High-level debate: Leaders focus on integration and the need for a change in mindset

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Africa still does not occupy its rightful place on the world stage, but the continent's economy is healthier than it was four years ago. This was the consensus of the High-Level Debate on May 21, 2014 at the African Development Bank's (AfDB) Annual Meetings in Kigali.

The debate theme, "The Africa we want", was discussed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame; Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission; Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and AfDB President Donald Kaberuka.

During the debate, Kagame was invited to give his assessment of Rwanda's recent economic performance. He explained that all African countries share the same defects and that Africans have a responsibility to drive progress and change.

"How can poverty remain so rife in Africa when the continent is rich in natural and mining resources?" Kagame queried. He went on the stress the need for "Africans to draw on their assets in order to move forward.”

Kagame called for greater investment in education and healthcare, two key sectors that are often overlooked by national policy-makers. He also highlighted the importance of integration across Africa, explaining that the fragmentation of regional markets represents a "genuine obstacle" to accelerated development.

"In Rwanda, we recognised the need to open up our borders. We have been able to attract qualified workers from across Eastern Africa and overcome our own skills shortage," he explained.
Returning to the theme of the session, Kagame outlined his vision for Africa, in which the continent's leaders take control of its destiny. "Africans need to change their mindset and restore their sense of dignity," he stated.

For her part, Dlamini-Zuma stressed that the situation in Africa is not beyond hope, but that "there is an urgent need for coherent policies to drive the continent's recovery.”

She focused on Africa's potential, driven primarily by its young population and high population growth, indicating the need to consolidate the economic growth that is happening in Africa at present.

Dlamini-Zuma outlined the main thrust of the African Union's "Agenda 2063" programme, which is designed to achieve the organisation's vision of "An integrated, prosperous Africa". In particular, she called on Africans to "stop thinking in terms of borders.”

Kaberuka, meanwhile, stated his belief that Africa's future depends on the will and desire of its population to change their own destiny and achieve prosperous development.

"Africans need to ask themselves this question: Where do we want to go, and how do we plan to get there?" he explained. He went on to stress that this vision of a prosperous Africa could only be achieved through effective integration and the creation of a single market.

"I dream of an Africa that can fund its own development without relying on hand-outs," explained Kaberuka. "The continent has the resources and means to achieve this goal." He also called for the introduction of an African passport.

The panellists expressed particular concern about the brain drain and the challenges facing young students who want to continue studying in Africa. 

In response to these concerns, Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the need for investment in young people, explaining that "Africa spends very little on research and innovation.” She also outlined her own vision for Africa as a place where young people stop looking for jobs and start creating their own.

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