25 May 2013 marked 50 years since the formation of the African Union. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was the predecessor organisation of the African Union (AU) and was established in Addis Ababa in 1963. The African Union was inaugurated on 26 May 2001 in Addis Ababa and launched on 9 July 2002 in South Africa. The step towards greater integration for African states through this continental organisation was truly a landmark for Africa. Initially, the OAU was largely seized with a political agenda which saw it calling for the liberation of those states still under colonial rule. Further, it was influential in highlighting measures to bring about an end to apartheid. It is noteworthy, however that the founding principles of the OAU have transcended and infused those objectives that are at the core of the African Union, namely the unity and solidarity of African states, the drive to ensure a better life for the peoples of Africa, sovereignty and territorial integrity and the promotion of international cooperation in line with the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Looking back, there is no doubt that on virtually all fronts Africa has made tremendous strides. It is no exaggeration to say that it is now a region infused with dynamism, greater prosperity, democracy, peace and development.
At the Summit meeting held to mark the 50 year milestone of African integration in Addis Ababa, the AU Chairman and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn stated that the gathering will look forward to creating an Africa free from poverty and conflict and said:
“This historic day marks not only a great leap forward in the Pan-Africanist quest for freedom, independence and unity, but also the beginning of our collective endeavor for the realization of Africa’s socio-economic emancipation,”
The questions one, therefore, needs to ask is how does Africa continue this positive trend? How does the growth it has been experiencing continue to expand, diversify and be more equitably shared? What are the threats to this growth and prosperity and how does the continent continue its democratic and peaceful projectory?
The answers to these questions can largely be found in the recently released Africa Competitiveness Report 2013. The report is the result of collaboration between three organisations, namely the World Bank Group, the World Economic Forum and the African Development Bank. The report argues that to achieve long term competitiveness, Africa’s economies need to deepen their integration to build economies of scale, increase employment and economic diversification and enhance trade and investment opportunities. Four policy interventions are proposed in the report to strengthen regional integration. (http://www.weforum.org/news/regional-integration-key-africa-s-future-competitiveness)
Firstly, the report proposes that Africa address the gap in competitiveness that exists between it and other emerging regions. In order to do this, Africa’s institutions need to be strengthened along with critical interventions in education and skills training, advances in technology and investment in infrastructure.
The second intervention recommended is advancing trade through easing import and export constraints, enhanced transparency between border administrations, furthering the use of information technology and strengthening infrastructure.
Thirdly, the report calls for greater improvements in Africa’s infrastructure which is an impediment to trade and further regional integration. The key areas that require greater investment are the transportation, energy and information communication technologies (ICT) sectors.
Lastly, the report asserts that Africa needs to focus on the creation of growth poles, which are defined as public-private arrangements to enhance export led industries and supporting infrastructure, which will improve productive capacity, attract investment and also thereby serve to strengthen economic integration.
Africa has been enjoying strong economic growth with rates of 5% and higher in certain countries. The key is to ensure that this growth is sustainable and more equitably shared to reduce marked income inequalities. The report calls for the private and public sectors to work together to further extend economic integration and ensure that macroeconomic policies are better aligned. African governments also need to adopt critical reforms to enhance their competitiveness.
Finally, it is evident that Africa has turned a corner on its development path. Intra-African trade is growing albeit off a low base and investment is being increasingly driven by other African countries. Improving competitiveness, facilitating trade through enhancing regional integration and investing in infrastructure will go a long way to ensuring Africa reaps the fruits of ensuring a better life for all its people’s. This was the hope expressed by the first leaders of the newly liberated states in the OAU Charter, which laid the platform for the current African Union.