African integration: economics must come before politics, say experts

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At a busy plenary session of the African Economic Conference held in Johannesburg on Monday, October 28, experts agreed on the importance of putting economic considerations before political considerations in achieving effective and beneficial regional integration for all citizens in Africa.

The theme of the session was “Regional Integration for Africa’s Transformation: Trans-Boundary Value Chains, Shared Infrastructure and Transformative Development Corridors”. Four panellists took part in the session, which was chaired by the director of the Macro-Economic Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Emmanuel Nnadozie.

According to Nnadozie, African integration is vital for the continent, using cross-border value chains, shared infrastructure and transformative development corridors. “It is no longer a question of discussing the merits of integration, but of findings ways to develop the integration agenda faster and more effectively,” he remarked.

The panellists took turns to highlight what African countries could do to take advantage of emerging opportunities in this area. First, Mwangi Kimenyi, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, stated his belief that an efficient business model must be designed to address questions of cross-border exchange. “It is something that is difficult to integrate spontaneously and requires the planned input of governments if it is to be achieved,” he said.

Describing missed opportunities for cross-border exchange between Algeria and Morocco, Slim Othmani, an Algerian businessman, highlighted the need to focus on economic considerations, and not political ones, in terms of African integration. He referred to political differences that have hampered exchange between the two countries for many years.

With this in mind, the role of governments in guaranteeing food security via cross-border value chains is essential, according to David Kimoimo, Managing Director of Business Synergies in Uganda.

He revealed that in East African corridors there are enormous opportunities for cross-border value chains in the agricultural sector. In his view, governments could better organize the sector by supporting the processing of agricultural products in order to create a balance, for example, between sectors that have a surplus in one country and those with deficits in other countries.  

In addressing the subject of competition, Prof. Fantu Cheru, a lecturer at American University, USA, recommended that African countries fully modernize their transport infrastructures, considerably increase their level of Internet access, and remove bottlenecks in customs procedures, among other things.

The plenary session, with its productive discussions moderated by Nnadozie, was followed by a number of concurrent seminars focusing on continental, regional and national experiences.

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