By Jonathan Eze
Prominent African leaders under the aegis of the Afrochampions Initiative, at the weekend, charted a course to transform the continent with the aim to make it a destination for international investments.
The initiative, jointly chaired by Africanâ€™s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, called for greater integration of African economies to enable the continent develop free trade among African Union member nations.
Present at the launch were the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo,Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union, Ambassador Albert Muchanga,Â Aig Imokhuede, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Segun Awolowo among others.
According to the group, regional integration is a necessary requirement for the continentâ€™s development but has remained at a very low level.
â€œWe still have one of the lowest trade integration levels under 20 per cent while Asia is at 40 per cent and European integration is very much further ahead at about 60 per cent.
Â â€œThe fact remains that other regions play as a bloc but Africa is still largely splintered into several economies and the ease of doing business across the region remains a significant challengeâ€.
In his remarks, Osinbajo noted that the Continents Free Trade Area Initiative (CFTA), launch of the African passport and free movement of persons showed how the continent intended to grow in regional integration, which also showed how quickly the continent could move.
He saidÂ Â the conference of the African Heads of State in July focused on a lot of those initiatives â€œand I am convinced that we are on the threshold of seeing a deeper and more integrated African market.â€™â€™
The Vice President explained that the move was a strategic priority for the country to enable a single integrated African market deep enough to exploit all the potential in the country.
He added that there was a sense of urgency in the public sector initiative, which the private sector would bring, noting that the administration believed in the African champions initiatives.
â€œWe think that it is the private sector that would do what is required to bring the urgency and the sense of mission to all the plans in the AU.
â€œWe will like to see greater synergy and collaboration in the Africa champions while all the organs of the AU get involved in economic integration issuesâ€.
Osinbajo congratulated the initiators of the Africa champions initiative on their visionary action and pledged that the administration was behind them.
Â Â Â Â According to him, the array of champions behind the initiative would ensure that the idea yielded fruits.
He said that in the past few years it had become obvious to many African countries that both the momentum and common sense were in favour of the private sector leading the economies of the continent.
Â He further saidÂ Â the sector was championing the initiative to drive intra-African trade and commerce.
Â â€œThe role of the public sector is to catalyse the umpire, to incentivise but whether we like it or not the private sector in Africa is already building world class grounds and trading everywhere,â€™â€™ he said.
Osinbajo noted that it was obvious that Afican giants had sprang up in manufacturing, banking sector and in telecommunications.
On his part, former President Olusegun Obasanjo expressed appreciation and commendation for the initiative and added that while the initiative had put the private and public sectors together, it needed to integrate the financial institutions.
He thanked the Vice President for attending the inaugural meeting, adding that his presence gave impetus to the partnership.
Obasanjo noted that the inaugural meeting was good and noted that one of the things that had not been done well in Africa was to sustain initiatives.
He mentioned the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja treaty, NEPAD as initiatives which had not achieved their purposes before going under.
â€œWe should not allow this one to sleep; we should continue to fan the flame of Afrochampions initiative and may God help Africa,â€ he added.
Dangote on his part, said the Afrochampions initiative is for African businesses to cater to African needs to accelerate development in the continent and create more jobs to tackle unemployment of youths in the continent.
He acknowledged that it is the first time that leaders from Africaâ€™s multinational companies will meet, not to discuss their sector and ad-hoc investment opportunities, but to exchange views on Africaâ€™s transformation and on what contributions they may have.
â€œThis is the first time that we have createdÂ Â venue for regular and action-oriented dialogue with public decision-makers, for the benefit of our continent. And this is the first time that a forum is being create to discuss Africaâ€™s economic relations with the rest of the world and on how we can find a new balance with other regions and foreign players and institutions.
â€œWe do have to change the dynamics in a way that is more favourable to Africa and Africans because as Africaâ€™s biggest multinationals, we owe a duty towards our communities, towards the next generation of young men and women who now want to become Pan-African entrepreneursâ€.
Dangote promised to work with his colleagues to make the club a unique platform on which â€œWe as African business leaders, can overcome our differences and speak with one voice, to foster reforms facilitating trade between our states with investments in strategic projects and synergies between our countries.â€