Antonio Pedro is Executive Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa UNECA)‘s Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa. He spoke to Business Time’s Berna Namata about the work of the Commission.
What is the work of the commission in Rwanda?
It is basically to promote the economic and social development of Africa. The exercise to reposition the commission revealed that, while the mandate of the commission remains relevant, its mission must take into account Africa’s current context and priorities, which are defined by the establishment of the African Union (AU) and the adoption of NEPAD.
The AU Vision, as well as NEPAD and its associated African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), are all based on the promotion of Africa’s integration and development from a sub-regional perspective. Our main clients are the regional economic communities.
What is your view of Rwanda’s performance in terms of economic growth?
The latest figures suggest that the performance is very good. The African Economic Outlook which was jointly launched by the African Development Bank and ECA early this year , points to that as well as our own economic report on Africa (ERA) launched in August.
It cements the position that we are talking about good performance . It is clear that we have very strong growth rates anchored on the agricultural sector.
The challenge is to build a much more resilient economy and explore opportunities to diversify the economy. This in addition to building institutional capacity to promote knowledge based economy.
There is a transformation process that has of course, to be engendered- this is something vey well understood by the government and I think strategies that are on the ground are very strong.
One of the effects of global financial crisis was destabilization of commodity prices. How has the country address challenges related to this?
Rwanda and any other African country needs to do is built resilient economies – economies that can address with much stronger capacity the vulgaries of commodity prices fluctuation.
A lot of it centers on diversifying the economy, building economies that are grounded on the local economy.
If you look at some of these sectors for instance Mining – most of it is export oriented with very minimal linkages with the local economy.
The diversification strategy to address this, calls for improved linkages between these commodities based economies and the local economies.
We are talking about more value addition and local processing of raw materials. Building local markets such that a country is not depending so much on the external market but expanding African Intra – trade.
There is need to explore the potential that exists within the region - now SADC, COMESA and EAC have entered into a tripartite arrangement towards establishing free trade areas.
There you are talking about a potential market of 500 million people. If countries look more to intra- Africa trade then they can build more protection against the vulgaries of commodity prices fluctuations in the external markets which they do not control.
What is of your view of current efforts for regional integration in the East African Community?
I was very pleased to witness the signature of common market protocol in Arusha.
This is a significant development. It is one of the regional economic communities that is setting the pace with respect to regional integration.
There are already discussing the framework of a potential political federation – EAC is doing well though still there are some issues which require further attention like infrastructural challenges , trade flows.
Overall they are on the right track and we are going to discuss with them the multi - year programme for 2010 /2012. We also want to look at where we can provide support.
There is this issue of trade negotiations, the policy analysis and the issue of climate change which might feature very strongly in this instrument.
What needs to be done to make regional integration more successful?
A very important step in the regional integration agenda is to make it popular among the common man (citizens ), in the sense that the discourse on regional integration would not only be a realm of high level policy makers and key officials in institutions responsible for regional integration.
It is important that the integration process becomes part of every day life of the citizens. They must understand the implications of signing regional agreements such that they can build the necessary mechanisms to cope with the benefits and costs of regional integration.
It is also important to understand that regional integration is a journey that requires a lot of patience and maturity, because at the end every body stands to win from regional integration.
For instance the European Union which is being cited as the most advanced regional integration bloc. It has come a long history from being a commodity oriented to a union where there is free movement of goods and people.
Skeptics say Kenya will “swallow” up relatively small economies in the process of integration. What is your take on that?
I do not to say that those fears are unfounded but I would look at it more as an opportunity. EAC comes with a huge market including the tripartite framework that small economies stand to benefit from.
There are some niche products and niche competences that small countries can specialize on which because of their peculiarity; other countries will not be able to compete.
You are also talking of a larger market, which can be of advantage if you develop a product that is competitive of top quality.
Therefore countries have to look at regional integration as an opportunity and prepare themselves to explore these opportunities.
What is the way forward for UNECA and Rwanda?
In our discussions within the UN country team we have noted that the regional integration was not part of the chapters of the UN Country Team, so now there is agreement that we will introduce this with the objective to help the host country domesticate regional integration process and instruments.