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Leaders Can Achieve Unity on the Continent
Posted by: administrator (Jan-31-2009)
BuaNews (Tshwane)
Bathandwa Mbola

30 January 2009


Africa's current leaders have a great responsibility to realise the dream set out by the continent's forefathers of independence years ago, that of a politically and economically united continent .

While Africans have been striving for a continent without economic or trade borders for decades and despite the troubled history of African unity, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission believes that the current leadership can achieve the dream.

In an exclusive interview with BuaNews during the African Union (AU) Summit currently underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dr Jean Ping spoke about how African Heads of State can bring Africa into the global economy, integrate politically and the challenges that the 53 member organisation faces.

The 67-year-old chairman said regional integration was an essential stepping stone towards achieving effective and more equal participation in the global economy.

Proper regional integration would help in minimising the cost of Africa's infrastructure investment. For example, $2 billion could be saved each year by trading energy supplies across national borders.

According to Alex Rugamba, coordinator of the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, more efficient infrastructure will result in lower costs, freeing up domestic finance for development and encouraging more outside investment.

Dr Ping said the first step in implementing regional integration would be through adequate infrastructure. "Infrastructure has been long identified as a key requirement for any region to realise economic growth," he explained, noting that Africa's infrastructure, in its current state, requires to be developed to an adequate and efficient standard.

The AU, which is tasked with coordinating, harmonising and providing leadership on the continent's economic and social development and physical integration, will seek to give infrastructure development its rightful place at this year's annual summit - at the top of its agenda.

The theme for the summit is "Infrastructure Development in Africa". Infrastructure development and the effects of the economic crisis on the continent are expected to be major topics for discussion.

The discussion sessions of the summit will enable the pan-African organisation better plan and address the challenges.

"I believe that infrastructure should have been one of our number one priorities from the start," said Dr Ping. "With an integrated and connected system, it could have been easier for Africa to meet its goals on poverty reduction, economic, social development and integration."

Explaining how this could be put into practice, Dr Ping said the union must use the summit to appraise member states on the continent's infrastructure's constraints and how they can improve them.

"One of the things we aim to obtain is guidance and commitment from member states for continental infrastructure policy interventions and programmes and see how we can appeal to development partners for cooperation and funding these projects."

Despite the calls, observers have insisted African leaders must act fast to become more independent from international aid, especially on agricultural development to safeguard food security. This, Dr Ping, believes is where the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialised nations can help the African continent.

He said African leaders were looking to the G8 to turn their existing promises into action. "The credibility of international commitments is at stake. There are many development success stories across Africa that can be replicated in more countries through funding." With the momentum and commitment generated in many African countries, increased commitment to domestic resource mobilisation and improving governance and better policy performance, Africa could still achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015 and be a better place, he said.

However, the chairperson was quick to highlight that the continent also needs bigger markets, especially during the global economic meltdown which has affected aid into Africa. However, he said there were still "missing links" in their implementation.

"Some of our countries are too small and too weak," he said, adding that Africa was a big continent rich with raw materials.

Also hampering the AU's efforts in developing the proper infrastructure to make it possible for the continent to achieve some of its goals, is the fact that countries throughout Africa do not have the same level of development.

"This big continent is divided by about 165 borders into 53 countries, even the voice of a larger country like Nigeria or South Africa by itself is inaudible in international negotiations on world trade. Only collectively can we bring change to the billions of Africans in every corner of this continent."

He said it would be impossible to ignore 53 countries with almost one billion inhabitants speaking in one voice, adding that the AU was a clear manifestation of the continent's collective demand for standing together and addressing problems in concert.

Dr Ping said conflict would have to be settled before there can be a chance of achieving prosperity. "Regional peace and security is also an essential foundation for the union. Without it, our energies are wasted."

In the past six months, peace and security on the continent has worsened. Efforts put forth by governments, experts and citizens on the issues of Darfur, Somalia, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Djibouti, and other potential election related in Mauritania, Angola and Cote D'Ivoire have failed to improve the situation.

Dr Ping admitted that Africa has had to overcome many challenges through various peace processes. However, African leaders were still struggling to find a way to sustain peace agreements, which in fact required determination not only from the AU but among the parties themselves.

Agreements can be sustained by taking into consideration that the quest for unity for ordinary Africans is a powerful draw factor.

However, the real challenge leaders have been facing is the practical application of these concepts or principles.

Asked on how these principles can be scaled up to bring about sustainable change to the whole continent taking into consideration a history which is littered with failed institutions and initiatives that have not been followed through to completion or promises that have been broken, Dr Ping said this requires institutional capacities and effective coalitions.

"By building an effective African Union, this will have a tremendous impact in breaking this cycle of raised hopes and then disappointment. In contrast to the past, governments and Heads of State are now more mindful of the value of civil society, which is an asset to the governance and development of the continent."

Africans, more than at any other time, are yearning for the deliverables, on democracy, development and institution-building.

"Unity in Africa has a deep historical resonance. It was the goal of the fathers of independence and has remained the basic aspiration of African citizens across the continent."

A unified Africa was an ideal to which all leaders would aspire during the sessions at the African Union Summit over the next three days, said Dr Ping, adding that by the end of the summit, interventions will be highlighted and endorsements for future actions will be taken.
Relevant Links

* Southern Africa
* South Africa

Looking into the future, he said the AU has far-reaching plans to set up a human rights court, a central bank and monetary fund, and by 2023 an African Economic Community with a single currency and most importantly implementing their endorsements.

"AU vision is one of a common future, that will ensure the economic well-being, improvement in the quality of life, freedoms, social justice and peace and security for the people of African continent," said Dr Ping.
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