Deputy chair African Union Commission (A.U.C) H.E Erastus Mwencha

Deputy chair African Union Commission (A.U.C) H.E Erastus Mwencha

Q: You have been at the forefront of Africa integration – as you prepare to leave the A.U what would you want to see in speeding up the integration process?

A: What has become clear to me is that there still remains a huge information gap that often leads policy makers to understand that integration is not a zero sum game. We are now living in a global, highly integrated yet here in Africa we tend to have an external focus where we would rather do business with external parties than amongst ourselves.

To change this narrative we need to look at how we have been integrating. Our first focus should be decision making – where we have been operating on the principle of consensus and getting everyone to move together. Yet we have had significant success when we use variable speed, where we have tried to have champions that lead the way then encourage others to come is a more successful model, so we must then use that as a principle going forward. Secondly we need to recalibrate the things we are doing – I feel that we have been doing too many things at the same time on integration. We need to select a few areas and concentrate fully on them – this is better use of our energy. Our tendency to work on many things means that although a lot of good things are happening, the impact is yet to be felt.

If we select a few of them and sequence them for instance issue of trade move ahead with that, there are a number of areas we can look for instance, free movement of people is a myth that we hold them, if you allow people to move particularly professionals and business people you increase insecurity in the continent, that is the myth we must kill quickly. It also shown that integration works well where you have good governance. Take the issue of Intra-Africa trade. A commonly held view is that tariffs are the main barriers to this trade. The reality is very different – they are not an issue anymore – with average Intra-Africa trade tariffs being at 12% compared to a global average of 80%. What is more critical is attitude and mindset and dealing with corruption which invariably increases the cost of doing business.

So to answer your question, let’s do a few things are impactive, transformative, let’s sequence them properly, let’s change the way we make decisions not to move by consensus because that will not change things fast, identify a common ground and speak with one voice.

Q: How would you want Africa to handle the Pan African sense of Unity, reliance and solidarity?

A: Let me take you back to te birth of the Pan-African Movement. Interestingly enough, it was started by Africans in the diaspora who were facing a challenging environment, chose to reconnect with their roots. They teamed together and created a common platform built on the important pillar of solidarity.

Nkrumah then clearly articulated this vision by bringing in the element of struggle for economic independence. He was able to mobilize Africans with the important question – what is it in for us in Africa. He challenged all.

Then secondly and this was also very clearly articulated by Nkrumah and had a struggle in economic independence, that we must identify common ground, what is it in Africa for us? The Pan-African movement used us to see our destinies as being intertwined where we sink or swim together.

This philosophy still applies today where all of us, despite our different nationalities should work toward making Africa one prosperous nation. We need to take charge of our destiny and transform our economy – we cannot do this individually; we can succeed together. This is the essence of the pan-African movement.

Q: We have been speaking greatly about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as Africa which areas do we need to focus on so that we can part of fourth industrial revolution?

A: I think one of the key drivers of industrial revolution is knowledge and digital knowledge. When you look at IT revolution and its impact particularly in improving high efficiency or innovations or transformations, Africa can and is able to join that revolution. We now have, some very competent young people who are at the cutting edge in innovation and you have seen this happen in countries like Kenya where you have IT really contributing a lot to GDP. We need to expand this base and provide for more inclusion in this space , since IT tends to be somewhat elitist. We also need to develop the appropriate structures and research so that we can open new frontiers in innovation and bring about real and lasting change

Q: How do we enhance Africa’s united voice in global negotiations?

A: We have not performed well when it comes to global negotiations partly because we don’t have a solid and unified platform under the WTO. The WTO has two basic categories for countries – developing and least developed and Africa falls into these two. African countries have not been comfortable with the labeling of least developed thus affecting their mindset in negotiations. If we identify a common ground and speak collectively we have a very strong voice.

Africa accounts for over 50 countries under global trade negotiations of about 200 countries – meaning that 25% of the countries are Africa. Africa has not been able to leverage this position because we rarely approach negotiations with one point of view. This causes us to be swallowed up in groups such as the G77 or Cairns Group. If you look at the Doha Round of talks, Africa achieved an important success of inclusion of a development content. This is mainly because we had a strong and united voice.

The frequent leadership changes also hurt our negotiation abilities.  If you take a quick survey across the ministers of trade, you will hardly find an African minister from the Doha round. In contrast, you will find for the developed countries, most of their teams remain intact and have been further boosted by additional capacity and research. This puts them in a good stead to negotiate and win-unlike us.

Second, is that we have tended to focus on external negotiations such as AGOA. I think that we need to shift our focus to developing a continental framework free trade area. Yes w need to remain vigilant and alert to what is happening externally but we also need to focus on getting our house in order first.

Q: Many Africans do not know what agenda 2063 is; in a nutshell what would you tell them agenda 2063 is?

A: Is it a pity that most Africans do not know what agenda 2063 is because this agenda was actually people driven. Many Africans from all walks of life participated in the design of Agenda 2063. I think this lack of knowledge is a challenge to all of us to domesticate it as we get into the implementation stage.

Agenda 2063 basically means along term plan to transform Africa from its current state which I do need to describe into a prosperous continent that is integrated; that is at peace with itself. This strategy means that we must emphasize on integration and there are a number of aspirations that Africa aspires to achieve. There are seven key aspirations to support this for instance to address issues of skills, education, research and development so that Africa is not a price taker but Africa is also an active participant in all aspects of the global arena.

Q: You have been at the forefront in advocating for Continental Free Trade Area, moving forward what more do we need to collectively as a continent to make sure what we achieve this Continental Free Trade Area?

A: Continental Free Trade Area, is one of those projects I think we should really put a lot of emphasis on. Africa at the moment is not fairing well because as we mainly export commodities whose prices have been on a downward trend. We need to change our reliance on imports and start producing manufactured goods.

We can then create a bigger market right here in Africa where we can benefit from economies of scale and from our sizeable population. We need to remove our present mentality that trade is not a zero sum.

Once you remove trade barriers and open up, opportunities will arise. East Africa’s opening up serves as a case study of the benefits of the free trade. For us to move to Continental Free Trade Area, let’s harness what has been done by regional economic communities but also as we do create a mechanism to fast track these regions and individual countries that are ready to move to Continental Free Trade Area.

As I said earlier, if you peg your progress on creation of a consensus and a unified platform it will cause delays and hinder progress. Let’s get the few countries that are willing, the regions that are ready, use what they have already achieved, move into Continental Free Trade Area and then the rest can join later.

Q: How do we engage the private sectors more in terms of the development agenda of the African continent?

A: Perhaps one of the pitfalls of our integration model is that it has always by default been inter-government kind of a project. Yet if you look at the charter of African Union (AU), it’s the union of the people and not the union of the state. We have established deliberate programs to harness the energy of the private sectors. The private sector has also been spearheading some efforts – we have seen that with the decline in foreign direct investment, the African private sector is stepping in to close the gap – this is very encouraging.

Africa now has a number of entities that will soon be joining fortune 500 companies. The sure way for these companies to grow even bigger and to be more successful is to tap into the benefits and advantages of regional integration. I am please to note that one of the key pillars of Agenda. 2063 is the creation of flagship programs in the private sector platforms.

Later this year, we shall be holding a summit in Mauritius bringing together private sector players and policy makers at the level of the heads of government. We hope that this then becomes a launch pad to involve the private sector intimately.

Currently private sector players are the best observers but there is great need to involve them in constructive dialogue especially to establish benchmarks and targets. Private sectors can also play the role of finance as they create more employment and nurture a truly relevant and authentic African private sector.