako, ACET Executive Vice President Mavis Adu-Gyamfi, and Benno Ndulu, former governor of the Bank of Tanzania.

Watch the ACET-IMF webinar below

Policy engagement platform for farmers is launched 

ACET unveiled the Smallholder Voices Portal in July with a clear objective: to give all those in Africa’s agricultural value chain, especially farmers, a greater opportunity to join in—and influence—national policy dialogues. The portal is designed to act as a policy marketplace where smallholder farmers, academics, and policymakers can connect and discuss relevant and pressing issues—and ensure inclusion in policy design and implementation in the agricultural sector 

There are an estimated 33 million smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 80 percent of all farms in the region, and contributing up to 90 percent of food production in some Sub-Saharan African countries. It is therefore key that the voices of these smallholder farmers are represented in policy making. 

The portal was created as part of a broader ACET program to support African governments and stakeholders in crafting informed policy to advance agricultural transformation. It also offers best practice case studies curated by ACET. 

Watch the launch below

ACETOECD join forces on African infrastructure study 

The African Development Bank estimates Africa’s infrastructure needs to be between $130 and $170 billion per year. However, financing for African infrastructure currently falls short by between $68 billion and $108 billion per year. This sobering data underscored the July launch of an ACET study produced in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)Infrastructure for 21st Century Africa: Accelerating and Scaling up Quality Infrastructure in Africa 

The report was released at a July 9 high-level launch event held online. It marked the culmination of the first phase of a collaborative initiative between the OECD and ACET that dated back to the 2018 International Economic Forum on Africa, held in Paris. 

The report argues that traditional business models for project development have failed to deliver the infrastructure needed to match Africa’s demographic growth and urbanization. It identifies the bottlenecks to infrastructure development and proposes key mechanisms for the way forward. 

Download the full report here

ACET takes an in-depth look at getting schools and skills right 

Africa’s working age population is expected to reach 600 million in 2030, with a youth share of 37 percent—bigger than that in China. With the right combination of education, training, and sound industrial policy, Africa’s youth could be a great asset for the continent’s development and economic transformation. But the challenges are large. 

In September, ACET published a four-part series  SchoolsSkills and Jobs  that took an in-depth look at the intersection of secondary education, economic transformation, and the future of work in Africa. The series drew from earlier research that ACET produced as a collaborative input for a major education study for the Mastercard Foundation. That report, Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work, was released in August.  

Published as an online exclusive on ACET’s website, the series was subsequently picked by selected African publications, including the Business and Financial Times and Business24 

Read the series
Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 

Africa’s first ‘AI challenge’ for infrastructure is launched

In December, ACET and Omdena, a collaborative technology platform, launched a global challenge that aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict future infrastructure needs in Africa. This project, the Omdena Challenge, is the first attempt in Africa to harvest data comprehensively to improve infrastructure.

The challenge consists of 42 data scientists from 20 countries working as a global together. Together, participants will work to develop new predictive models, approaches, tools, and methodologies that African governments and development partners can deploy to better anticipate—and address—the continent’s growing demand for quality infrastructure.

Find out more here

Convening for Africa’s transformationnotable workshops and meetings 

Despite the increased challenges posed by the pandemic, ACET still worked closely with its partners to connect policymakers and stakeholders around important transformation issues. Workshops and meetings are central to ACET’s advocacy work, and the following events helped move many projects and initiatives forward. 

Digitalization: EU-AU dialogues 

ACET convened four virtual expert meetings in May and June on digitalization as part of its ongoing work to better inform European Union-African Union collaboration. The meetings brought together think tanks and academics from Africa and Europe to share their perspectives on an EU-AU digital partnership, with the aim of highlighting areas of opportunities, common objectives, and mutual interests. 

The initiative is in partnership with the German Development Institute Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and the European Center for Development Policy and Management (ECDPM) and supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

Gender: OSIWA employment project  

In July, ACET hosted a virtual inception meeting of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) project “Removing Barriers to Women’s Employment in The Future World of Work”. This event brought together more than 50 experts on gender, financial inclusion, and employment to provide expert views on actions to take in support of improving job opportunities for women. 

Economic Growth: STEG meetings 

In August, ACET held the inception meeting for the Structural Transformation and Economic Growth (STEG) project being conducted in four countries: Ghana, Zambia, Ethiopia and Uganda. The primary goal of the project is to provide a better understanding of structural change, productivity and growth in low- and middle-income countries.  

The inception meeting was followed by smaller country-level workshops in September and October targeted at senior policymakers, at the level of director or above, to focus on the relevance of research themes and questions in relation to individual country circumstances.  

Agriculture: OSF validation workshops 

ACET held two virtual validation workshops in October to share and review preliminary findings of the Smallholder Voices in Policy Discourse Market Linkages Study–Ghana Report and Smallholder Voices in Policy Discourse Market Linkages Study–Kenya Report. The two-country study is part of a current project on smallholder farmers being conducted by ACET in partnership with the Open Society Foundations (OSF).  

The project also includes the Global Scan and Smallholder Voices Portal. The workshops brought together dozens of agriculture experts and policymakers in both countries to discuss ways to improve market access for smallholders, through innovation and improved policy actions. In 2021, ACET will produce a combined synthesis report and hold a policy-learning event to promote the findings to a broader audience. 

Watch highlights from the Ghana workshop below

Jobs & Skills: Multi-country validation workshops

ACET is conducting a six-country study on improving education to better prepare Africa’s young people for the future of work, especially in regards to the rapid changes being brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The study, Strengthening Education and Learning Systems to Deliver a 4IR-Ready Workforce, includes Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Rwanda, and Uganda.

ACET completed data collection and review of the first draft of reports for each country and also organized in-country, virtual validation workshops in each location except Ghana, which will be held in 2021. This study will build on ACET’s increasing research around African youth, employment, and skills, which is being conducted in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation.

Advocating for Africa’s transformation: notable external engagements

With more than 30 technical and policy experts on staff, ACET was honored to contribute to numerous policy discussions and events in support of Africa’s transformation, including the following.

FERDI webinar. ACET Senior Fellow Chux Daniels joined the September discussion on digital trust and the provision of basic services in Africa. The webinar was the first in a series to be organized by FERDI to share findings from its work in this space.

Watch the webinar below

Brazil Africa Forum 2020.Organizers of this November forum, which featured more than 14 hours of livestreamed events in multiple languages, asked ACET to participate via video showcase. We used the opportunity to highlight our work and policy recommendations for Africa’s post-COVID-19 recovery, growth and transformation.

Watch the showcase video below

IAS Bristol webinar. The University of Bristol’s International Affairs Society (IAS)in November hosted Dr. Edward K. Brown, ACET’s Senior Director of Research and Policy, and Richmond Commodore, ACET Research Analyst, for a discussion on COVID-19 and its economic impact on Africa. 

Watch the webinar here
CDE webinar. As part of a webinar series on the informal sectorthe Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) hosted Dr. Brown to discuss emerging enterprises and economic inclusion in countries in south, east, and west Africa. The discussion focused on the most effective way to strengthen small, mostly informal firms with growth potential.
Watch a related video below

Know the Beginning Well: ACET president publishes historical memoir

According to a favored African proverb of ACET President and Founder K.Y. Amoako, “if you know the beginning well, the end shall not trouble you.” That proverb provided the motivation—and supplied the title—for the historical memoir Dr. Amoako published in MarchKnow the Beginning Well: An Inside Journey Through Five Decades of African Development

A sweeping account of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes tales from morethan 50 years of Africa’s development history, the book earned strong review in the press and from global leaders. Former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called it a “musread for every development professional, young or old.”

Throughout the year, Dr. Amoako participated in several events to discuss the book and share his thoughts on the ways in which Africa’s past successes and failures can better inform future actions. In September, for example, the World Bank’s 1818 Society hosted a webinar in which Dr. Amoako was joined by Madame Johnson Sirleaf as well as the Bank’s Africa Region Chief Economist Albert Zeufack and former Africa Region Vice PresidentJean-LouisSarbib.

Watch the 1818 Society webinar below
Read more about the book and watch other videos here

Buy a copy of the book from Amazon

Looking ahead to 2021

ACET will publish the next edition of its flagship African Transformation Report (ATR) in early 2021. Titled Integrating to Transform, the ATR will explore the critical need for African countries to pursue greater economic integration not only to accelerate transformation but also to foster the relationships and mechanisms to tackle regional and global issues where single-country solutions would be inadequate. Examples include Africa’s demographic bulge, innovation policy, climate change, and, most immediately, the COVID-19 pandemic.

To accompany the release of Integrating to Transform, ACET will convene a third African Transformation Forum (ATF), this time as a virtual event. The ATFs are a premier opportunity for all development stakeholders, from heads of state and policymakers to business CEOs and civil society, to come together and collaborate on specific actions to take in support of economic transformation. The virtual ATF will be followed by a series of “deep-dive” webinars focusing on each of the big-picture issues featured in the ATR.

Later in 2021, ACET will also release an updated African Transformation Index (ATI). The ATI is a tool to help African policymakers see how their countries are transforming. It provides a public barometer of transformation progress—a way to measure whether country leaders are following through on their commitments and transformation strategies. The updated ATI will extend the coverage to 48 countries and cover the years 1998-2019.

In addition to these core products, ACET will also continue to publish unique research and analysis—including an essay series on COVID-19 recovery measures in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute—and convene leading experts—including a webinar series on financing and investment in partnership with the Center for Global Development—taccelerate Africa’s transformation agenda in 2021, and beyond.


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