Dr. Alexander Ezenagu, Assistant Professor of Taxation and Commercial Law at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s (HBKU) College of Law, was recently appointed by the United Nations as a member of the newly constituted Knowledge Network for Africa, under the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (UN-OSAA). We spoke to Dr. Ezenagu about the objectives of the Network, which was launched on June 29.
The Knowledge Network was launched by the UN to provide foresight analysis and advisory support on the security, economic, social, environmental, political, humanitarian, and human rights issues affecting the African continent. The Network’s six thematic areas are of priority to the UN and its goals: Financing for development; Sustainable development for sustainable peace; Democracy, resilience and human capital; Science, technology and innovation; Industrialization, demographic dividend and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); and Sustainable energy and climate change.
My fellow members are African academics, experts, practitioners, and think tank members who work on African issues and have proven expertise with a good track record of published work in one of the priority areas.
The honor of being invited to join the Knowledge Network comes as a recognition of my expertise and research in the areas of financing for development, industrialization, and trade, as they pertain to the African continent.
Over the last decade, I have written extensively on the financing for development gaps in Africa, especially trade, taxes, and illicit financial flows. Since the signing of the AfCFTA agreement, I have researched and advised on its successful and effective implementation. My publications have been cited in UN reports and I have spoken at high-level fora. I am also part of a small group of experts regularly invited to validate the works of different UN bodies, such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In addition, I contributed to UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report (EDAR 2020).
This focus is a recognition of the value of knowledge and its dissemination in solving some of the developmental issues facing African countries. For instance, in tax and trade matters, it is recognized that many countries lack the knowledge, expertise, and exposure to negotiate treaties effectively and block loopholes that emanate from cross-border engagements.
One of the issues identified in the development space plaguing African countries is finding tailored research, expertise, and analysis that are “home-grown”. It has been recognized that merely transporting research outputs from other continents into African spaces has not contributed significantly to providing solutions to the issues facing African nations. So beyond capacity building and knowledge development, the Knowledge Network seeks to find and amplify the voices of experts working on African issues to countries on the continent, in solving their needs.
Initiatives and programs are being developed by all experts within the Network, given its democratic nature. However, a repository of relevant information and literature is also being considered, in addition to providing a platform where Africans can exchange and collaborate on research ideas. There are also plans to link experts with countries and expand the network to include relevant stakeholders. I am positive that the Network will come up with initiatives that will greatly benefit the continent.
At HBKU, I teach tax and commercial law courses, which are key to financing for development. Being a member of this Knowledge Network will further “bridge the gap between the town and the gown”. By this, I mean that interacting with other scholars and countries on real-world issues will influence the design of the syllabi of the courses I teach.
In turn, I will also benefit from the knowledge of the brilliant, top-tier students at HBKU in forming my own views on issues affecting African countries that I am called to advise on. Where possible, I will be introducing my students to the UN platform, which is a big one, and hopefully also take advantage of its networking value.
The College of Law embraces change and innovates by taking teaching beyond the classroom to prepare our students for the real world. My own pedagogical approach has been to encourage interactive classes. In parallel with my interactions at the Knowledge Network, I intend to engage my students on real-world issues and lead conversations on solving them using laws, policies, and theories discussed in the classroom, which is also consistent with the college’s goal of building regional capacity with global relevance.
My research areas neatly tie into the SDGs and their achievement. Taxation is one aspect of the SDGs that guarantees sustainable financing, state sufficiency, independence, and the viability of countries. With a PhD in taxation, I spend a considerable amount of time researching tax issues affecting the GCC, African continent, and the world. I have published on tax issues affecting all divides, and the pandemic further reinforces the need for these conversations.
As we learned from Qatar’s resilient response to the blockade, trade is an aspect that informs the sustainability and survival of any country. Africa, for its part, has launched the largest free trade area in the world - AfCFTA - comprising 54 countries, which necessitates more research. Recently, along with my colleagues, we were awarded a Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) grant to host a conference on facilitating trade digitalization in Qatar and beyond, and we intend to show how it plays a key role in the relationship between countries.
My publications on environmental law, especially through the lenses of tax and trade, currently influence discussions in the GCC and Africa. Carbon tax is actively being considered by African countries and I have been privileged to publish on it.
My broader research on developmental governance ties into discussions on achieving the SDGs. My teaching and research at HBKU, on Infrastructure Development Law, Commercial Law and Business Associations, addresses the governance models countries adopt, whether through debt-equity financing, foreign direct investment (FDI), trade facilitation and restriction, or other politico-economic considerations. I am privileged to be researching different aspects of the SDGs, given their importance, and to be recognized nationally and globally for the work I do. My gratitude goes to HBKU and the College of Law for the platform to research and disseminate knowledge that helps to address today’s legal challenges with a future-oriented view.