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Public-private partnerships, sustainable development and mutually beneficial frameworks defined the final plenary on the last day of the three-day African Economic Conference (AEC) on regional integration.
The “Trans-boundary Management of Regional Public Goods and Natural Resources” plenary was chaired by Pedro Conceição, the Chief Economist of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Regional Bureau for Africa.
Rivalry often defines the use of shared natural resources – or common pool resources as they are known – such as forests, lakes, river basins and grazing lands that straddle several countries. Neighbours need to be cognizant that if not well-managed, these resources may be depleted. Furthermore, mutually beneficial regional integration is required for the provision of regional public goods – trans-boundary infrastructure, transport corridors and energy resources.
Lake Victoria is Africa’s greatest lake and the world’s second largest. “Lake Victoria can revamp trade and integration between the five partner states. It can be an engine for economic growth. It has been declared the economic growth zone for East Africa, but because of that it has to be managed in a coordinated way. It has a social status as an asset bringing together the five partner states,” said Canisius Kanangire, Executive Secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission.
Regional co-operative frameworks need to focus on sustainable development, environmental aspects, economics, as well as broader social and cultural issues. They should fairly manage resources to prevent potential exploitation and be willingly accepted by all partners, to avoid what happened in Egypt with the Nile River, urged Mwangi Kimenyi, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institute. Egypt still relies on sub-optimal colonial agreements that were created to serve the interests of the British. He called for commissions and institutions that are representative and enforce multilateral agreements, so as to avoid potential conflict.
“We need to figure out a new arrangement or institution of managing the waters that are outside of our countries for development, that are more transparent and more inclusive,” said Kimenyi.
However, we should not solely rely on governments. Numerous initiatives are established and funded by the private sector. This is due to the fact that: “Heads of state sit down, decide and commit themselves to their institutions and communities, but at the level of bureaucracy things get stalled,” noted Sanusi Imran Abdullahi, the Executive Secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) mobilizes the private sector to support infrastructure development through projects such as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). Lynette Chen, CEO of NEPAD Business Foundation, highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships to address the $93-billion gap on infrastructure investments.
Around $1 trillion, often in the private sector’s hands, is invested offshore. “Intra-African trade remains between 10 to 13 per cent because of a lack of linkages between north, south, east and west,” said Chen. And already existing linkages rely on the host country for maintenance. She gave the example of Dar es Salaam port, the end point of the North-South corridor, which spans several countries. The port is a critical trading gateway to East Africa for eight neighbouring countries, therefore the Tanzanian Government should not solely be responsible for its upgrade.
In closing, she mentioned that the responsibility does, however, fall on governments to set the conditions for private investment into Africa, whether it be local or international. Investors should partner with local companies, employ local labour and transfer skills.
The AEC is an annual business and economic conference jointly organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UNDP. It aims to transform rhetoric into reality, so as to overcome Africa’s developmental challenges.