Opening remarks to NEPAD Infrastructure Experts meeting


Opening remarks by Minister Trevor Manuel, at the NEPAD Infrastructure Experts meeting; Presidential Guest House, Pretoria

17 DECEMBER 2010
Mr President;
Distinguished Representatives of Pan-African Organisations and Regional Economic Communities;
Your Excellencies, High Commissioners and Ambassadors;
Distinguished Delegates;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I want to express our sincere appreciation to you President Zuma and the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (the HSGOC) for the decisions taken at the 23 rd Summit to accelerate the delivery of infrastructure across the continent.

These decisions are rooted in the observations that Africa lags far behind other regions in the world in respect of economic integration.  A recent study by UNCTAD shows that Intra-African trade is at around 10% of exports, whereas other regions of the world, such as ASEAN are closer to the 70% mark. The same study also reveals that African transport costs, at around an average of 12.6% of the cost of the goods, is more than double that of the world average. So, not only is our trade in Africa as low as it is, we also expect poor African consumers to pay so much more for the privilege of acquiring goods made in a neighbouring state, as opposed to those imported from across the oceans. There are around 80 significant harbours and ports dotted around the African coastline, but we trade only 3% of the world’s container traffic through our ports.

The challenge, quite simply, is to work tirelessly to turn around the effects of colonialisation that stemmed from the decisions taken in Berlin about us in 1885. But, we cannot merely bemoan this fact; we have to set as the single most important objective, lifting that yoke of inferiority that we have carried for far too long.

Obviously, the HSGOC has decided that the way we should lift the yoke is through the significant drive to deliver better infrastructure. Our reading of this injunction is that we have measurable programmes, identifiable and accountable agencies on the continent, and that we all appreciate that time is not on our side.

What we want is to change the face of the continent’s economy, and to do so in a manner that we will retain the best of our skills on the continent, so that emigration becomes the exception. If we want this then we have to look to infrastructure. And if we want to link peoples and regions on the continent through infrastructure, we must be prepared to be much harder on ourselves in order to produce the results.

I have been privileged to have read tomes of documentation about infrastructure development on the continent. I do not believe that there is any topic anywhere that has been as extensively researched and discussed; I do not believe that there has been a greater honey-pot for consultants than work on African infrastructure. But, in spite of all of this, we would have to look very hard to find the new railtrack laid in the past thirty years, or find the new highways linking large swathes of the continent. Similarly, we will really have to dig very deep to find those measures of improvement that so dominate the discourse on global trade – issues such a significant reduction in road and rail freight costs; a reduction in wharfage costs in our harbours; or a reduction in time between port and factory gate, or vice versa; or even just shorter times and less bribery at border posts. These are the non concrete-and-steel investments in infrastructure without which the rest of spending will not make much sense.

Mr President, we are encouraged by the determination of our Heads of State and Government; we are buoyed by the experience of those countries and regions that have driven the changes. So we say that this initiative is a new beginning, this venture is one whose success we do not want measured in the number of meetings convened, the number of contracts awarded to consultants, or the number of treaties signed. We want to commit to progress measured in the access and improvements measured in the lives of the continent’s poorest and most determined people.

We have convened this specific meeting as part of the preparations for Addis Ababa at the end of January but also to establish a close network of people and agencies who are actually doing the work to drive infrastructure development and regional integration in Africa. The African Union, NEPAD and the African Development Bank are critical participants in the process of rejuvenating our infrastructure. Our regional economic communities are the building blocs of the AU and play a crucial role to unblocking the plethora of obstacles that inhibit trade and investment across Africa’s borders.

Our objectives today are to share information, to help prepare for Addis, to set criteria for the prioritisation of infrastructure projects, to more clearly define the role of champions who have volunteered to drive specific aspects of our programme and to identify the specific decisions that are required to sustain momentum in achieving our objectives.

We would like to thank all the people who have travelled from far and wide to be here at this meeting. We know that it is close to the Christmas holidays and that many people here would prefer to be with their families.

Thank you all for joining us, we promise only the dignity of hard work as a reward.

Thank you.

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