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Economic integration key to Africa’s development – experts

 For African countries to fully achieve sustainable econo mic development in the next 50 years, efforts must be intensified to fast track regional economic integration, cross-b order infrastructural development and intra-African trade, experts said.

”Economic integration holds a lot of opportunity for Africa’s economic transfor mation,” former Chief Executive Officer of one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions, United Bank for Africa (UBA), T ony Elumelu, told PANA.

”This has been demonstrated with the success we have recorded in the initiative we took some years back, when we decided to set up a branch in Ghana. By going across of Africa, we have come to realise the potentials, skills and opportunities we have in Africa,” he added.

That success in Ghana has been replicated in other African countries, with the b ank now present in 18 countries.

But it is clear that African countries have not taken full advantage of the pote ntials that abound on the continent, whether in terms of economic integration or intra-Africa trade.

More than half of Africa’s 53 countries have marked a half century of their poli tical independence. This year alone, 17 countries are celebrating their golden jubilee.

As most African nations enter the 100 years stretch of their political independe nce, experts said the political independence has not translated to economic independence. They cite the high level of unemployment, low industri al base, low per capital income, poor living condition, deprivations and hunger across the continent to buttress their point.

They said Africa has not fully maximised its full potentials or leveraged its hu ge market size, population and resources through intra-Africa trade.

Not even the establishment of regional economic communities such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Economic Community (ECA), and the Common Market for Eastern and Central Africa (COMESA), among others, has fostered the kind of economic integration that can l ift the continent out of the doldrums.

As rightly observed by the Addis Ababa-based United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), ”the imperative for a strong and united Africa is based on the view that economic synergy is enhanced by integrat ion, because the economic advantage of a whole regional community is greater than the sum of the economic advantages of its separate member states .”

A way to fast track the integration process is maximising intra-Africa trade. Bu t in spite of the various trade groupings spanning about three decades, Africa’s intra-regional trade stands at only 10% in 2010. This is the lowest whe n compared with about 40% in North America and about 60% in Western Europe.

The implication is that Africans are not trading among themselves. Money that sh ould have remained in Africa is therefore being taken out, with its attendance pressure on local currencies and boost to foreign exchange.

At a high level Africa trade summit seminar in Washington, United State, last mo nth, Obageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice-President for Africa, said there existed a strong agreement among African leaders that regional integration would unlock economies of scale and improve competitiveness.

”Despite the introduction of free trade Areas, customs unions and common market s on the continent, the level of intra-African trade remains among the lowest in the world, (as) only 10% of African trade is conducted within the continent,’ ‘ she said.

Participants at the seminar noted that promoting trade within African countries should be seen as top priority, in recognition of the fact that this can act as a powerful means to growth, creation of employments and wealth.

”We will all prosper if we work together. That of course require us to build Af rican infrastructure. We don’t have roads connecting each other, the cost of moving goods from one country to the other is high,” Dr. Mo Ibrahim, founder of the London-based Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said in a paper he presented recently in Accra, Ghana.

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