Southern African News Features                                           SANF 12 No 7, February 2012

AU to accelerate infrastructure development, trade

by Joseph Ngwawi

Africa’s quest for greater connectivity and improved intra-regional trade could soon become a reality after the continent’s leaders agreed to increase public spending on infrastructure and set in motion a programme to create a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017.

The recent 18th summit of the African Union noted that the continent’s regional integration agenda was presently affected by low-level connectivity of infrastructure networks and poor access to energy and information services. In response to these challenges, the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia adopted a series of agreements on the continent's economic, political and security issues.

These included a resolution to speed up Africa’s infrastructure development, which is regarded as one of the pillars of the continent’s economic integration agenda.

According to the Declaration on the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa issued at the end of the summit, African leaders recognized “the vital role of infrastructure and related services in the political and social-economic development, and physical integration of the continent”.

They resolved to increase public financing of infrastructure, implement major power projects such as hydroelectricity, oil refinery and gas pipelines, accelerate the construction of missing links and modernization of railways, and increase the capacity of ports.

The African leaders committed themselves to developing new and renewable energy resources to provide clean, reliable and affordable energy as well as nuclear energy for peaceful use. The continent will require about US$60 billion over the next 10 years to meet its infrastructure needs. This would require the support of international institutions such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

The summit also recognized the importance of intra-African trade, and the declaration said Africa will target the establishment of a free trade area by 2017. “The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) should be operationalized by the indicative date of 2017, and enhanced intra-African trade and deepened market integration can contribute significantly to sustainable economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, inflow of foreign direct investment, industrial development and better integration of the continent into the global economy," the declaration said.

The AU agreed on a three-step plan to prepare for the launch of the CFTA. The first step is to finalize the tripartite agreement among the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and SADC by 2014.

The second is to urge other trade blocs to follow the experience of the tripartite agreement and reach a parallel agreement between 2012 and 2014.

The third is to consolidate the tripartite and other regional free trade areas into the CFTA initiative between 2015 and 2016.

The summit also witnessed the launch of the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, consisting of three conference centres, a helipad and office space for 700 people.

In front of the building stands a bronze statue of the former Ghanaian President, Kwame Nkrumah, who was one of the founding fathers of African independence and a respected Pan-African leader. Towering above the Ethiopian capital’s skyline, the 99.9 metre-tall building was funded by the Chinese government at a cost of US$200 million.

Construction lasted for three years during which a team of up to 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers worked around the clock in shifts to finish it on schedule.

The building was inaugurated by the African Heads of State and Government attending the Summit, together with Jia Qinglin, chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference of China.

The new AU headquarters is a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa, and suggests a shift from mainly bilateral relations to strengthen multilateral links, already established since 2000 through the Forum on China Africa Cooperation.


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