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Heads of Africa’s Institutions Discuss Continental Infrastructure

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Executive Directors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group hosted the heads of Africa’s political, economic and development institutions on Friday, 19 July 2013 in Tunis, kick- starting a day-long round table on how to scale up infrastructure financing for the continent’s transformation in the next 50 years.

The African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ECA Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopes, as well as the heads of the regional economic communities (RECs) and presidents or CEOs of African sub-regional development financial institutions (DFIs) held a 90-minute brain storming with AfDB Board members chaired by AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, on how to mobilise the huge resources required to accomplish the project.

Welcoming the participants, President Kaberuka said their presence underscored the importance of the cooperation between the continent’s apex political, economic and development institutions.

He said the meeting was to enable them interact with the Bank’s 20-member Board which approves its projects and programmes for the benefit of the Regional Member Countries (RMCs).

He gave a brief summary of the Banks portfolio, followed by individual introduction of the Board members and the countries which they represent.

In her intervention, the AUC Chairperson described the meeting as part of efforts to reinforce cooperation between the three bocks (AU, UNECA, and AfDB) to promote Africa’s economic development, integration and transformation.

Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma emphasised the criticality of infrastructure for effective integration noting that “we can integrate economically only when we are integrated physically.” She said the three partners have identified human resources, agriculture, and infrastructure as the three key areas of focus for the realization of Africa’s 2063 vision.

The partners, she said, must synchronize their activities to develop the 2063 agenda, set targets and milestones and work together for the realization of a prosperous continent.

For his part, the UNECA Executive Secretary began his discussion by acknowledging President Kaberuka’s efforts in promoting Africa’s development and urged the Board to continue to provide him with their support in the effort to transform the continent.

However, Mr. Lopez cautioned against overt optimism with regards to Africa’s high economic growth noting that with hindsight from the “burst of the Asian miracles”, predictions on Africa’s economic growth should leave room for negativities that exist.

Africa the hopeful continent should be viewed with some sobriety, he said, noting that while Africa is home to the world’s six best performing economies, the continent also has the six most unequal countries on the globe.

Mr. Lopes floated promising ideas that can be helpful for leveraging African economies and for achieving the 2063 vision to include:

  • The continent must take ownership of vision 2063 by changing mindsets tuned to Africans building Africa’s development. The Africa50 Fund initiated by the AfDB easily comes to mind in this regard.
  • Like India and China before it, Africa should develop growth poles that would pull up the rest of the continent.
  • The megatrends – Africa’s demographics makes it the youngest continent with the largest urbanization, great potential for connectivity, huge arable land reserves, and the last new development frontier for investment.

The rather pessimistic ideas relate to the many fragile institutions and countries on the continent and the excessive dependence on aid.

On the critical role of agriculture in Africa’s development, the UNECA chief, citing Nigeria’s agricu lture minister, explained that Africa must treat agriculture as a business for the sector to be productive and to play its role in development.

He also discussed Africa’s so-called instability noting that it is rather related more to the problem of Africa’s brand as continent’s with many more unstable countries do not conjure the type bad image often associated with Africa from outside. He decried Africa’s deindustrialization.

Board members raised questions on the slow pace of integration, excessive focus on peace and conflict at the AU and the need to for the Bank to create a special window for the financing of regional infrastructure projects, among others, to which the institutional heads provides responses.

In conclusion, Board Dean, Yahaya Shehu, emphasized the need for creativity and innovation in devising the means for the mobilization of funding for infrastructure which is the very essence of economic transformation, inclusive growth as well as political leadership and governance.

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