20 December 2010
The time has come for “concrete action” to develop Africa’s infrastructure in order to raise the level of intra-African trade, South African President Jacob Zuma told a Nepad Infrastructure Experts meeting in Pretoria on Friday.
For almost two centuries, Africa’s development had been dominated by extractive industries specialising in taking the continent’s minerals and commodities to foreign markets, Zuma said.
“We have done enough planning on the continent … it’s either we [leave] things as they are and let Africa trail behind forever, or we do something about our infrastructure in order to develop like others,” Zuma said.
Friday’s meeting, which brought together heads of agencies and technical experts from across Africa, was a follow-up to the African Union meeting held in Kampala in July, which decided to prioritise infrastructure development on the continent.
According to a recent study, intra-Africa trade stands at around 10 percent of exports, whereas other regions such as Asia are closer to the 70 percent mark. Also, African transport costs are said to be around 12.6 percent of the cost of the goods, more than double that of the world average.
Zuma told the meeting that raising the level of intra-African trade remained a critical task. “In Africa, only seven percent of our trade is with other countries on the continent, on the other hand in Asia, almost 60 percent of an individual country’s trade is with their regional neighbours.”
It was important for Africa to improve regional trade because greater regional integration would help lower transport costs, while at the same time growing the market, Zuma said.
Speaking at the same event, the Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission, Trevor Manuel, said that Africa lagged far behind other regions in the world in respect of economic integration.
“So not only is our trade in Africa as low as it is, we also expect poor African consumers to pay so much more for the privilege of acquiring goods made in a neighbouring state, as opposed to those imported from across oceans.
“The challenge quite simply is to work tirelessly to turn the effects of colonialisation that stemmed from the decisions taken in Berlin about us in 1885,” Manuel said. “What we want is to change the face of the continent’s economy.”