Friday, November 28, 2014

The African Dream

KIGALI – The dream that the twenty-first century will be the “African Century” is powerful and intoxicating. It is also becoming reality. As African officials gather in Washington, DC, on August 4-6 for the first US-Africa Leaders Summit, it is worth considering the basis – and the limits – of the continent’s progress.

While conflict and poverty remain serious problems in many African regions, our continent is not only more stable than ever before; it is also experiencing some of the highest economic growth rates anywhere on the planet. Over the past decade, tens of millions of people across Africa have joined the middle class; our cities are expanding rapidly; and our population is the most youthful in the world.

But Africans must not take it for granted that their time has come. Words are cheap, and, despite the continent’s positive momentum, we know that history is littered with squandered dreams – nowhere more so than in Africa.

So there is much that we in Africa must do to seize our opportunity. Building bigger, more integrated sub-regional markets that are deeply embedded in the global economy is one of the most urgent tasks that we are facing. After all, from the European Union to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the North American Free Trade Agreement, we see how geographic regions can create conditions for shared growth and prosperity by removing barriers to commerce, harmonizing regulatory norms, opening labor markets, and developing common infrastructure.

That is precisely the vision that we are working to realize in our own part of Africa, under the banner of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects. In the past 18 months, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, joined by South Sudan and more recently Ethiopia, have launched 14 joint projects that will integrate East Africa more closely and make our region a better, easier place to do business.

There are already concrete results. We have put in place a single tourist visa valid in all three countries. We have established a single customs territory, slashing red tape and removing non-tariff trade barriers. A standard-gauge railway from Mombasa to Kigali and Juba via Kampala is being designed, and financing for the first segment has been secured from Chinese partners.

Taking these steps has required going against decades of entrenched practice. Unfortunately, across Africa, national borders have tended to be chokepoints rather than enablers of intra-continental cooperation on trade, security, labor, and environmental issues. Too often, Africa’s economies exchange goods and coordinate policy among themselves less than they do with countries outside of the continent.

We are determined to change this. Under the Northern Corridor initiative, for example, each of our governments has accepted responsibility for shepherding key projects.

Uganda is securing investors for a new oil refinery and is spearheading the development of regional infrastructure for information and communications technology, which will lead to the elimination of cellular roaming charges among our countries.

Kenya is tasked with developing a regional commodity exchange, improving human resources through education and consultancy services, and building both crude and refined oil pipelines. Kenya is also exploring ways to expand regionally focused power generation and transmission.

Rwanda is charged with aligning immigration laws and promoting freedom of movement for both citizens and visitors. Other coordination duties include regional security (through the East African Standby Force), coordinated airspace management, as well as joint tourism marketing.

We know what success will look like for our region’s citizens. And we know what needs to be done. Progress will be achieved not by building monuments for politicians or holding summits, but by lowering the costs of doing business and raising the incomes of our people.

Bureaucracies move slowly, sometimes because they are institutionally programmed to subvert change. The framework of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects is designed to generate and sustain the political will necessary to get the project done.

The United States has always been an important partner for our countries, but the path to solving our problems is not through handouts from American taxpayers. Only we, together with our business sector, can do the job. As we do so, we look forward to a deeper and more “normal” relationship with the US, focused on what we can do together rather than on what Americans can do for us.

Africa has always had what it takes to rise. Together, we can make it happen.

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    1. CommentedCam Jennings

      The African Dream for the 21st Century must contain a proactive approach to maintaining trust, truth and transparency to mitigate the retarding aspects of greed, fraud and corruption. I agree with what has been stated here in this article and would like to add my sincere thanks to the authors for this work. In closing i would like to share this link

    2. CommentedMr Econotarian

      Rwanda is doing fine with great reforms and high economic growth, although it is recovering the functionality of its legal system after the genocide. Uganda and Kenya, however, rank economically "Mostly Unfree" on the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, which states that "Uganda remains the most corrupt country in East Africa" and Uganda's "regulatory environment is not conducive to entrepreneurial activity." The Index suggests that Kenya's economic freedoms "have been largely eroded by significant deterioration in the rule of law as measured by property rights and freedom from corruption. " And call me crazy, but electing a President who face charges of crimes against humanity is not a great way to fight corruption or to make investors feel safe about your country.

    3. CommentedEdward Koo

      The title says it all, the African "Dream". While this article exudes altruism and positive thinking, one must question the reality Africa is currently in; Africa's countries may be on the right path to becoming more developed, but the process and time that it will take to reach the final destination is far off in the horizon.

    4. CommentedVelko Simeonov

      Keep on dreaming! No amount of statistics can hide the fact that Africa is still in the 18th century and will remain there for a long time to come.

    5. CommentedKopano Matsaseng

      While I share the sentiment about Africa time, there is a still nagging issue about how much is the population (i.e., as represented by the civil society groups) have clear understanding in terms of their roles and direct benefits from the transnational deals. Furthermore, the experience in Europe (EURO area) and NAFTA (i.e., Mexico) have left a lot of doubt about the benefits of this trade deals. And lastedly, the fact that the US is looking at Africa as continent and NOT making concessions with individual countries means that Africa time might be far off! Many countries are not competitive and competent enough to deal with the West directly which would be more beneficial than through the groupings. So my message is to dread carefully and reconsider the facts before us.