President Yoweri Museveni recently attended the North-South Corridor Conference organised under the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Framework in Lusaka, Zambia.
May I begin by thanking you, President Rupiah Banda, for inviting us to this historic North-South Corridor Conference organised under the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Framework. Thank you also for the kind hospitality extended to me and to my delegation.
The chair of the EAC Summit of Heads of State, His Excellency President Paul Kagame, was unable to come because the dates of this conference coincide with the Genocide Memorial occasion. He sends his regards and wishes this conference every success. I am representing him as the immediate past chair.
Excellencies, the central challenge of African development is the transformation of the continent from a largely primary commodity and peasant driven agriculture to an industrial and service-based economy. This transformation will only happen when our countries and our regions take the bold step of developing a large single market that can stimulate and absorb the products of robust industrialisation, spur investments and promote production and trade.
The key driver for this transformation is the development of national and regional infrastructure that is both reliable and efficient. Such infrastructure constitutes the solid foundation upon which the African Economic Community can successfully be built.
This adequate infrastructure in the areas of energy, road transport and rail transport will lower the costs of doing business in East Africa by making her more competitive. It is in this light that I salute and commend the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Arrangement for taking the initial, but crucial steps towards making the realisation of the African Economic Community possible.
For too long, now over four decades of African independence, our countries and regional organisations have strived to get our act together on the infrastructure front.
Often, our over-reliance on external funding for implementing different projects has been the main source of inaction and delayed response to effecting much needed and timely interventions that promote development. Infrastructure development has particularly fallen prey to this dependency syndrome. And as a consequence, economic transformation has suffered.
Indeed, regional integration, with its focus on opening up vast economic spaces and tapping on bigger markets, has failed to realise the potential that underpins it because poor infrastructure has bedevilled it. Yet it is through deeper regional integration that the potential to liberate our economies from the ravages of poverty, socio-economic transformation and to create wealth and sustainable prosperity crucially lies.
At no time in recent history has the importance of regional integration been more heightened than today as we witness the unfolding of a grave and debilitating global financial and economic crisis among the industrialised countries of the West and Asia. It is evident that developing economies will experience decline in economic growth flowing from low aggregate demand in the rich countries and declining levels of both ODA (official development assistance) and Direct Foreign Investment.
We are entering a period of serious economic uncertainty. Our response in mastering this complex environment is to deepen collective self reliance not as autarky (an economy that is self-sufficient and does not take part in international trade), but as a deliberate strategy to shore up our economies from the inevitable vulnerabilities the current climate portends. This is not impossible given that the crisis in the West is among the habitual over-consumers that do so at our expense because of buying our under-priced raw-materials. Yet we, the habitual under-consumers, have more potential demand. This demand needs to be quenched at competitive prices resulting from lower costs.
I doubt if Africa needs huge sums for stimulus. It rather needs huge sums for infrastructure development. I have not seen demand declining in Uganda or the region.
Excellencies, the topic that I have been requested to address at this conference, namely â€˜Importance of the Tripartite Process in the Context of the African Economic Community and Deepening Regional Integrationâ€™ is most pertinent. It resonates well with todayâ€™s fast evolving and increasingly interdependent world economic and social order.
With the surge of globalisation over the past two decades, it has dawned on developing countries and regions that the critical response to the challenges spawned by globalisation fundamentally lie in their willingness and capacity to pool resources and unite efforts in larger and stronger regional economic and political blocks. It needs no emphasis that even the more advanced economies of the North have over the years embarked on measures that enlarge, strengthen and consolidate markets. In this context, it is clear that regional integration and engagement now constitute the new paradigm that defines and propels global development.
Indeed, we learn from the current global financial and economic crisis that the rich countries are not only collectively strategising but are also collectively taking measures to arrest the crisis and promote economic recovery.
What stands out is that even a global economic powerhouse such as the United States is no longer able to act alone in the face of the current situation. The just ended G20 Summit in London is also a clear manifestation of a new global economic order in which the OECD countries have little choice but to sit down with the emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa and structure joint strategies and interventions appropriate to addressing the global economic and financial meltdown.
Africans did not have to wait for the global crisis to realise that unity means strength. Over the last 6,000 years, all the sustainably prosperous countries have been those that seek maximum integration of peoples and resources: Egypt, Persia, China, Russia, India etc. and now Brazil, South Africa etc. The small countries that became prosperous did so at the expense of others through colonisation. These include UK, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Spain.
In the light of the obtaining global economic crisis, the promotion of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite arrangement is a welcome shot in the arm in our resolve to mitigate and address the adverse effects of this situation. More importantly, this tripartite arrangement is intended to make our economies stronger and more resolute.
The more we witness developed economies rushing to take shelter under regional integration tents and other collective economic structures such as G8, the more we, the developing countries, need to take cover as well under our own regional integration sheds. Clearly, it is a moot question today to imagine a strong stand-alone economy anywhere on the globe.
This is the context that underlay the birth, growth and consolidation of our regional economic communities (RECs) on the one hand, and the strengthening of the African Union, especially in its mandate to fast track the establishment of the African Economic Community, on the other hand.
Our regional economic communities, in our region and African-wide, have to-date played signal roles in deepening integration with varying successes in promoting free trade areas, customs unions and monetary unions. Some of the RECs have also spearheaded regional development by embarking on regional projects that span infrastructure development, food security, higher education and the promotion of sustainable water resources, health and HIV/Aids in particular.
At the level of the African Union, we have seen the evolution of institutions geared at bolstering African-wide and regional integration. These institutions include the Pan African Parliament and the African Court of Justice. An African Investment Bank is in the process of being established. Importantly, the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) was adopted in July 2001 as a development vehicle for the African Union. NEPAD has worked closely with the RECs in undertaking technical studies for various projects and programmes that bolster regional integration. NEPAD has also provided seed capital for some of these projects.
It is clear though that the pace towards the realisation of the African Economic Community has so far been slow and even indeterminate. Such lacklustre performance has led some African leaders to believe that Kwame Nkrumah was right in his dictum, â€œSeek ye first the political kingdom and all the rest shall be added onto youâ€; and thus the clamour for the formation of an African continental government.
In other words, the formation of such government is perceived to be a panacea for fast tracking an African Economic Community. Yet many of us within the Tripartite institutional framework do not share this view. Indeed, we believe that the building block strategy is best suited to the earlier realisation of the African Economic Community and even African Political Union or, at least, political integration of parts of the continent.
In furtherance of this building block strategy, we have championed the Tripartite process and institutional arrangement. The Kampala Declaration of October 2008 formally endorsed the bringing together of COMESA-EAC and SADC with a firm mandate to establish a Free Trade Area followed by a Customs Union.
At the same time, the three RECs have been called upon to use the Tripartite framework, which is underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding, to promote joint projects and programmes, one of which is the North-South Corridor that brings us together here today. It is my firm belief as well as that of the East African Community that this Tripartite arrangement and process will best assure our forward movement towards the realisation of the African Economic Community as well as the deepening of regional integration.
The success of this conference today will herald a new frontier in the mobilisation of our own resources as well as those of our friends. From here onwards, as we look forward to the early establishment of the free trade area, let us remain committed and steadfast in making this Tripartite process a success.
Excellencies, may I end my statement by once again thanking President Banda for hosting this historic conference, the path breaker to putting our Tripartite arrangement on course towards building a stronger regional economic block.
I thank you
Regional integration will liberate Africa from poverty â€” Museveni