Frm Deputy Foreign Minister Shoniyin Addresses African Economic Summit -Urges Deliberate Action to Tackle Inadequate Infrastructure, and Leveraging Regional Customs Unions in Africa

By: Wremongar B. Joe II

MONROVIA – Former Deputy Foreign Minister B. Elias Shoniyin has addressed the Africa Economic Summit (AES) as one of the keynote speakers, admonishing African leaders to adopt new trends and progressive policies to enhance the attractiveness of African markets.

Addressing the two-day summit in Accra, Ghana last week, Mr Shoniyin implored African leaders to work intentionally and take advantage of globalization as demonstrated by many Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, South Korea, China, and others.  He pointed out that to do this, Africans must think beyond their own countries, and must-see Africa as borderless. This approach, according to him, would punctuate the new African Renaissance.

Mr Shoniyin said for the last forty years, African markets have continued to be chiefly commodity-based thereby trading in primary resources which are exported to Europe, North America, and now, China, where they are processed, creating jobs and opportunities for people in those countries, while the people of Africa embellish in extreme poverty and destitution.

This, he told the gathering, could be justified decades ago given that industrialization has not spiked up across Africa; but that today, African nations have no excuse for the mass exports of Cocoa, coffee, gold, diamond, and other natural resources to countries outside of Africa when Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia, and others on the continent are manufacturing cars, machinery, and other manufactured products?

“After half a century of breaking from colonialism, it appears Africa’s future remains entangled by the legacy of colonialism; and one does not have to look hard to see that. Check the individual countries’ trade numbers and the corresponding partnerships. We trade more with Europe and the US, and most recently, with China, than we trade with countries geographically closest to us on the continent”.

Said Shoniyin this disposition is reflected in UNCTAD, in 2021, around 23 percent of the total trade from and to the African continent involved European countries; and 22 percent of African trade involved China, while six percent was from and to India.

“These numbers reveal to us that countries on the Continent are increasingly drifting away from their traditional Western trading partners; however, the shift is not favoring intra- African trade; instead, it is pivoting toward China”.

“For example, even though The Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal; the two account for limited trade. It is interesting to note that France remains Senegal’s biggest trading partner, while the Gambia trade more with the UK than any other country”

The Former Deputy Foreign Minister, who is now Dean of the graduate School of Global Affairs and Policy at Cuttington University, told the 2023 African Economic Summit that a significant challenge for inter-country trade in Africa is the lack of adequate infrastructure and limited knowledge of the unparallel possibilities in clustering our markets into a borderless expanded market size of several countries”.

He however lauded the establishment of regional economic blocs, most of whom according to him have created an economy of scales regionally, which has clustered those small markets into single but larger ones. The regional economic blocs have created sizable markets that can attract market–seeking investors and spur regional economic growth.

He added, “I do recall, when I was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Economic Cooperation and Integration of Liberia, a prominent part of my message to potential investors was that when you invest in Liberia, you would be investing in a market of over 300 million consumers. Even though Liberia’s population was about 5 million, I was simply leveraging the extended market created by the 15 countries in the ECOWAS union”.

African markets he believes are not performing as they should and are lagging in breaking down the barriers between borders due to the inability of countries in regional economic blocs to open, eliminate cross-border tariffs, and remove administrative barriers to enhance trade within the blocs.

“Our regional blocs and custom union are of no value to us Africans if we fail to take measures that truly bind our economies together as a single market”, the former Liberian official asserted.

Shoniyin hailed the push on AU member states to leverage existing protocols and decisions of the AU to the full realization of a truly single 1.4 billion African market, where goods and services can move across borders without any hindrance.

While deploying new strategies and creativity to address challenges preventing more trade among our countries, the former deputy minister noted that Africa must acknowledge areas of marginal, but notable gains in regions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which accounted for 32.12 percent of internal trade in 2021. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) followed with 20.32 percent.

This for him is an incremental gain that African states must hardness. Notwithstanding, these numbers do not tell the whole story, as the performances of many other regional blocs on the Continent performed decimally in the same period.

Shoniyin who now runs the private firm, Africa Development Management Associates, joined top leaders including Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Speaker of The Gambia, National Assembly Dr. Kwaku Afri, Minister of Environment Science and Technology and Innovation, Ghana, MTN Group Ghana, CEO- Selorm Adadevoh who spoke at the Africa Economic Forum.

The Africa Economic Summit is a global community of experienced business leaders and professionals deeply committed to achieving sustainable economic development in Africa.
The summit connects experts, investors, and the African diaspora with innovators and entrepreneurs on the continent to build durable solutions for Africa and the world.

Dr Brian O Reuben the CEO of Africa Economic Summit Group said the event is recognized as the first annual summit to establish Africa as the frontier of global thinking on major economic, cultural, and social issues affecting the world.

The goal, he wrote was to highlight its infrastructure, business environment, and diverse human capital so that this can drive Foreign Direct Investment through convening thought-leaders from across Africa, to establish concrete pathways to addressing compelling issues on the Continent.

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