‘Africa needs greater unity to punch above its weight’

Africa needs to urgently improve its cooperation across the continent as it needs two to three decades of rapid growth to make a substantial dent in the level of poverty, Minister in the Presidency for National Planning Trevor Manuel said on Friday.

Speaking at an Institute of International Affairs economic and political conference at Jan Smuts House at Wits University, he said that Africa needs stronger regional and continent-wide institutions, more integrated markets and a change in infrastructure design.

“In the short term, at least, we must raise the level of intra-African trade from its abysmally low 10,4%. There has to be new investment in infrastructure that will unlock the potential for agriculture and trade across Africa,” said Manuel.

He called for a change in infrastructure design, which was originally designed to transfer primary commodities to Europe rather than fostering regional trade.

He said the challenge should be addressed in the medium term through a more decentralised, regional approach.

“But defining this approach also needs work,” he said. “We need greater cooperation with the continent on a range of issues.”

However, Africa’s voice is limited by its fragmented economies.

“Stronger regional trade, a larger economic bloc, smoother terms of doing business and more integrated markets would be beneficial for African economic integration and for giving Africa a greater voice in global politics. Put simply, greater unity would help us punch above our weight,” he said.

He said Africa needs to enlarge both the market size and market structure.

Manuel said regional economic communities suffer from overlapping memberships and a multiplicity of regional institutions.

“The complexities increase exponentially when the detail of myriad bilateral arrangements with outside agencies, such as the current situation arising from the European Union economic partnership agreements (EPAs), are taken into account,” he said.

Manuel also said that the systems of global governance are not yet optimal to deal with the challenges the planet faces.

He says what is clear is that Africa has to have a greater say in global governance.

“It has to be better organised and it must demonstrate greater qualities of regional economic development,” he said.

Manuel made the point that the economic ties between large parts of the world and Africa continue to display characteristics of neo-colonialism.

“The hard-won foreign direct investments are largely in the extractive or service industries — capital is owned abroad, to where profits are repatriated; frequently the professionals are expatriates and little is developed by way of an indigenous entrepreneurial class or an appropriate infrastructure.”

He said Africa is “highly vulnerable” to economic shocks.

He also pointed out that the major institutions that have come to prominence in responding to the economic crisis have not been the ones that were around twenty years ago. For example, the G7 has lost its importance because of the absence of large emerging economies.

“The G20 has emerged as a major player in global governance,” he said. — I-Net Bridge

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Evan Pickworth
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