If you have visited Rwanda, no doubt you would have heard of Umuganda, a vast clean-up operation that takes place every last Saturday of the month. The transformative civic operation has gained the country global recognition. Umuganda means “coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome.”
That is exactly what the 13th African Economic Conference (AEC), to be hosted in Kigali from 3 to 5 December 2018, hopes to do. Uniting African think-tanks, researchers, policy makers, public and private sector leaders as well as representatives of Regional Economic Organizations, the meeting is determined to push the integration agenda for Africa to new heights.
The gathering comes just nine months after African leaders signed an agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s biggest free trade agreement since the establishment of the World Trade Organization, an equally important milestone.
The AfCFTA brings together the continent’s 55-member states of the African Union with a combined market of more than 1.2 billion people. The agreement could potentially create a titanic shift in intra-African trade.
Estimates by the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicate that AfCFTA has the potential to boost intra-African trade by eliminating import duties, and double trade – if non-tariff barriers are also reduced. This will bring the continent’s current intra-Africa trade number currently standing at 15% to 52.3% compared to 54% in the North America Free Trade Area, 70% within the European Union and 60% in Asia.
The 2018 AEC theme: “Regional and Continental Integration for Africa’s Development” is aligned with the African Development Bank Group’s strategy to promote strong, shared and sustainable growth in Africa. Organizers say this year’s conference will be short on theory but big on practical solutions to advance the continent’s regional integration agenda, especially the AfCFTA’s implementation.
Africa’s challenges are well known. For this reason, the African Development Bank Group has positioned Integrating Africa as one of its High 5s development program
“Our vision is for a stable, integrated and prospering continent of competitive, diversified and sustainably growing economies, participating fully in global trade and investment,” Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said.
Over the past three years, the Bank has funded projects worth US$1.3 billion and regional public goods valued at US$ 187.6 million. The Bank’s policy is to ensure all regional projects allocate 10% of budget to soft infrastructure interventions.
As part of its mandate, the Bank Group continues to lead in several continental wide initiatives targeting both “hard” and “soft” infrastructure (e.g. trade and services facilitation policies and instruments). These initiatives include the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and the Boosting Intra-African Trade.
The African Development Bank Group will continue to support and scale up transformative initiatives that seek to boost regional integration. The institution is equally committed to work with stakeholders. RECs need support to deliver on “soft” infrastructure, to harmonize investment and engineering codes, and ensure quality and certification standards.
For Moono Mupotola, Bank Director, Regional Integration “It is imperative to seize this moment and opportunity and call upon all stakeholders taking part in the upcoming African Economic Conference, to dig deep and come up with relevant and effective outcomes that will lead and guide our future actions.”
One key highlight of the conference will be the launch of the Bank’s flagship report, the 2018 Visa Openness Index. Africa and indeed the global community will be waiting for important outcomes demonstrating how far we have come in the process.
The Bank will be looking to regional experts to determine the best ways to fast-track Africa’s integration. For that to happen, it is imperative to move efficiently and with great speed to address the issue of political will, harmonisation of legislation and non-tariff barriers.
Through all this, the Bank remains optimistic that cooperation through the REC’s is the quickest route to bringing together the 54 fragmented African markets.
And as with Umuganda, the task at hand may be challenging and difficult, but with the entire community united with a common purpose, achieving greater integration is not so far away.
In the words of Bank President Adesina: “We have risen to the challenge and we are on our way!”