African leaders called for greater market integration on the continent, the freeing up of border controls and more coordination in developing infrastructure during a special session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday.
South African President Jacob Zuma told delegates attending the plenary session “Africa: from transition to transformation” that much work has already been done on increasing cooperation among African states, such as the agreement among leaders last year on the need for a free trade zone.
In June last year, 26 African countries had signed an agreement to create a free trade area covering more than half of Africa. In-principle decisions had also been taken at the African Union on coordinating infrastructure projects on the continent.
Freeing up movement of people, goods
Zuma warned, however, that developing common infrastructure would be useless unless restrictions on the movement of people and goods across borders were eased, as bottlenecks at border posts were a major problem in Africa.
Zuma added that leaders also needed to develop a common understanding on natural resources. Discussions were needed on the local beneficiation of resources and how resource exploitation could best benefit Africa.
“For centuries we have not determined for ourselves how we deal with our resources. We need that discussion now,” Zuma said.
Guinea President Alpha Condé advocated the establishment of several pan-African ministries to drive the process of continental integration.
“At the next African Union meeting, we must consider establishing three or four ministers for all of Africa,” Condé said. “These new posts should at least cover energy, infrastructure and trade in Africa.”
Coordination of infrastructure projects
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi backed Condé’s call, saying the coordination of multi-country infrastructure projects was currently being handled by the African Union agency, Nepad. “Capacity building is already happening across Africa, with many partners involved, including India and China.”
However, Zenawi cautioned that “we cannot wish a common African government into existence. It is a slow process of integration.” He pointed to the example of Europe, which integrated over the course of about 50 years, yet was still encountering problems.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said a common market in Africa could be achieved through the integration and merging of current regional trade groupings, a process that would be furthered by building a trans-African highway.
“Cecil Rhodes wanted to build a Cape-to-Cairo road for colonial purposes, but now we can do it for our own purposes,” Kikwete said.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that, while great progress had been made in developing democratic governance throughout Africa, it was now critical that ordinary African people received the “democracy dividend” through greater empowerment in their lives.