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Deeper engagement with civil society on development projects has resulted in acceptance of projects by communities and greater regional integration, but the pace must move faster, participants gathered for the opening of the African Development Banks’s Civil Society Forum heard Monday.
In her welcome remarks, Jennifer Blanke, Vice President Agriculture, Human and Social Development Complex said the Bank was working with governments and the African Union to build the critical infrastructure for a faster realization of integration goals, beginning 2025.
Blanke who chairs the African Development Bank-Civil society committee, said Africa will benefit from its power and strong workforce only through increased trade among itself, adding that this would ensure transformation and job creation.
The 10th anniversary of the Bank’s Civil Society Forum taking place at the Bank’s Abidjan headquarters, is attended by representatives of civil society from across the continent. The three-day forum will cover topics such as engaging youth civil society to accelerate regional integration, innovative approaches for accelerating integration and leveraging the strength of civil society.
Blanke said the Bank’s engagement with civil society formed a crucial part of its policy making process and outcomes of the forum will be integrated in an action plan to boost intra African trade from the current low level of 15 percent.
But while there have been some milestones under the plan, challenges remain, mostly due to political interest of member states, the forum heard.
“We must transcend big politics and begin to build in Africans a sense of belonging … The African civil society is ready to play its role. More than ever before, it is capable of tackling most of the many challenges facing this continent. Over the last decades, the African Civil Society landscape has undergone tremendous transformation and is rich in experience and expertise. Use us. Use us well beyond consultative roles,” remarked Augustine Njamnshi, Vice-Chair of the African Development Bank’s -Civil Society Committee.
The Bank’s director for Regional integration Moono Muputola said civil society engagement has facilitated safer trade across borders for women. In March 2018, the Bank approved the Regional Integration Strategic Framework with three key pillars: Infrastructure Connectivity, Trade and Investment and Financial Integration. It has granted $4.8 million to the African Union to help establish the secretariat and supporting programs.
The 54-state continent with a population of 1 billion people and a combined GDP of over $3.4 trillion, has outlined plans for regional integration and trade to provide huge opportunities for its entrepreneurs and producers.
In renewed efforts to boost trade relations, the African Union in March 2018 launched an African Continental Free Trade Agreement estimated at $3 trillion. Some 44 countries signed up to the deal, while others, including the most populous nation Nigeria, have yet to subscribe to it.
Regional integration is one of the Bank’s High 5 strategic objectives, linked closely to other priorities to foster the required economic transformation on the continent through the free movement of goods, services, people, capital, energy, and knowledge across borders.
Niger’s former Minister for Privatization Alma Oumarou who spoke during a panel session after the opening ceremony said a united continent would be stronger at negotiations with external trade partners such as the European Union.