"Those who do not trade with their neighbours, trade their neighbours," Dr. Kituyi told an audience of over 200 officials from governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and the private sector.
In his keynote address at a high-level panel discussion on development in Africa, Dr. Kituyi took stock of the progress that African nations had made since the African Union - then called the Organization for African Unity - was founded in 1963.
"There is much to celebrate," remarked Dr. Kituyi. "Since the year 2000, African countries have achieved average growth of almost 5 per cent." He said that even after the global financial and economic crisis, Africa had regained nearly the same growth rate.
Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, Geneva, 16 Oct 2013
From Right: Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi (UNCTAD Secretary-General), Mr. Michel Sidibe (Executive Secretary of UNAIDS) and Ms. Dlamini-Zuma (Chairperson of the AU Commission)
Africa was one of the few regions to register an increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in 2012, but these went mainly into the commodities sector, and were driven by increased demand in Asian economies. Dr. Kituyi remarked that there was no reason for complacency. He said that most of the profits from these opportunities were concentrated in the extractive industries, which partly explained why Africa's growth over the last decade had been "largely jobless".
"Comparatively few new employment opportunities have arisen over the past 10 years; Africa's labour force has grown by 91 million people, while only 37 million jobs in wage-paying sectors have been created." Dr. Kituyi pointed out that solving the problem of commodity dependence faced by many developing countries was one of the reasons why UNCTAD was created, one year after the Organization of African Unity. It was a key challenge for UNCTAD that 50 years later, and "even after a decade of economic expansion", the number of countries relying on exports of primary commodities for over 50 per cent of their export revenues had actually increased.
"We must find innovative ways of encouraging countries to use the current windfall gains to strengthen other sectors," he said. He praised the African Union for its strengthened attention to economic issues. The recent commitment by Heads of State and Government to the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade, including by fast-tracking the establishment of a continental pan-African free trade area by 2017, was a constructive step. Strong trade relations between neighbours reduced the chances of conflict and could help bring peace to troubled areas of the continent.
Dr. Kituyi spoke of the urgency of stemming the rise in inequality, which, combined with mass youth unemployment, was threatening to create an "explosive mix" that could undermine social cohesion and development progress. One third of Africa's labour force is below the age of 25, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The recent tragedy near the Italian island of Lampedusa made it even more pressing to address this problem. More than 300 migrants travelling from North Africa to Europe had died after their boat capsized. "We cannot allow international waters to become a cemetery for African youth," he said.
The panel discussion was chaired by Mr. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. Statements were made by Professor Théophile Obenga, State Minister, Republic of Congo; Mr. Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre; Father Godfrey Nzamujo, Director of the Songhai Centre, Benin; Judge Fatsah Ouguergouz, former Vice-President of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights; Mr. Jean Ziegler, Member of the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council; and Ms. Angélique Kidjo, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and international music star.
The other speakers on the panel echoed Dr. Kituyi's view that while there had been areas of great progress, including in primary education, and in combating HIV/AIDS, a lot more work was needed, particularly to provide jobs for African youth, improve regional cooperation, invest in higher education and innovation, and improve the lives of the poorest.