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Realizing the dream of union is the goal

Updated: 2013-02-22 11:35
By Li Lianxing ( China Daily)

Realizing the dream of union is the goal

Realizing the dream of union is the goal

AU official sees infrastructure as a building block on the path to integration of the continent

China has a key role to play in helping Africa expand its network of infrastructure that could serve the whole continent, says Elham Ibrahim, commissioner for infrastructure and energy of the African Union Commission.

"If we need to develop our continent, then we need involvement from China," she says. "Especially in my area, infrastructure and energy industry, China should play a big role."

Ibrahim pooh poohs claims that what China is doing in Africa amounts to neo-colonialism and robbing the continent of its natural resources.

"It's fair to export minerals as raw materials, and if we can add value to this raw materials, why not? We can do it together.

"Infrastructure and energy serve the most fundamental role in building a more integrated and united Africa. Without infrastructure, we can achieve none of the objectives set by all African countries.

"But if there is any project, we insist that local products should be part of the contract and contractors should also train and build up the capacity of the people."

Infrastructure projects in Africa now entail much more than building roads, and more importantly includes helping locals get to the point where they can maintain those roads, she says.

"When the project is completed, who will be there to take care of it for the next few decades or even longer? So local people play a vital role."

China has made progress in transferring technology and skills in recent years and should continue to do so, and strengthen the process of localization and integration, she says.

Ibrahim says the most important thing in bringing about regional and continental integration is connecting people, through transport and telecommunications so that they can work together.

"Physical connections can be roads, railways, airways and even marine transport. We have done some of that, but pan-African transport is still behind what it should be and we have a lot to do."

Even key cities such as Lagos and Nairobi lack air links, severely hindering communications between east and west. Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are now looking at how they might work together with regional flights, Ibrahim says.

Roads are being built in every corner of Africa, but it is clear that cross-border roads are not developing as well as domestic ones, because each country is focusing on its national projects, she says.

Efforts are being made to complete projects, including work on intra-continental roads, that began decades ago, she says.

"There are still many missing links, and some of them need to be rehabilitated or upgraded to standard international highways."

Energy, including oil, gas and electricity for manufacturing, also plays a role in promoting regional integration, she says. On the other hand, that can cause disputes.

"Natural resources are not equally allocated in every African country, so conflicts and fights can arise. We should sit down and think about it in a win-win manner."

In fact many African countries still lack enough energy for domestic use, let alone sharing it with others.

"Another problem is that some countries can't understand how this can be beneficial to them. But we are moving. We can't develop unless we unite as a continent."

African integration has been a long-held dream for some, but making that become a reality is hamstrung by competing interests, particularly at a government level, Ibrahim says.

"But eventually, if you need me and I need you, then we have to work together. So the AU will play a bigger role. As a supernational organization, it is there to make regional regulations and institutions to draw together the efforts and plans of various countries.

"When I retire in about 10 years I hope I can drive from Alexandria in northern Egypt, coming down to Cape Town passing through Ethiopia, Kenya and other coastal countries to enjoy the most attractive scenery of the continent."


(China Daily 02/22/2013 page5)

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