Central Africa can benefit from BRICS partnership

(Reuters)

(Reuters)

This year’s BRICS summit has a uniquely African flavour, with representatives of the African Union (AU), African Development Bank, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs) all in attendance.  Commitments to establish a permanent BRICS desk within the AU and more funding for priority infrastructure projects on the continent are likely outcomes of this summit.

I am attending as the representative for the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which comprises eleven nations committed to deepening regional cooperation. We are a group of countries that share the views of BRICS nations in wanting to fight economic protectionism and enhance global trade. We recognise that interconnectedness and our ability to trade with one another is critical for raising the standard of living for our populations.
We are a community that has learned the importance of establishing enabling environments for foreign investors and managing our finances prudently.  In this respect, all ECCAS nations have been working closely with our partners at the IMF and unilateral partners to improve our fiscal fitness and strengthen the skills of our local workforces. We are making progress in diversifying our economies and reducing dependence on oil revenues.

My own nation, Gabon, has been engaged in a process of economic diversification since 2009, driving industrialisation in our forest sector, as well as inaugurating new and ambitious agro-industrial and mining projects and new services with high added value. The progress we are making is allowing Gabon to position itself as pole for growth in the sub-region, providing foreign investors with good and stable returns at a time when many OECD economies have been slowing down.

Half an hour by car outside of Gabon’s capital, Libreville, we have established a special economic zone at Nkok, which I’m proud to say has attracted more than $1.7-billion of new investment from 80 investors from 18 countries, and generated 2 800 jobs. A steel manufacturing firm, timber companies and furniture businesses have each established a presence. We have assigned priority to agribusiness investors and operators who can benefit from the tax incentives and infrastructure we have established, in an effort to reduce our food import bill — $650-million — and strengthen our food security.  Many South African companies, from citrus growers to avocado producers and grain harvesters, have distinguished themselves in this sector, and will be welcome in Gabon.

I cannot represent ECCAS without referencing our region’s unique biodiversity, dominated by the Congo Basin. This area of forest, which comprises ten percent of the world’s land, is our planet’s “second lung,” with a carbon capture rate superseded only by the Amazon. It’s a region that contains more than 20% of all global mineral resources as well as oil and natural gas.

As leaders in the ECCAS region we understand the need to exploit and develop these assets without compromising our biodiversity or impairing our water security. We are awake to the need to exploit these natural resources in ways which can bring development, not just growth, for this generation and the next. 

This means managing our forests and cultivating our lands in ways that address the needs of the vast numbers of Africans who depend on our forest resources for a living, as well as the global community who depend on our carbon-sink. How we manage our biodiversity is of importance to the rest of Africa and to the whole world. Witnessing other continents suffering air quality issues or rising temperatures, we cannot ignore the vital role our region plays in confronting the reality of climate change. 

Ensuring the benefits derived from our land and forests are equitably distributed is a challenge that our regional institution — ECCAS — and national governments are equipping themselves to address, so that the Congo Basin’s rich natural resources benefit humanity and contribute to lasting development and poverty reduction in our region. Preserving our natural environment while enriching it for the benefit of our citizens who depend on our forests for for their livelihoods,  is no small task, but we are up to the challenge and we are being supported by our donor partners.

When it comes to peace and security, I am pleased to say we are making some notable advances in our fight against terrorism and maritime piracy in the region, working with our international partners. Next week in Lome, a joint session of the ECCAS and ECOWAS (West African Community of States) will advance our cooperation to defeat the scourge of radicalisation represented by groups such Boko Haram in the Sahel and northern Nigeria.

The progress we have made in the ECCAS sub-region in recent years presents real opportunities for broader cooperation with other nations including the BRICS nations — which account for 40% of the world’s population.

As the representative for ECCAS at this summit, I can assure you that our community of nations is awake to the need to embrace partnerships with each other and with the rest of the world. We view our cooperation with BRICS nations as pivotal to the safety, security and prosperity of the whole world, and we cherish the chance to evolve state-to-state and industry-to-industry relations that will afford our citizens the opportunity to live safe, contended and purposeful lives.

Ali Bongo Ondimba is the President of Gabon and the representative of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) at the BRICS Summit.

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