Africa can be economic powerhouse

Africa’s leaders are optimistic that the continent can be the world’s fastest-growing economic region, but key issues such as intra-regional trade must be addressed.

This emerged at the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union at the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa this weekend.

Leaders were upbeat about Africa’s potential to rival India for growth and development, but they admitted that much had to be done to improve enabling infrastructure. This included a trade corridor, ICT infrastructure and education.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said: "We have grown faster over the past 10 years than has been the case traditionally. On that basis we believe that Africa can and will be the next growth pole of the global economy."

Guinea's President Alpha Conde added:  "We have another advantage -- there is an acceleration of history. So, if we push forward in education and master the new technologies, we'll achieve in two or three years what others managed 20 years."

South African President Jacob Zuma noted: “Over the last decade, the African continent has been the fastest growing area in the world. The recent economic forecast from the IMF indicates that the economy of the African continent will grow by over five percent on average in the next two years. Moreover, economists from all over the world predict that Africa is going to be the next growth area in the world after Asia.
 
As the African continent we have to take important steps in order to benefit from the opportunities that have become open. One of the critical steps we have identified is to improve intra-African trade.”
 
Zuma said weak infrastructure posed a threat to intra-African trade as well as the general development of the African continent. Zuma previously told Nepad that Africa was poised for economic growth that could rival Asia’s.

South Africa, which heads the Presidential Infrastructure Championing Initiative, has been tasked in particular with championing the North-South Corridor, which is an initiative that focuses on road and rail infrastructure development.
 
The various projects comprising the Presidential Infrastructure Championing Initiative include road and railway infrastructure, physical and procedural improvements at border crossings, energy as well as ICTs.

Zuma said the entire North-South road network had been physically assessed and inspected. With the exclusion of the road network in South Africa, this amounted to 8600 km of roads. The verdict was that urgent repairs were needed to the roads system, which would require USD6.9 billion.

He said: “We should look at different ways of financing infrastructure, with a particular focus on Public Private Partnerships.”
 
The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, PIDA, is a key topic of discussion in Addis Ababa. PIDA promotes the development of regional and continental infrastructure projects in transport, energy, information and telecommunications technologies, as well as trans-boundary water to accelerate the physical integration of Africa, boost intra-African trade, and raise African competitiveness in the global economy.

The African Union Commission wants to see intra-African trade double, from its current level of 10-12% of the entire continent's trade, to 20-25% within the next decade.

Besides the improved intra-regional trade, PIDA’s goals also include the securing of water resources and basins for future generations, growth of ICT bandwidth by a factor of 20 and access to electricity for an additional 800 million people.

This weekend, the African Union also inaugurated its new high-rise headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, built and donated by China at a cost of USD200m.

China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin attended the official opening ceremony, saying  the building complex shows China's support for African countries.

China is the largest trading partner of Africa with two way trade of over USD150 billion.

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