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|Saturday, December 30, 2000, updated at 18:12(GMT+8)|
Integration--Only Way for African RenaissanceFor African countries, the other major objective of regional integration is to achieve common economic development and prosperity. This led to the signing of a treaty on the creation of an African Economic Community (AEC) by the OAU Assembly of Heads of State in 1991.
Under the treaty, which entered into force in May of 1994 after ratification by two-thirds of OAU member states, the AEC was to be established by 2025 with a common market, a central bank and a single currency, beginning with a five-year stage during which measures would be taken to strengthen existing economic groupings.
The AEC had its inaugural meeting in June, 1997, ushering in a new era for African countries to accelerate their economic development and regional integration. This drive was further boosted at the 36th OAU Summit, which decided that African countries should promote coordination and gradually narrow their economic gap within the framework of their respective regional groupings in order to push forward the integration process of the whole African continent.
There are currently 10 regional groupings in Africa, each with its own ambitious plans put in place over the creation of various sub-regional economic communities, unions of tariffs, free trade areas, single monetary zones, and free movement of personnel, goods and services. These efforts will definitely lead to the establishment of the AEC.
Regional integration and economic reforms have greatly contributed to the sustainable development of the African economy.
Over the years, many African countries have established a relatively stable macro-economic environment, which is vital for ensuring growth.
In early 1990s, only 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa registered an annual economic growth rate of over 3 percent, but now the number of such countries has exceeded 30. In 1999, the macro-economic portfolio in Africa continued to turn for better, with the average growth rate reaching 3.4 percent, higher than its population growth rate of 2.8 percent.
Africa's financial situation continued to improve in the past five years, with the inflation rate reduced sharply from 32.8 percent in 1995 to 9.8 percent in 1999. Meanwhile, the average economic growth rate of the continent increased to nearly 4 percent, with that of Botswana, Mali, Mozambique, Uganda and Tunisia ranging between 5 and 9 percent.
However, it should be noted that although the African continent has made remarkable progress in its efforts toward unity and integration, the challenges ahead are still very serious.
Political and social unrest in some African countries, unfair international political and economic order, outdated management, poor infrastructure, heavy burden of external debt and the HIV/ AIDS pandemic have posed serious restrictions to the socio- economic development of Africa.
Africa has remained the poorest continent in the world. It has 33 out of the 48 poorest countries across the globe.
African countries have a combined external debt of US$370 billion, equivalent to 80 percent of their gross domestic product. As a result, about half of its 730 million population now live below the poverty line, with the per capita income averaged less than one dollar a day.
The continent, ravaged by conflicts and wars, is also home to 60 million refugees.
But with its vast land and abundant resources, Africa has great potential in economic development. Through unity and integration, the continent will surely has the ability to realize its ambitious goal in the 21st century, experts said.
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