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Regional integration is still the driver of inclusive growth in Africa. This was the opinion of the panellists during the session on “Leveraging regional integration for inclusive and sustainable growth in Africa”. It was organized on Monday, October 28 in Johannesburg as part of the eighth African Economic Conference (AEC).
The low level of intra-regional trade, shortage of good quality infrastructure and lack of qualified workers are among the obstacles cited by the panelists to explain the difficulties that the continent is experiencing in accelerating integration.
Africa has a huge market for all kinds of products. However, the panelists regretted the fact that the continent is still having difficulty in using that opportunity to consolidate its growth for the benefit of its populations.
Abebe Shimeles, Division Manager at the African Development Bank (AfDB), particularly stressed that, in his opinion, developing infrastructure in Africa was a prerequisite to full integration of the continent.
Shimeles said that many African agricultural producers still have difficulty selling their products on account of the desperate shortage of means of access to sub-regional markets.
He believed that this situation exacerbated exclusion and poverty at different social levels.
Speaking during the plenary, Paulina Elago, Country Director for Trade Mark East Africa (Tanzania), drew particular attention to the problems of the free movement of qualified workers. In her opinion, this obstacle had a negative impact on accelerating regional integration in the continent.
Elago regretted that “in recent years, East Africa has experienced rapid economic growth that has had an impact on its integration. However it is still facing the problem of free movement for its executives and skilled workers.”
She hailed the example of Rwanda in this area, saying that the country had “made efforts to attract skills from other East African countries in order to boost various sectors of its economy.”
Referring to the case of teaching the Swahili language, she said that the countries of East Africa, particularly Burundi and Rwanda, were able to make use of large numbers of Tanzanian teachers. They assisted in developing the language in the countries’ education systems.
The successful achievement of monetary and customs union in the West African currency area was also praised by the panelists.
Jean-Gustave Sanon, Technical Adviser to the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), acknowledged that the successful economic integration of the eight West African countries comprising the organization could not hide the low economic growth. This had occurred year after year, with unpredictable rates of progress largely due to fluctuations in world markets, and to the socio-political problems that occur frequently in that part of the continent.
Delphin Rwegasira, lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), believes that economic and monetary union in West Africa could serve as an example. Nevertheless, he suggests caution on the issue of creating a single currency.
Rwegasira warned that, above all, African States must not rush into creating a single currency. The example of Europe is very telling on that subject. He also stressed that African countries must, as a prerequisite, undertake to respect the economic convergence criteria set out in the different currency areas.
The African Economic Conference was organized jointly by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It continues until 30 October.
The conference brings together heads of State and experts in business and development from all over the world. They are discussing “Regional Integration in Africa”, and its role in strengthening the economic growth and well-being of the continent’s populations.
The conference will also provide the opportunity to reflect on the efforts being made in various sectors and fields. These include finance, road transport, power pools, management of water resources, tax convergence and the free movement of workers.