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Optimism on Africa's development dominates 20th AU summit

By David Musyoka (Xinhua)

14:03, January 29, 2013

ADDIS ABABA, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- The 20th AU Summit, themed "Panafricanism and African Renaissance", has concluded at the AU's headquarters in Addis Ababa on Monday night, with most of the leaders in the continent showing their optimism on the region's economic development.

Just few years ago, the speeches that African leaders gave during continental gatherings like the African Union summits were laden with excuses on why this or that socio-economic goal could not be achieved.

The most popular line revolved around lack of funding and calling on developed countries to provide more assistance to the continent. It was about complaining how the developed countries had failed to honor their aid obligations to the continent.

On Sunday, when the 20th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit was opened, none of the speakers mentioned the word aid. The tone was optimistic and celebratory, not just because the AU is now 50 years old, but because of the small visible gains that African countries have made especially in the last decade.

Among the most prominent gains are that there is more intra- Africa trade, war against HIV/AIDS is being won, more children are going to school, more roads are being tarmacked and constructed, the economies are being managed better, the middle class is expanding and most importantly, the continent has a roadmap on where it wants to be.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, the newly elected Chairman of the AU, was enthusiastic when he spoke of being responsible for overseeing the development of Africa's strategic plan that will guide development planning from 2014 to 2017. Ethiopia, a former example of everything that can go wrong in Africa now has a booming economy growing at an average 7.5 percent and has nearly eradicated hunger.

Boni Yayi, the President of Benin and the immediate former Chairman of the AU, was bolder in calling for the rolling out of private public partnerships (PPPs) in all the pan-African projects planned under the AU agencies like the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD).

"AU has never tapped into the resource presented by Africa's private sector. It is time to do that," he told other heads of states.

The proposal is a broader evidence that African countries are looking more at generating wealth to finance development projects unlike before when project proposals would be based on the opportunity for aid or a loan from the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds. Today, Africa has more development partners like China and the Gulf states. It is building stronger cooperative bridges with the Latin America.

Today, the focus is to maximize revenue collection, widen tax bracket, strengthen anti-corruption measures, increase exports and undertake all necessary measures that improve national revenue.

Some countries have already achieved tremendous progress in revenue collection, for instance Kenya, where 10 years ago, annual revenue collection was 2 billion U.S. dollars by the current exchange rate, but have increased fivefold to nearly billion U.S. dollars, enabling the country to meet 85 percent of its financial needs using local resources.

The confidence that African leaders are gaining is perhaps exemplified by the choice of this year's theme of the AU Summit -- "Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance."

"Uncritical and reductionist label of Africa as 'wretched of the earth' has been rapidly overshadowed by rising economic performance and political progress evidenced in the numerical increase of democratic transitions," noted a pre-summit briefing by Institute of Security Studies (ISS), a pan-African Think-Tank.

But the ISS brief also admits that the economic improvements have continued to remain precarious because of the persistence of violent conflicts in some states.

"It is time that Africans took control of their own affairs," said Dr. Malick Ndiaye, director of the International Center for Strategic Studies and Research.

Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency, reported progress has been made on some of the agency's flagship projects. Key among those projects is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), a project meant to increase investment in agriculture, raise farm yields to ensure the continent achieves food security status.

Overall, 40 African countries have started implementing the CAADP while 23 others have developed CAADP National Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plans. As a result, said Mayaki, since 2003, many African countries have increased their budgetary allocations on agriculture.

African Union Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said she sees a brighter future for the continent based on the achievements made so far in the last decade. She cited economic growth surpassing 10 percent annually in some countries as an indication that indeed the continent is on a growth trajectory. The discovery of new wealth like oil and gas will also help the continent generate new revenue.

The year 2013 will be about consolidating the gains and planning the next medium term development goals. "A long-term African Union-wide strategic framework is under development. Similarly, the four-year AU Commission Strategy (2013-2017) is being finalized," she said in her opening speech. A clear road- map has been drawn for the long-term as well as short-term development for the African continent.

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