EXCLUSIVE: AU Summit: Time for continent to wake from slumber

African Union

African Union

JOHANNESBURG – IT is high time the African continent united, emancipated itself from poverty and stopped blaming industrialized nations and former colonisers for the challenges it faced.

This was the dominant position taken by speakers at the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Experts mentioned that the most feasible way to accelerate developmental pace was to invest significantly in infrastructure, value-addition to its products and increase trade within member states.

African Union (AU) Chairman, President Robert Mugabe, who is also the Zimbabwean president, said this would emancipate Africa from joblessness, poverty, hunger and diseases.

The head of state, who has previously blamed former colonialists Britain and the West for imposing sanctions on his Southern African nation, said investment in infrastructure development such as rail, air and information communication (ICT) would enhance the continent’s development address its myriad of challenges.

Mugabe, who commended regional blocs after the recent launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), which comprises 26 African countries drawn from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC), proposed that more emphasis should be placed on infrastructure development as well as taking a step further to export finished products as opposed to marketing the raw material.

Signed in Egypt, the TFTA seeks to create a common market from the Cape to Cairo (entire continent).

It is effectively the continent’s largest free trade zone unlocking blockages that had previously existed hindering the free movement of goods and investment across the continent.

Mugabe, who is also the chairman of the SADC regional bloc, spoke strongly against the exportation of raw material to the world arguing that such actions were retrogressive to development.

“By exporting raw material to the world will be exporting jobs to Europe,” the longtime Zimbabwean ruler told delegates at the AU Summit.

Mugabe, hailed across the continent as an empowerment advocate, insisted that for Africa to realise its massive potential and accelerate economic pace, the continent had to invest in robustly in infrastructure development.

He insisted on value-addition from products amassed from the continent’s vast natural resources.

Africa is undoubtedly the continent most endowed with natural resources and has vast human resources.

“Let us curtail and reverse the exportation of Africa’s raw materials. We need to pursue robust industrialization policies and create jobs for our people and curb the migration that has seen our men, women and children die in thousands in the Mediterranean Seas as they search for jobs,” Mugabe said.

The AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Dr Elham Mahmood Ibrahim, concurred with Mugabe, saying the issue of African single air transport market, infrastructure and energy development to increase economic acceleration would complete skills development resulting in the exportation of finished products.

“We have severe shortage of electricity supply in many African countries, yet we have abundance of energy resources right from the sun, wind, water and other renewable sources yet we are being hindered by lack of infrastructure,” she told CAJ News Africa at the summit.

Ibrahim said air transport should no longer be seen as luxurious mode of transport, but a quick solution to enable business flowed at a faster pace.

“As I speak to you, only 11 African countries have since signed for the Single Sky Transport Treaty, which is expected to generate a gross annual turnover of US$1.3 billion (about R15 billion) when implemented.

“From the same single sky transport agreement, those 11 African Union member states would create 155 000 jobs as a result of free air skies,” she told Mail & Guardian after a media briefing.

Ibrahim said not to be overlooked was the rail transport that would transport the bulky of mineral resources, people, goods and services right from Cape Town to Cairo in Egypt without border restrictions.

“What is ambitious but lucrative business for Africa are border policy restrictions and skies control due to fear of competition by some member states,” Ibrahim said.

Out of the 54 African member states, she said only Benin, Cape Verde, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe have signed for the dream project of the single sky transport.

“You ask why only 11 countries among 54-member grouping. The answer I got from those countries is that they should pursue this while the rest will always join.

“Some countries have the tendency to watch and see, but when they see it working, airlines carrying passengers right from South Africa to Egypt without restrictions, other watching or hesitant countries will always follow.

“The open skies allow removes limitation of flights per day, per week, per month or year, but allows those air carriers capable of carrying as many passengers in every African country do business,” Ibrahim said.

She said the sky restrictions have seen some other African countries going through Europe first in order to access connections to other African countries.

“Sometimes one has to fly to Europe first in order to go to another country in Africa due to the air sky restrictions. These are the barriers hindering quick development, and we must do away with them.

“In short, those pioneering African countries in the single sky project should move forward without wasting time,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim said flights in those 11 countries will be allowed to pick up or ferry passengers in each of the member states without any restrictions to enable smooth movement of people, goods and services as Africa takes another positive developmental step.

On other pertinent issues pertinent to the continent, she said lack of generation of electricity power infrastructure was also slowing down economic growth in the continent.

Ibrahim cited the Inga Dam project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which she indicated would generate more than 43 000 megawatts of electricity when fully implemented.

She said the AU had done a study including channeling funding to support the project, which is widely believed would resolve electricity power deficit in the southern and central African region.

Among other key infrastructural development on the continent’s agenda comprise railway links from Cape-to-Cairo, Inga Dam construction in the Democratic Republic for Congo (DRC) for energy, single air transport to speed up linkages in order to promote free movements of African people, goods and services.

The 25th Ordinary Summit is being held under the theme “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063″ at the Sandton International Convention Centre in South Africa’s commercial capital.

It comes on the backdrop of concerns regarding the sloth of the continent’s development despite its endowment with natural resources.

Host President, Jacob Zuma, said persisting challenges that cripples the process of economic growth in Africa should not be ignored.

He said poverty remained a key challenge and the widespread unemployment, especially among youth contributed to persistent inequality.

Zuma nonetheless said African leaders were confident in tackling the challenges head on.

“We have the commitment to address challenges on our terms. To succeed we must harness all our potential and no country will achieve prosperity on its own.

“We have one future… that is why we are investing so much time and money in the infrastructure programme and regional integration because we want to achieve sustainable growth and development,” said Zuma.

– CAJ News






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