Private sector can give a good push to regional integration, but legal and political will is lacking

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Reflecting on how the private sector can contribute to enhancing regional integration, panelists attending a session on Wednesday October 29 at the eighth African Economic Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, said a competitive private sector is crucial in Africa in light of the evidence of the positive benefits of cross-border trade.

“We must not underestimate the power of the private sector. It has to remain in the driving seat of regional integration,” the panels of the Fourth Plenary on “The Role of the Private Sector in Enhancing Regional Integration” affirmed.

The session dedicated to solving this problematic was moderated by Alex Rugamba, Director, Energy, Environment and Climate Change at the African Development Bank, with four panelists – Admassu Yilma Tadesse, President and CEO of the PTA Bank; Vivienne Apopo, Director General, East African Development Bank; Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, Director of Development Research at the AfDB, and Elias Masilela, CEO, Pension Investment Corporate, South Africa.

They stressed that the private sector is at the heart of every integration strategy and can give a good push to regional integration. But without the commitment of effective institutional leadership, “We shall remain academic. Leadership does not only come from politicians, but also from the private sector.”

They further emphasized that institutions that will help enterprises to scale up domestic markets are needed to pursue cross-border trade.

Success stories with concrete examples were shared on private-sector projects that have led to regional integration – telecommunications, banking, equity, energy, infrastructure connectivity, railways and roads, universities.

The session also heard of situations on the continent where conflicts in neighbouring countries led to failure to meet integration commitments and agreements.

An important challenge that African policymakers need to meet is to figure out how to reliably measure and monitor the competitive conditions in private-sector investments. In this regard, interactive discussions expressed the need for legal framework and political will.

The meeting brought together more than 100 participants comprising researchers, academia, private sector, policymakers, regional economic organizations, representatives of the conference partners – African Development Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and United Nations Development Programme – as well as the national and international media .

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