The eighth annual African Economic Conference (AEC) ended on Tuesday in Johannesburg with a call on development and business leaders to turn Africa into a hub of business and development excellence.
The conference, jointly organized each year by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), brought together 500 decision-makers and development practitioners.
A joint statement by organisers said over the three-day forum, intense discussions were held on issues including the facilitation of trade; the mobility of people, goods and services; political will and government leadership in harmonizing macroeconomic policies; and the role of the private sector in the continent’s regional integration.
It said on the closing day of the conference, the AfDB Chief Economist and Vice-President, Mthuli Ncube, focused on knowledge and capacities, saying knowledge, strong institutions and the management of skills and talents should be at the core of the integration agenda.
He added that political leaders should double their efforts to make sure Africa became a tightly integrated growth pole.
Emmanuel Nnadozie, Director, Macro-Economic Policy Division, ECA, recalled the modest beginning of the AEC, which today gathers young African researchers and has become a key platform for knowledge-sharing.
He also stressed the importance of the platform for building the capacity for economic analysis on the continent. “We aspire to help young people to be part of that analysis,” he said.
Focusing on the human development impact of integration, Pedro Conceição, Head Economist for UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, said: “There is a need for mechanism of solidarity within Africa; countries need to share resources as well as knowledge and other aspect of growth.”
AfDB President Donald Kaberuka said regional integration had well-known benefits but wasn’t advancing as quickly as it should.
“Progress to date is encouraging, but highly variable. Where the pace is right, the results are beginning to show: almost everywhere tariffs are no longer the big issue, but non-tariff restrictions remain a real impediment.”
Abdalla Hamdok, Deputy Executive Secretary of ECA, said, “Economic transformation will ensure that Africa makes optimal use of its human and natural resources, bringing about a shift in the sectoral composition of its economies, in favour of high productivity sectors, especially manufacturing and modern services.”
African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said: “Leadership on regional integration should therefore happen, not only at the government level, but at all levels of African society and all institutions – whether business, civil society or private sector.”
The South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan emphasized the need for African countries to assert themselves in the ongoing global power shift.
“Too often we are in these global meetings, but with minor voices and inability to project with a common agenda for what we want to achieve ourselves and in the global agenda,” he said, calling for deeper regional integration.
Gordhan said the continent had an opportunity to offer alternative models of development and could create development models that were appropriate for their respective countries.