AEC 2013 - Interview with Alex Rugamba, AfDB Director, Energy, Environment and Climate Change

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Alex Rugamba led the African Development Bank’s NEPAD and Regional Integration Department (ONRI) for three years, prior to holding his current position as Director of the AfDB’s Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Change, was at the forefront of the institution’s Regional Integration Strategy (RIS). Following a think tanks networking session on the eve of the 2013 African Economic Conference in Johannesburg, Rugamba touched on a number of topics including the Bank’s success stories and the role played by ONRI in support for trade on the continent.

On the Bank’s major achievements Rugamba said the Bank’s support for regional integration had been anchored around the Regional Integration Strategy (2009–2012, extended to 2013). He highlighted success stories, including the formulation of the continent-wide Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and its adoption by heads of state in 2012. He said infrastructure deficit was the biggest barrier to Africa’s development and the adoption of PIDA was a major milestone towards addressing this challenge. The Bank has also provided support to infrastructure project preparation aimed at bringing projects to bankability. “This is extremely vital to unlock financing for these infrastructure projects,” Rugamba stated.

He also pointed to a number of key activities that gave an impetus to networking with the Bank’s regional member countries and regional economic communities and have scaled up support for their integration initiatives. A case in point was the approval, “three weeks earlier, of the $7.5 million grant to support the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite process.”

Rugamba revealed that a significant portion of African Development Fund (ADF) resources was earmarked for regional operations, which also described as success. “This portion has grown in percentage terms under successive ADF rounds – it was 20% under ADF-12 and is now 21% in ADF-13,” he affirmed, adding that this arrangement has helped the department to better achieve results.

In line with the conference theme of “Regional Integration in Africa”, Rugamba touched on trade on the continent as the engine for growth, explaining that the Bank’s support in the sector was mainly focused on addressing the soft infrastructure constraints thus inviting the efficient flow of goods through Africa’s ports, along transit corridors and border-crossing points. To meet the challenges, Rugamba said the Bank provided support to tackle trade facilitation bottlenecks through one-stop-border-posts. He highlighted that tariff barriers are gradually being reduced and that countries tend to resort to other trade-restricting regulatory measures such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures, whose application often results in undue protectionism and increased costs to traders. He also revealed key measures taken by the Bank in providing support with a view to increasing awareness and transparency in the application of such non-tariff measures to reduce costs for traders. “The Bank is currently working with partners in West Africa to facilitate collection of tariffs, non-tariff measures (NTM) and other trade data in order to provide access to a wide array of trade information under the transparency in trade initiative,” he said.

Overall, a major milestone in the institution’s support to trade has been the creation of Africa Trade Fund (AfTra). AfTra, he explained, is a responsive technical assistance facility for RMCs and RECs to participate in and benefit from regional and international market opportunities. He added that Liberia and the COMESA Secretariat would become the first beneficiaries of this support and the program of assistance to trade support institutions in Liberia (PATSIL) and COMESA trading for peace program, both of which are scheduled for launching in early November.

The former ONRI Director also said the Bank has also enhanced its partnerships with specialized agencies such as the World Customs Organization, with which it signed an MOU to collaborate on a joint customs modernization and trade facilitation program for Africa.

Rugamba said he is leaving ONRI at a time when the team has made progress on the development of the Bank Group’s new Regional Integration Strategy for 2014–2023. This strategy will support the operationalization of the Bank Group’s Ten Year Strategy, which has identified regional integration as one of the five core priority operation areas. However, he said, “I am also pleased to pass on the baton to the capable hands of man of duty, Janvier Litse, who is not new to the area of regional integration.

“I am therefore leaving ONRI feeling very satisfied and optimistic that the department will continue to grow and make its mark in supporting Africa’s transformation agenda,” Rugamba concluded.