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Comesa can do more for Africa

East African, Nairobi

Comesa Can Do More for Africa

By Oscar Kimanuka, Nairobi

29 May 2007

The just concluded Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Heads of States Summit in Nairobi seemed to confirm the existence of an uneven playing field in global trade.

Comesa has a population of about 400 million people and a gross domestic product estimated at $200 billion. If well developed, it could be influential in international trade.

The summit focused on how the member states should strengthen and consolidate the Free Trade Area (FTA), and deepen integration through the Customs Union.

But how can we as a regional trading bloc meet the challenges of the 21st century with the current disparities in competitive power? For instance, we continue to derive a lower level of income per capita from land resources just as our agricultural production has been declining per capita.

FOR US to develop and take advantage of this huge market, the external macroeconomic environment must be tamed. The remedies proposed by the international agencies are akin to what Jeffrey Sachs terms 18th century medicine such as "bleeding." That when our impoverished countries have pleaded for help, the main prescription has always been budgetary tightening for patients too poor to own belts! No wonder many agree with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, that, "They are the big ones, we are the small ones."

Comesa member countries need to inter-connect their transport, telecommunication and energy systems to facilitate movement of persons, goods and capital, create market opportunities, enhance local capacities and allow for large scale projects to attract foreign direct investment.

PRESIDENT MUGABE - a man the West dislikes but many admire for speaking his mind - was appointed the vice-chair of Comesa and mandated to host next year’s summit in Harare in the same way Zimbabwe was recently nominated to chair the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development.

Africa may be sending a message to the rest of the world, especially the West, that it prefers to do its own things in its own way, never mind the near 3,000 per cent inflation rate prevailing in Zimbabwe!

Oscar Kimanuka is a commentator on social and economic issues based in Kigali.