Annual Meetings Ministerial Roundtable-Africa in Dire Need of Infrastructure for Integration and Growth

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Ouagadougou, 16 May 2006 – African Ministers, heads of multilateral financial institutions, donor agencies and representatives of civil society took a hard look at the state of African economies on Tuesday and found that it would be difficult for the continent to achieve meaningful development without a fully developed and integrated regional infrastructure.

This is the central message that emerged at a high level seminar jointly organized n Ouagadougou on Tuesday by the African Development Bank Group and the UN Economic Commission for Africa on the theme: ‘Infrastructure Development and regional Integration: Issues, Opportunities and Challenges’ as part of activities lined up for the 2006 Annual meetings of the Bank and the commission’.

The Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Mr. Ernest Paramanga Yonli underscored the essence and theme of the symposium in his opening speech. "Economic integration of the continent necessitates modern regional transport, communications and energy infrastructure capable of generating jobs, higher incomes and facilitating free movement of persons and goods," he said. Noting that the costs of telephone communications, air and sea transport are two to three times higher in Africa that in any other region of the world, Mr. Yonli said that infrastructure remained the critical missing link in Africa’s development strategy.

The path to a successful African Renaissance is first and foremost in Africa and can only be achieved through the implementation of high potential integration projects, he said, citing the West African Gas project involving Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and eventually Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal as concrete models of regional integration associated with the public and private sectors.

The Executive Secretary of the ECA, Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, said that African countries can only participate effectively in the globalization process as well as deepen regional integration, development of an integrated transport network, efficient supply of energy, and information and communications technologies.

Citing estimates from the Africa Commission that infrastructure development in Africa would cost US$ 20 billion a year, Mr. Janneh, reiterated the need for the World Bank, the European Union, the AfDB and other multilateral agencies to scale up funding for the development of Africa’s infrastructure as countries on the continent seek out alternative means to finance the development of their infrastructure.

On his part, AfDB President Donald Kaberuka said the institution has devoted more than 30 percent of its cumulative commitments to the development of infrastructure in the past 40 years. The Bank Group invested more than one billion dollars or 39 per cent of its cumulative investment in the regional member countries in 2004. In addition, it is geared to play a much bigger role in infrastructure within the framework of NEPAD.

Beyond this, Mr. Kaberuka said efforts should be made to dismantle the physical barriers that impede the movement of people on the continent.

"The time has come to abolish visas. The time has come to allow Africans to move about in Africa", he said, noting that the problems of drugs trafficking and money laundering usually associated with free movement could be dealt with.

South African Finance Minister, Mr. Trevor Manuel, gave the keynote address in which he underscored the fact that the levels of investment in infrastructure were far too low to support Africa’s development objectives. He spoke of the need to restructure the colonial orientation of most of the continent’s infrastructure as a means of improving intra-African trade. Without adequate and appropriate infrastructure it would be difficult for African countries to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Mr. Manuel pointed out. Infrastructure, he added, is an area of collective regional interest.

In a rejoinder, Bank President Kaberuka emphasized the fact that "infrastructure is good for business and for poverty reduction, but it requires careful planning".

Participants were informed that the current levels of regional spending on infrastructure is about 2 percent of GDP and Africa would require about 9 percent of GDP to build and maintain the infrastructure it required for its development.

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