Mugabe takes helm of African trading bloc

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Sunday urged African countries to end conflicts and increase self-reliance to boost development on the world’s poorest continent.

Opening a two-day summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Mugabe said member states must put money into the group’s fund to help cut dependence on foreign assistance.

“Let us contribute our own resources to the fund which can enable us to finance infrastructural development without any strings attached,” he said.

Seven heads of state and government are at the summit.

Mugabe, who took over the helm of Africa’s largest trading bloc in Africa, said the continent must raise its industrial capacity by exploiting its mineral resources, rich soils and human skills.

Without mentioning any country by name, Mugabe also said Africa had to confront conflicts to realise its potential.

“Conflict is a serious cancer in our region,” he said, adding it was adversely affecting Africa’s economic development.

“Let us make Africa a continent of opportunity for all its people by eliminating conflict,” he added.

The summit, in the resort town of Victoria Falls, will launch a customs union for its 19 member states stretching from Swaziland in the south to Egypt in the north, under which the member states will impose the same tariffs on goods from outside the region.

But Zimbabwe, whose industry has been hit hard by years of hyperinflation and economic contraction, is unlikely to immediately benefit from the union.
Mugabe’s new unity government with rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is battling to raise funds for its $8,3-billion recovery programme. So far, the administration has raised over $1-billion in credit lines for the private sector from African institutions, including Comesa.

On Sunday, Mugabe urged business leaders to explore investment opportunities in the region.
He said while Africa had made some significant economic progress, it was lagging behind other continents in developing its transport network, energy and power generation, water resources, education and health facilities.

Housing and general industrial capacity also needed attention, he said.

“We have serious challenges ahead of us,” Mugabe said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said: “The world is in recession and we need to find ways to survive.”

The summit is also attended by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and by ousted Madagascan leader Marc Ravalomanana who lost power in a military-backed opposition revolt. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Analysts say Bashir’s presence at the Victoria Falls summit could divert attention from the first big international event held under Zimbabwe’s new unity government.
- Reuters

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