, DAVOS, Jan 26 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga has made a strong appeal for investment in infrastructure to facilitate trade and economic integration as a way out of the grinding poverty in Africa.
Addressing a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Odinga said the absence of trans-continental and regional road networks had made it difficult for Africa to trade with itself, forcing nearly all African countries to scramble for the same markets in Europe and other parts of the world.
Odinga was speaking at a panel on Transformation in Africa that included Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Jacob Zuma of South Africa plus Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
It was chaired by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The African leaders concurred that while Europe trades more with itself, African nations are busy closing their borders to one another, making trade impossible while struggling at the same time to access European markets.
Odinga said investment in social infrastructure was also necessary, saying concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the majority wallow in poverty in Africa was counterproductive and inhibited progress.
He called for change of focus from trading in commodities to investment in value addition leading to export of finished products.
Odinga said Kenya was investing heavily in infrastructure and is modernising its rail network, with the involvement of neighbouring nations out of a recognition that the future lies in increased trade among African nations.
He lauded the new vigour to build the great north road that was first touted by Cecil Rhodes in the colonial era and praised efforts by Tanzania and its neighbours to develop a railway line from the port of Dar-es-Salaam to the south.
The PM called for more investment in research to propel innovation on the continent.