Africa’s Regional Integration– Moving from Rhetoric to Facts

Published on 16th May 2016

To-day, when we look to the future, there is no certainty as to where we are going or how to get there! In his famous book, ―Powershift, Alvin Toffler has referred to this phenomenon of uncertainty as ―Terra Incognita, the unchartered landscape of to-morrow.

But there is no doubt that we are in the midst of a transition. The road to the future is turning out to be different from what as nations we had expected. World economic activity remains subdued, and in emerging market and developing economies, economic growth declined for the fifth consecutive year. As a result, the IMF yet again lowered its growth projections for 2016 and 2017. The IMF now projects that the global economy will grow in the range of 3.4 to 3.6 percent per year in 2016 and 2017.

While sub-Saharan Africa looks better in terms of absolute numbers, growth is expected to reach 4.0 and 4.7 percent, respectively, in 2016 and 2017. These projections have been lowered since October 2015 when the last projections were made. In addition, there are serious risks to the baseline outlook.

One such risk is whether the slowdown and rebalancing of economic activity in China away from investment and manufacturing and toward consumption and services will be gradual or abrupt. Other uncertainties relate to the future behavior of today’s low prices for energy and other commodities, or the tightening of monetary policy in the United States. All the risks noted here weigh heavily on some of the largest African economies and can bring further downward pressures to the Continent’s growth.

Clearly, these are uncomfortable times. And now the most uncomfortable question is whether sub-Saharan Africa is sufficiently equipped to face these challenges. The last decade of strong growth in the region was partly a result of improved macroeconomic management in many countries.

This will become even more important now, if the Continent is to maintain a strong economic performance in a more challenging global environment.

However, more must be done, because the world of the 21st Century is different and there are no easy answers. While further strengthening of governments’ policy implementation capacity remains essential for strong economic performance, promoting diversification and structural transformation will be more essential in the future.

Indeed, only diversified economies are capable of a quick reaction to changing needs and to attract foreign direct investment and grasp the opportunities associated with the region’s demographic transition, natural resource wealth, and a rising middle class.

We must imperatively address the region’s pressing needs to develop more effective institutions, legal frameworks, policies, and practices to promote economic stability, but what is most important for the region is sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and poverty reduction.

Regional economic integration may help to tackle the challenges of sustainable growth as well as poverty, but it should not be seen as a process that will solve all the problems that Africa is confronted with at present.

Regional integration is important but manifestly, it is not the panacea for all our economic and social ills. I would like to believe that first and foremost, the region needs to enhance its human capacity and build in more human capital.

Africa has a human capacity dividend – the youth bulge and that’s why the role of institutions like ATI becomes so crucial. In Mauritius, we attach significant importance to both regional integration and capacity development and—in my view—these two go hand in hand in as much as we are proponents of brain circulation. We strongly believe that it is only when we increase human capacity, empower with the necessary tools and the appropriate enabling environment, that we can bring about sustained economic growth and move our economy toward a high-income status.

For this to happen, we have to inevitably shift our economic and production structure towards sectors with higher value added. In Mauritius, our Expanded Africa Strategy envisaged the creation of a knowledge hub for Africa in Mauritius and these days the ―Mauritian knowledge hub is becoming an increasingly important part of our economic development strategy through the provision of quality higher education.

Students from 30 African countries are enrolled in our tertiary education institutions. Mauritius has already established a program of scholarships for African students, and it is now aspiring to make its tertiary education even more attractive to foreign students, in particular from Africa.

Because of this strategy, the share of the education sector in our GDP reached almost 5 percent in 2015. Sugar cane may still shape our landscape, provide some social comfort but the times when we relied on it as a major national economic pillar are long gone.

As part of our Expanded African Strategy, we are providing financial support to and hosting the IMF’s Regional Technical Assistance Center for Southern Africa—known as AFRITAC South—and, of course, the IMF’s Africa Training Institute, an institution that aspires to provide high quality training to government officials from the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

The training programme being provided by the Africa Training Institute aims at maximizing capacity development in sub-Saharan Africa by enhancing the macroeconomic skills of African government officials. This will in turn enable them to become better advocates of their country’s position in discussions on economic policies with international organizations and their partner countries.

Most importantly, such training will help build macroeconomic understanding at the government institution level so as to enable the implementation of better and inclusive national economic policies.

Certainly, this is a challenging task and, if regional integration on the Continent is becoming a priority objective, countries will need more ATI training in the future.

There is need for African Governments to invest more in capacity building, and the Africa Training Institute no doubt, represents a high return investment opportunity into our future prosperity. It must be underscored that the efforts that Mauritius has been making and still is, are focused on a genuine spirit of partnership, with a conviction that together we must all endeavour to become a stronger economy with higher income, with a focus on inclusive growth, social justice, a further reduction in poverty, and a better quality of life for all of our people on the African Continent.

We should therefore partner among ourselves in Africa and learn from our peers through an extensive sharing of experience, knowledge, and capacities.

Being a scientist and having been an Academician, I cannot but emphasize the crucial importance of science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship for Africa. These are the necessary tools to achieve sustained long term economic growth and development.

Throughout history, science and technology have been instrumental in improving the plight of humanity. And mind you, that role will not diminish – not with the impacts of climate change as our Damocles sword. Indeed, it will accelerate. Of course, economics and other related areas are equally important.

But for sub-Saharan African countries, and for that matter, for ATI, (why not?), renewed attention to STEM should also become a strategic priority. It is time to use any means to tackle mediocrity not just in S&T but in the entire capacity building landscape and forge the next generation of partnerships that can deliver results and long lasting outcomes for the Continent. This is a Critical Success Factor for Africa to grow faster and increase prosperity for its citizens.

By Her Excellency Mrs. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim,G.C.S.K., C.S.K., PhD., DSc

President of the Republic of Mauritius.

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