United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

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The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN) in 1958 as one of the UN's five regional commissions. ECA's mandate is to promote the economic and social development of its member States, foster intra-regional integration, and promote international cooperation for Africa's development.

ECA's dual role as a regional arm of the UN, and a part of the regional institutional landscape in Africa, positions it well to make unique contributions to member States' efforts to address their development challenges. Its strength derives from its role as the only UN agency mandated to operate at the regional and subregional levels to harness resources and bring them to bear on Africa's priorities.

ECA's work programme now focuses on achieving results in two related and mutually supportive areas:

  1. Promoting Regional Integration in support of the African Union vision and priorities. ECA's support to the implementation of AUC's regional integration agenda focuses on undertaking research and policy analysis on regional integration issues, strengthening capacity and providing technical assistance to institutions driving the regional integration agenda, including strengthening and supporting the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and working on a range of trans-boundary initiatives and activities in sectors vital to the regional integration agenda.
  2. Meeting Africa's special needs and emerging global challenges. ECA recognizes the importance of focusing attention on Africa's special needs, particularly within the context of achieving the MDGs. In this regard, ECA places emphasis on supporting efforts to eradicate poverty, placing African countries on the path of growth and sustainable development, reversing the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process, and accelerating the empowerment of women. It aims to provide significant technical support to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and also to promote peer learning and knowledge sharing in a range of development areas.

Within these two pillars, the Commission focuses on the following thematic areas:

  • Regional Integration, Trade and Infrastructure
  • Meeting the MDGs with a special emphasis on Poverty Reduction and Growth, Sustainable Development and Gender
  • Promoting Good Governance and Popular Participation
  • ICT, Science and Technology for Development
  • Statistics and Statistical Development
  • The choice of activities to be undertaken under each thematic cluster is based on the demand expressed by member *States and the RECs in various forums as well as on the specific competencies of ECA.

In that context, the focus of ECA service delivery is at the regional and sub-regional levels with the Commission's 5 Sub-Regional Offices (SROs) each taking the lead in their respective sub-regions.

At the regional level, the thrust of ECA activities is predominantly focused in two areas. First, ECA aims to play a significant role in monitoring and reporting on the progress being made by the Continent on meeting global and continental commitments thus supporting progress in mutual accountability. Second, ECA aims to continue its significant contribution in the area of advocacy and consensus building, including developing common positions to give the Continent a stronger voice in global forums.

With regard to sub-regional activities, particular emphasis is now placed on advisory services and technical assistance aimed at building the capacity of the RECs to implement their agendas and, particularly, to promote regional integration.

ECA deploys several modalities and services to support its member States : policy analysis and advocacy; enhancing partnerships; technical assistance; communication and knowledge sharing; and supporting subregional activities.

  • Policy Analysis and Advocacy
  • Enhancing Partnerships
  • Technical Assistance
  • Communication and Knowledge Sharing
  • Supporting Sub-regional Activities
  • Regional Economic Communities (RECs)

Policy Analysis and Advocacy[edit]

Policy relevant analytical work is central to the overall work of ECA. Drawing on this work, the Commission serves as a policy advocate on critical development issues, to encourage the initiatives and reforms necessary for economic and social advancement in Africa. Advocacy is focused on internal as well as external constituencies. Within Africa, it involves promotion of sound policies and dissemination of best practices in economic and social development.

An important part of ECA's advocacy work is fostering regional cooperation and integration, by helping member States strengthen intra-regional linkages and helping establish and strengthen sub-regional organizations and institutions. To deliver these services, ECA systematically draws upon the work of other sources of knowledge and expertise, as contributors to its analytical work, as peer reviewers of work in progress, as hubs for dissemination of completed work, and as agents for policy advocacy. National and regional African research institutions, African researchers, and development professionals are notable examples of this outreach.

ECA's policy and analytical work is featured in publications such as the annual Economic Report on Africa (ERA) , which features an assessment of the performance and sustainability of African economies, and is a key instrument for policy dialogue.

Enhancing Partnerships[edit]

While ECA is uniquely qualified to serve Africa in certain areas, it is fully aware that it lacks the capacity to address the full range of development challenges on its own. As such, partnership based on comparative advantage and pooling of resources has always been recognized as being critical to maximizing impact on African development. The Commission has progressively strengthened its partnership agenda with a wide spectrum of constituencies both within and outside the continent.

  • ECA plays a critical role in helping build consensus around key African development challenges and in articulating common African perspectives and positions, which then form the basis for engagement with the international community. Its mandate and ability to convene senior policy makers and other development stakeholders is pivotal in ensuring this role. In recent years, the annual Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development has been transformed from a process-oriented legislative meeting into a high-level, issues-based forum dedicated to thematic debate and discussion.
  • The African Development Forum (ADF) , created by ECA in 1999, is another key modality for establishing an African-driven development agenda that reflects consensus among major partners. ADF allows for participation by a whole spectrum of development actors, including African governments, research networks, civil society organizations, international partners, and the private sector. It creates a mechanism and process for linking African policy decision-makers with the best possible advice, rooted in state-of-the-art analytical work and lessons learned. ADF is designed to generate sharply defined, time-bound, actionable programmes that can be implemented within the capacity of African countries.
  • The African Learning Group on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP-LG) meets annually to facilitate systematic information sharing among African countries on their experiences with poverty reduction strategies, identify best practices and outstanding challenges to implementation, and promote peer learning and African ownership of the poverty reduction strategies.
  • Another key consensus building forum is the ECA/Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Consultation known as "The Big Table" . Started in 2000, a small group of African Ministers of Finance gather with their OECD counterparts from Development Cooperation Ministries for an informal, frank and open meeting.
  • To inform ECA 's work on an ongoing basis, and as result of a concerted effort to streamline its policymaking bodies, the Commission convenes Committee meetings on the following themes: Women and Development; Development Information; Sustainable Development; Human Development and Civil Society; and Trade and Regional Cooperation and Integration. These meetings attract policy makers, as well as other leading development actors, to inform and guide ECA's work on specific themes. Similar Committee meetings are organized by the Commission's five sub-regional offices to ensure coherence. Other smaller expert-level meetings are also organized on an ongoing basis to share norms, standards and best practices, and to engage in advocacy.
  • Towards improving coherence and synergies in the UN, particularly around the system's response to NEPAD, ECA also convenes the Annual Regional Consultations of UN Agencies Working in Africa . The consultations, which bring together all UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes working on Africa, provide a forum for information-sharing as well as enhanced collaboration in Africa.
  • To deepen its work on mutual accountability and policy coherence, ECA continues to work closely with the OECD on the operationalisation of a mechanism for joint reviews to monitor development effectiveness , drawing on the conceptual framework already prepared by the two institutions and submitted to the NEPAD governing committee. These reviews are looking at trends in quality and quantity of official development assistance to Africa, the coherence of partner policies on aid, trade and debt.
  • Civil society organizations (CSOs) add value to ECA's work by helping to form the Commission's strategic programmatic focus, develop aspects of ECA's analytical work, review ongoing work to ensure relevance, disseminate ECA policy findings, undertake policy advocacy in support of positions developed by ECA or jointly, and build the capacity of selected African policymakers. The Commission ensures CSO participation in all its major meetings.

Technical Assistance[edit]

To help design and implement policies and programmes aimed at meeting clearly defined development goals, ECA provides technical assistance and policy advice to African countries and the regional economic communities (RECs). The assistance is delivered through a variety of tools, including on-demand regional advisory services, training workshops and seminars, and fellowship and internship programmes involving visiting scholars and researchers.

In providing this assistance, and in addition to its core analytical staff, the Commission draws on a specialist pool of regional advisers, who provide specific policy advice on demand. To streamline ECA's work towards greater strategic impact, regional advisory services have been focused on a few key areas: gender and development; information and communications technologies (ICTs) for development; the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and poverty reduction; public finance management; trade promotion and negotiation; and water.

Communication and Knowledge Sharing[edit]


Addressing Africa's development challenges requires the full participation of all stakeholders in national decision-making and development planning. ECA aims to engage with the full range of African development stakeholders, based on its policy analytical work through the dissemination of policy knowledge in printed form as well as electronically, with value-added products being developed, such as radio programmes and CD-ROMs. The Commission continues to empower African communicators, including media practitioners, by building their capacity through issues-based training programmes and participation in major forums such as the ADF.

Thematic Networks[edit]

ECA works with the academic community, research institutions, issues-based networks, CSOs, Diaspora institutions, and other knowledge hubs to ensure that ECA's policy analytical work is based on the highest available quality, is policy relevant and is proactively shared. For instance, a knowledge-based network has been designed to strengthen knowledge sharing among a community of PRSP country teams.

Supporting Sub-regional Activities[edit]

An important objective for the Commission is to help harmonize national policies in various sectors in support of integration efforts, and to strengthen the regional economic communities as building blocks for the AU.

Subregional Coordination[edit]

ECA 's five sub-regional offices (SROs) serve as vital links between policy-oriented analytical work generated at headquarters and policy making at the sub-regional level. They undertake sub-regional preparation for major regional forums, such as the ADF, and spearhead sub-regional follow-up of global conferences. They also serve as hubs for the dissemination of ECA's policy analytical work-employing workshops, training, data collection and knowledge sharing. Special attention is being paid to issues that straddle boundaries, such as HIV/AIDS, gender mainstreaming, ICTs for development, and the MDGs.

Regional Economic Communities (RECs)[edit]

The RECS are ECA 's main clients at the sub-regional level. As such, the Commission and its SROs work closely with the main RECs to harmonize membership, strengthen policy and build technical capacity to pursue regional integration. These RECs include the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the West African Economic and Monetary (UEMOA).