Friday, October 24, 2008

Uganda: Tripartite Summit; Not Another Talking Shop

The first-ever Tripartite Summit of the major trade blocs for East, Central and Southern Africa, is taking place in Uganda, a development that has been hailed as a landmark realisation by African leaders that integration is a key avenue through which African countries can harness their collective potential to raise their people out of poverty.

One can only hope that this summit is not going to be yet another talking shop but one that will engender progressive outcomes and workable solutions to the numerous development challenges facing the member countries.

The Summit at Speke Resort Munyonyo brings together five member states of the East African Community (EAC), 19 member countries of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These economic blocs encompass a combined population of more than half a billion people, almost equal to the hugely successful 27-member European Union.

As Ambassador Vincent de Visscher, the European Commission Head of Delegation in Uganda noted yesterday, regional integration and the creation of bigger and more predictable markets is essential for increased investment inflows, improved resource mobilisation and hence global competitiveness, growth and job-creation.

Of course there is no better example of the benefits of regional economic integration than the EU, which is now the biggest trading bloc in the world. Citizens enjoy free movement of labour, goods, services and capital across borders.

Additionally, it has a well harmonised system of rules and standards, which enable business activity and industrial production to flourish competitively. There is generally no controversy about the fact that this is the way to go for Africa as well.

Of the three blocs, the EAC is the poorest with a per capita income of just $1,065, compared to SADC's $3152 and Comesa's $1811. Ideally, there should, therefore, be a lot for the people of EAC to gain from this tripartite partnership and synergies.

This summit is taking place at a time when the global financial markets are in turmoil. Concerted efforts are therefore necessary to chart a way forward in a bid to cushion the regional financial markets from the global meltdown. When this summit comes to an end, the people expect to hear not the usual rhetoric in communiqués, but concrete plans to tackle the common development challenges that require joint regional forces to combat them.

These include the biting poverty, trade barriers, the poor transport infrastructure (roads and railways), water and energy, ICT etc, without which Africa will never be successfully integrated into the global economy.