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Economy - Development

"Africa needs new roads to boost trade"

Finance Ministers Samura Kamara of Sierra Leone (l) and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (r)

© Cliff Owen/IMF Photo/afrol News
afrol News, 11 October
- African Finance Ministers gathered in Washington this weekend agreed that the continent needs to focus on better infrastructure connecting the countries. Only in that way, the highly potential intra-African trade could take off.

A panel of four African Finance Ministers on Saturday told a news conference that boosting trade between African countries would require higher spending on roads, railways, and bridges. The discussion was held in presence of the IMF and World Bank - two institutions constantly trying to stop African governments from overspending.

"One of the ways we can take advantage of the rebound in Africa is through increased regional trade," Kenyan Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said. "One of the reasons countries in the East African Community (EAC) were able to be resilient despite the downturn in demand for our products from the developed countries was the increase in regional trade that took place."

East Africa during 2009 experienced the highest economic growth rate on the continent and the second highest world-wide, after China. At the same time, the EAC has taken big steps towards regional integration and also invested in better infrastructure connecting member countries.

Minister Kenyatta said authorities were working toward further strengthening trade between EAC countries. "We have a common market that has been in place since July 2010, and we are also working to improve infrastructure so that this increased intraregional trade can continue," the Kenyan Finance Minister stated.

Sierra Leone's Finance Minister Samura Kamara endorsed the importance of higher spending on infrastructure. "We want to devote a lot of our resources to the achievement of higher growth, and in so doing we are looking at infrastructure development," the Minister said.

At the same time, economic growth in Sierra Leone and most of the West African region has been too low to sustain large infrastructure investments by government. In particular the IMF has advised the Minister Kamara against exaggerating infrastructure spending.

His Kenyan counterpart said Africa's potential at present could be only fully realised through increased foreign investment in, among other things, infrastructure. "An agenda of propelling investment and job creation could be part and parcel of the global economic recovery," Minister Kenyatta added.

Finance Minister Mohamed Bacar Dossar of Comoros added that his country had tried to promote foreign investment in island nation. "These efforts led to a donors conference in March 2010 that generated pledges totalling US$ 350 million in financing and investment for the Comoros. It also held out the prospect of projects to improve infrastructure," he noted.

The Central African Republic, represented by Finance Minister Albert Besse, is still in a much more precarious situation, with poor finances, instability and infrastructures widely ruined by years of warfare and neglect.

Minister Besse said his country saw investment in major infrastructure projects such as roads and electricity supply as a key to fighting poverty. Budgets however still are too limited to sustain major investments, despite recent debt relief, and the Central African Minister also welcomed foreign investments.

The four ministers agreed there was a widening and deepening of global interest in Africa. The continent may account for a small percentage of global GDP, but Africa's high growth rates heralded a possible role as a much larger player in the world economy.

Meanwhile, especially East and Southern Africa is seeing major investments in infrastructure and regional integration. The regions are quickly countering the legacy from colonial times, where each colony focused on building roads and rails from the interior to the coast to export crude products to overseas markets.

Only now, with improving connections between African nations, is the highly intra-African trade beginning to take off and create scaled markets ofr African producers.

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