The African dream

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The dream that the twenty-first cen­tury will be the “African Cen­tury” is pow­er­ful and in­tox­i­cat­ing. It is also be­com­ing re­al­ity. As African officials gather in Wash­ing­ton, DC, on Au­gust 4-6 for the first US-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit, it is worth con­sid­er­ing the ba­sis – and the lim­its – of the con­ti­nent’s progress.

While con­flict and poverty re­main se­ri­ous prob­lems in many African re­gions, our con­ti­nent is not only more sta­ble than ever be­fore; it is also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the high­est eco­nomic growth rates any­where on the planet. Over the past decade, tens of mil­lions of peo­ple across Africa have joined the mid­dle class; our cities are ex­pand­ing rapidly; and our pop­u­la­tion is the most youth­ful in the world.

But Africans must not take it for granted that their time has come. Words are cheap, and, de­spite the con­ti­nent’s pos­i­tive mo­men­tum, we know that his­tory is lit­tered with squan­dered dreams – nowhere more so than in Africa.

So there is much that we in Africa must do to seize our op­por­tu­nity. Build­ing big­ger, more in­te­grated sub-re­gional mar­kets that are deeply em­bed­ded in the global econ­omy is one of the most ur­gent tasks that we are fac­ing. Af­ter all, from the Euro­pean Union to the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions to the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, we see how ge­o­graphic re­gions can cre­ate con­di­tions for shared growth and pros­per­ity by re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to com­merce, har­mon­is­ing reg­u­la­tory norms, open­ing la­bor mar­kets, and de­vel­op­ing com­mon in­fra­struc­ture.

That is pre­cisely the vi­sion that we are work­ing to re­alise in our own part of Africa, un­der the ban­ner of the North­ern Cor­ri­dor In­te­gra­tion Projects. In the past 18 months, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, joined by South Su­dan and more re­cently Ethiopia, have launched 14 joint projects that will in­te­grate East Africa more closely and make our re­gion a bet­ter, eas­ier place to do busi­ness.

There are al­ready con­crete re­sults. We have put in place a sin­gle tourist visa valid in all three coun­tries. We have es­tab­lished a sin­gle cus­toms ter­ri­tory, slash­ing red tape and re­mov­ing non-tar­iff trade bar­ri­ers. A stan­dard-gauge rail­way from Mom­basa to Ki­gali and Juba via Kam­pala is be­ing de­signed, and fi­nanc­ing for the first seg­ment has been se­cured from Chi­nese part­ners.

Tak­ing these steps has re­quired go­ing against decades of en­trenched prac­tice. Un­for­tu­nately, across Africa, na­tional bor­ders have tended to be choke­points rather than en­ablers of in­tra-con­ti­nen­tal co­op­er­a­tion on trade, se­cu­rity, la­bor, and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. Too of­ten, Africa’s economies ex­change goods and co­or­di­nate pol­icy among them­selves less than they do with coun­tries out­side of the con­ti­nent.

We are de­ter­mined to change this. Un­der the North­ern Cor­ri­dor ini­tia­tive, for ex­am­ple, each of our gov­ern­ments has ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for shep­herd­ing key projects.

Uganda is se­cur­ing in­vestors for a new oil re­fin­ery and is spear­head­ing the devel­op­ment of re­gional in­fra­struc­ture for in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, which will lead to the elim­i­na­tion of cel­lu­lar roam­ing charges among our coun­tries.

Kenya is tasked with de­vel­op­ing a re­gional com­mod­ity ex­change, i mprov­ing hu­man re­sources through ed­u­ca­tion and con­sul­tancy ser­vices, and build­ing both crude and re­fined oil pipe­lines. Kenya is also ex­plor­ing ways to ex­pand re­gion­ally fo­cused power gen­er­a­tion and trans­mis­sion.

Rwanda is charged with align­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws and pro­mot­ing free­dom of move­ment for both cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors. Other co­or­di­na­tion du­ties in­clude re­gional se­cu­rity (through the East African Standby Force), co­or­di­nated airspace man­age­ment, as well as joint tourism mar­ket­ing.

We know what suc­cess will look like for our re­gion’s cit­i­zens. And we know what needs to be done. Progress will be achieved not by build­ing mon­u­ments for politi­cians or hold­ing sum­mits, but by low­er­ing the costs of do­ing busi­ness and rais­ing the in­comes of our peo­ple.

Bu­reau­cra­cies move slowly, some­times be­cause they are in­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­grammed to sub­vert change. The frame­work of the North­ern Cor­ri­dor In­te­gra­tion Projects is de­signed to gen­er­ate and sus­tain the po­lit­i­cal will nec­es­sary to get the project done.

The United States has al­ways been an im­por­tant part­ner for our coun­tries, but the path to solv­ing our prob­lems is not through hand­outs from Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers. Only we, to­gether with our busi­ness sec­tor, can do the job. As we do so, we look for­ward to a deeper and more “nor­mal” re­la­tion­ship with the US, fo­cused on what we can do to­gether rather than on what Amer­i­cans can do for us.

Africa has al­ways had what it takes to rise. To­gether, we can make it hap­pen.

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