'Sustainable cities and structural transformation in Africa in the twenty-first century' by Dr. Arkebe Oqubay

UNU-WIDER/ACRC keynote lecture

Sustainable cities and structural transformation in Africa in the twenty-first century

On Thursday, 9 November 2023, UNU-WIDER and the African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC) welcome Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, former Senior Minister and Special Adviser to Ethiopia's Prime Minister and former mayor of Addis Ababa, to present 'Sustainable cities and structural transformation in Africa in the twenty-first century' at Helsinki City Hall.

Watch the recorded event here.

African demography dynamics is one of the critical drivers of African structural transformation shaping global development. By 2050, Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion, accounting for 1/4 of our planet’s inhabitants. Over 800 million people will join the workforce in Africa, with significant implications for employment, productive capacity, and market growth. A primary urbanization wave will occur in Africa, with cities accommodating an additional 1 billion residents. Moreover, cities are most vulnerable to climate change or global pandemics. Global growth has slowed since the 2000s, and global crises have hit African economies, further weakening their response and resilience. 

Sustainable cities and structural transformation in Africa in the twenty-first century by Dr. Arkebe Oqubay

Economic history shows cities are hubs of innovation and productive capabilities and drive structural transformation. What roles should African cities play? How should African policies create favourable ground for cities to become engines of growth? How should urban development and structural transformation synergize, and how should urban-rural linkages be strengthened? How can cities play the lead role in green transformation and respond to climate change? How can cities maximize the capacity to create employment opportunities? What type of urban governance should be advanced to accelerate transformation, and what role should mayors play? How can advanced economies contribute to meeting these challenges? 

Dr. Arkebe will address these issues based on his extensive experience as the Mayor of Addis Ababa, who successfully led the city’s transformation and a minister for urban development, and his remarkable 30 years of policymaking experience on economic development as a Special Adviser to three Prime Ministers. Dr. Arkebe will draw from his extensive scholarly work on structural transformation and economic catch-up. A combination of roles as a scholar, policymaker, and practitioner allows him to share unique perspectives.

16:00-16:10Introduction by UNU-WIDER Director Kunal Sen
16:10-16:55Keynote: 'Sustainable cities and structural transformation in Africa' by Dr. Arkebe Oqubay
16:55-17:05Discussant response by Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury | Deputy Director General, Africa and the Middle East, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
17:05-17:30Audience Q&A

*This event will also be livestreamed on Helsinki-kanava here.

Arkebe-OqubayDr Arkebe Oqubay

Dr Arkebe Oqubay is a former Senior Minister and Special Adviser to Ethiopia's Prime Minister and currently holds the position of British Academy Global Professor at SOAS University of London. With over thirty years of being at the center of policymaking, he has remained at the heart of shaping strategic economic decisions. Dr Arkebe leads pioneering research focused on promoting environmentally sustainable African economic development, supported by a grant from the British Academy spanning 2023 to 2027. Dr Arkebe currently gives policy advice to, and consults for, African governments and international organizations. He has demonstrated his leadership by overseeing the boards of crucial public enterprises, notably Ethiopian Airlines, and by formerly serving as Mayor of Addis Ababa. Presently, Dr Arkebe provides policy guidance and consultation services to various African governments and international organizations. His distinctive approach harmonizes extensive policy expertise with scholarly pursuits, resulting in in the design and execution of transformative policy innovations across areas such as industrialization, industrial policy, urban development, and economic governance. 

He serves as a member of the Trade and Industrial Development Advisory Council of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a position to which he was appointed by the African Union Commission. Additionally, he stood as Africa’s sole candidate for the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), receiving unanimous endorsement by the African Union.   

Dr Arkebe remarkable contributions have garnered recognition and accolades. In 2005, he was acclaimed as the African Best Mayor, and his work in transforming Addis Ababa has made him a finalist for World Mayor in 2006. He is the recipient of various awards, including the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed upon him by the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his dedicated contributions to Africa’s industrialization. The NewAfrican publication recognized Dr Arkebe as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans of 2016 and a “leading thinker on Africa’s strategic development” for his work on industrialization and industrial policies. 

Dr Arkebe holds a diverse range of professional affiliations. He is an ODI Distinguished Fellow, a UNU-WIDER Honorary Research Fellow, a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town, a Distinguished Professor at Fudan University (Shanghai), and a Visiting Senior Professor at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). 

His publications, which focus on economic transformation, sustainable practices, industrial policy, and economic catch-up, have been influential in promoting a new paradigm of empirical policymaking. His recent authored and co-edited publications with Oxford University Press includes Made in Africa (2015); How Nations Learn (2019); China-Africa and an Economic Transformation (2019); The Oxford Handbook of the Ethiopia Economy (2019); African Economic Development: Evidence, Theory, and Policy (2020); The Oxford Handbook of Industrial Hubs and Economic Development (2020); and The Oxford Handbook of Industrial Policy (2020); The Oxford Handbook of the South African Economy (2021), and the forthcoming The Oxford Handbook on the Greening of Economic Development. He holds a PhD in Development Studies from SOAS, University of London.

pirjo-suomela-chowdhuryPirjo Suomela-Chowdhury

Currently, Deputy Director General at the Department for Africa and the Middle East, Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury has also served at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as Director for Southern and Western Africa (2022-2023), Director for United Nations Development Affairs (2010-2014), Team Leader for EU Development Policy (2008-2010), and Deputy Director for General Global Affairs (2007-2008).

She has been posted to Abuja, as Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Liberia (2014-2018), and to Lusaka, as Ambassador to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (2018-2022). Her other foreign postings include Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Finland in Santiago de Chile (2003-2007), and Second Secretary at the Embassy of Finland in Beijing, China (2000-2003).

At the Ministry for Foreign Affairs she has also served at the Unit for United Nations Affairs, Political Department, and at the Secretariat for Nordic Cooperation.

She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Tampere, Finland, and completed the diplomatic training course at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1997.