Johannesburg, 29 October 2013 (ECA) - In a very engaging plenary session at the eighth African Economic Conference taking place in Johannesburg, experts strongly argued that for regional integration to be effective and beneficial to the people of Africa, economic considerations must be placed above political ones. Held under the theme Regional Integration for Africa’s Transformation: Trans-Boundary Value Chains, Shared Infrastructure and Transformative Development Corridors , the session saw the participation of four panellists whose interventions were coordinated by the Director of the Macroeconomic Policy Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) – Mr Emmanuel Nnadozie.
According to Mr Nnadozie, integration via the routes of trans-border value chains, multi-state infrastructure and the development of corridors was obligatory for the continent. “It is no longer a question of debating the merits of integration but to ask how push the integration agenda more rapidly and with more effectively,” he noted.
Taking their turn to address the conference participants, the panellists argued on what they considered Africa’s way forward for regional integration. In the view of Mr Mwangi Kimenyi, Director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institute in the United States, a good business model needed to be created to inform trans-boundary exchanges on the continent. “It is difficult to integrate in a spontaneous manner, therefore there must be a well planned intervention of Governments to achieve such goals, he went on.
While harping on the missed opportunities of trans-boudary excahange between Algeria and Morrocco, Mr Slim Othmani an entrepreuer based in Algeria said it was high time Africans laid emphasis on economic rather than considerations to negotiate integration. He made allusion to the political differences that have driven a wedge between Algeria and Morocco in commercial and other border exchanges for years.
In such a dispensation, argued Mr David Kimoimo, Managing Director at Business Synergies in Uganda, it was crucial for governments to play a frontline role to guarantee food security through trans-border value chains. He said governments could better organise the agricultural sector by supporting the transformation of agricultural products to create a balance, for instance, between sub-sectors that witnessed surpluses in one country but with acute shortages in other countries.
Addressing the issue of competitiveness, Prof Fantu Cheru, a US-based academic said for integration to be effective, African countries need to completely overhaul their transport infrastructure, increase their internet connectivity, and remove customs red tape, among other things.
The session which was marked by enriching debates, all summarized by the moderator – Mr Nnadozie, paved the way for several concurrent seminars touching on national, regional and continental experiences on integration.
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