President Paul Kagame has challenged African business and political leaders to adopt the right mindsets to make the most of intra-regional cooperation initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Kagame was speaking on Monday at the opening of the 7th Africa CEO Summit that is underway in Kigali.
The President said to ensure the integration process translates into prosperity and well-being for the African people, there is need for all stakeholders involved to have the right mindset.
“The key factor in all of this is mind-set. Is mind-set change expensive? I don’t think so. It might be difficult, but we can afford to effect it. Mind-set has no price, yet nothing has greater value,” he said.
Africa CEO Forum 2019 participants. Courtesy.
The President said that adjusted mindsets is key as the continent is faced with huge tasks which could turn out to be long-term challenges if not addressed fast enough, such as growing population.
“In less than a generation, it is projected that Africa will have the world’s biggest workforce. You must have heard this many times. That means 1.1 billion working-age Africans, which is more than China or India. We don’t have any time to waste to do what is necessary, so that this statistic becomes Africa’s greatest asset, rather than a burden for our continent and the world,” the Head of State said.
He said that to adjust to the current continent’s needs, African countries need to do business with each other which would in turn see the emergence of global African firms leading to job creation.
“Overall, what we need is much more business activity, above all with each other, so that we see the emergence of global African firms with continental scope and scale, which champion the interests and ambitions of our people,” he said.
He added: “The public and private sectors must work even more closely together, to provide the education and training that will equip Africa’s young workers with the skills to excel in manufacturing, services and technology,” he said.
The mind-set change ought to be reflected in aspects such as increased competition in quality as opposed to costs only, he said.
Commending the progress made by the continent in regard to the Continental Free Trade Area, Kagame called for continued dynamism and drive for countries to ratify and implement the agreement.
“We only reached this point because Africa came together with a strong unity of purpose, which is rooted in the rising aspirations of our young people for a better future. That same spirit should drive us forward to success,” he said.
At the moment, there are 21 deposited ratifications of the agreement out of the 22 required for the initiative to be adopted for implementation.
On adoption, countries and regional economic blocs will kick start negotiations on aspects of implementation such as rules of origin and domestic industries protection, among others.
Experts say that given the interest of countries, the agreement could take effect by June next year.
He also noted the significance of politics on development, saying that quality of politics has consequences on economic development.
“Whatever we try to do, even in terms of economic development, the result comes back to the politics surrounding it. If the politics is bad, everything else is bad. That is why open, responsive, and accountable governance is so critical,” he said
Responding to a question on the state of relations between Rwanda and Uganda, Kagame said that it boils down to politics which has led to a situation where hundreds of Rwandans are being illegally detained on Ugandan territory.
“The problem is politics. We have hundreds of people from Rwanda, arrested, detained in prisons for years in Uganda, without being charged or appearing anywhere in court,” he said.
He said that despite his efforts to engage the Ugandan government and leadership, nothing has been done to solve the persistent issues.
He said that if there are people who have committed crimes in Uganda, they should be processed through legally-provided channels and in an open way.
“Not only have they not been treated through the legal processes, they have not been given access to counsel, even our diplomats cannot visit them because they are held in places that are not known. We have engaged with Uganda about that and have gotten nowhere,” he said.
He also revealed economic sabotage by the Ugandan authorities, including blocking of Rwandan exports transiting through Uganda.
Speaking during a panel discussion alongside President Kagame, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde said that as much as countries work together and are integrating, it cannot be done in the absence of peace and security.
“As much as we concentrate on political issues, as a region, we all have the same bold ambition which is for our countries to make constant progress but it can’t be done without peace and security.” President Sahle-Work said.
Philippe Le Houérou, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Finance Cooperation, said that free trade initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area are sure avenues to open up economies to increase job opportunities.
The panel discussion, moderated by Eleni Giokos of CNN, was also joined by Naguib Sawiris, Chairman Orascom, and Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman and CEO of BUA.