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Roads key to Africa, says Kibaki

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 7 – Infrastructural development must be prioritised as a key catalyst to the quick opening up of remote areas in Africa, President Mwai Kibaki has declared.

He says the quick flow of traffic and information would boost trade and accelerate integration of the Continent’s National Economies.

Addressing the North-South Corridor COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite Conference at Mulugushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka, the President noted that with rapid globalisation and the growing trend in market consolidation, infrastructural networks could no longer be limited to national boundaries.

“It is, therefore, an urgent priority for us to join hands as regional economic blocs and improve cross-border connectivity through increased investments in roads, railways, ports and air transport.  Beyond improving road, rail and air transport, the development of telecommunications infrastructure and services is also vital,” the Head of State said.

President Kibaki cited establishment of free trade areas by COMESA, SADC and EAC regional blocs as part of the progress made towards integration of the African Union national economies in the last four decades.

The Head of State welcomed the decision by the three regional economic blocs to establish a free trade area encompassing the 26 member countries.

The President noted that while the East African Community has set the precedent by establishing a Customs Union, COMESA and SADC needed to emulate the initiative as part of commitment to regional integration and eventual amalgamation of the continent.

He noted the need for the regional economic blocs to come together and urgently improve cross-border connectivity through increased investment in roads, railways and air transport to spur inter-regional trade and development while addressing the challenges faced by landlocked countries.

“Beyond improving road, rail and air transport, the development of telecommunications infrastructure and services is also vital.  The last decade has shown the critical importance of the telecommunications sector, not only as a growth industry, but also as an enabler for other economic activities,” said the President.

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To create the desired impact in promoting inter-regional trade for economic growth and poverty alleviation, the President called for full support of the pilot aid programme by development partners and the private sector participation.

On power generation, President Kibaki noted that despite access to electricity being the single most important catalyst for rural development, access to power in majority countries was still a big challenge.

In this regard, the President noted, additional power generation capacity and inter-connected transmission infrastructure are needed to enable the Continent to meet the growing electricity demand in the regions to boost trade and electric energy.

“In particular, inadequate investments in infrastructure and utilities have continued to constrain intra-African trade.  Physical interconnectivity, therefore, is an important factor in facilitating inter-regional trade and speeding up development,” he said.

The Head of State stated that the three economic regions of COMESA, EAC and SADC had succeeded in policy formulation and regulatory harmonization and was now laying emphasis on coordinating and promoting development of joint infrastructure.

President Kibaki, as chair of COMESA, urged the three tripartite secretariats to work out programmes and timetables on integrating other corridors besides jointly diversifying financial and technical resource mobilization for infrastructural development.

He thanked the European Union (EU) for the 78 million Euros support to the COMESA fund established to address adjustment costs of integration.

“This amount has supplemented contributions from several regional countries including Burundi, Rwanda , Mauritius and my own country, Kenya .  Through the COMESA Fund, we have agreed to pool resources for infrastructure development and it is our sincere hope that other partners will join the Commission of the European Union in supporting this noble initiative,” noted the President.

The COMESA chairman also challenged African countries to mobilise their resources to finance local development and not to entirely rely on donor support.

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“As we appeal for continued support, however, we must bear in our minds that the development of our Continent depends on ourselves.  It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to explore all possible ways of mobilising financial, human and physical resources required for infrastructure development in the African Continent.”.

Presidents Rupiah Banda of Zambia, Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, in their addresses, stressed the importance of integration and partnership to face the current global economic recession.

President Banda said Africa was endowed with natural resources but was home for the poorest communities due to lack of financial resources to add value to their raw exports.

President Motlanthe on his part appealed to the development partners and the private sector in Africa to support energy generation in the continent saying electricity was a precious commodity for inter-state trade in the continent.

The North-South Corridor conference is a joint COMESA-EAC-SADC pilot aid initiative whose objective is to improve on road transport so as to reduce the cost of doing business in the Continent.

Representatives from African Development Bank, European Commission, World Bank, African Union Commission are among the over 400 delegates attending the high level conference on North-South corridor.

President Kibaki is accompanied by Cabinet Ministers Moses Wetangula and Amos Kimunya among other senior Government officials.

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