There is need for African states to cooperate and come up with its own economic rules if the much-talked about economic integration is to be achieved, says outgoing COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya.
And Ngwenya says there is need for African governments to introduce a new model of economic development and get rid of the old one whereby government makes policies without any form of compact with the private sector and other stakeholders to work with.
Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview programme, Ngwenya argued that development is when a country owns its own economy, adding that economies in Africa would not grow if governments continued with tendencies of looking for perfect solutions to its problems.
“What we need to have in COMESA is developmental intergeneration that is practical; we need to move away from economical yields to the practical way of doing things. We must be pragmatic… you would ask yourself a question, ‘why is it that we still talk about value addition’, ‘we still talk about not exporting copper?’ The challenge is how do we become part of the global production value and supply chain? This is what has got to be addressed. So, the major challenge for me at the moment, not only for COMESA, but for regional integration in Africa is that, it is state-led. We do not have the stakeholders, the private sector, who would say, ‘if you put up these policies, this is what we will do’. It’s very simple, what governments should be doing in regional integration is to say, ‘we’ve provided the framework, but you, the stakeholders, can you tell us what you can do?’ If, for instance, a company says, ‘if you reduce your corporate tax from 35 per cent to 25 per cent, I am going to create so many jobs, I will expand my production by so much and I will increase export by so much’, it makes sense,” Ngwenya explained.
And Ngwenya added that there is need for African governments to introduce a new model of economic development and get rid of the old one.
“The preoccupation of the old model of development, whereby government makes policies, but then they don’t have a compact with the private sector and other stakeholders is bound not to work. Let’s ask ourselves the question, ‘why don’t we have the production chains?’ Let’s take copper, for instance, why don’t we have products from cobalt and copper components being manufactured in Zambia, or in DR Congo? The only country that is doing that is South Africa for the catalytic converters, which they export globally. But we can also do that in terms of the other ones, especially now, when you look at the world where we are moving towards electric cars… the point I am making is that we need to move beyond talking generally, but also engage investors who can come and make things work because public policy is about job creation, it’s about economic growth, it’s about poverty reduction,” Ngwenya added.
He also bemoaned the lack of action on most pronouncements made by African leaders where development was concerned.
“The problem we have is that we are not so much into words with actions, and when there is a disconnection between what is said and action, then you don’t have anything. You can only have that when you have a traction, when you have action, this is when you can move. But we should also know one thing that our tendency in Africa to always try to look for perfect solutions is the enemy of progress. If you look at other parts of the world like China, how did they begin? They started with special economic experiments…so the question here really is, do we understand what is required for economic integration to work?” he asked.
“And it’s not peculiar to COMESA, it was the same situation for the European Union, until 1984 when the Commissioner then decided on a single market and when he decided on the single market, what was the situation of the EU that time? There was more than half a million pieces of legislation, which had not been implemented. They started from saying, ‘what is it that each country can do?’ So, what I am saying is that, unless and until you have that national ownership that is part of regional integration process where even the regional integration programmes are mainstreamed in the national budget yearly. When they are mainstreamed in the national development budget, then you have a disconnect between a vision and abscission of regional integration and what happens. Because it’s very simple, it can be done. But it cannot be done by the states, the states must provide the framework, they must provide the policies in order for it to work. And what we must know is that it is the private sector that can make those things work, it is the general public that can make those things work.”
Ngwenya called for a paradigm shift by African states in order to achieve economic integration.
“The problem with integration is that we [as African member-states] always talk about cooperation, but we are not doing anything that is practical and we are also not getting the private sector to be in the driving seat. We need to have a compact between our government and private sector. So, we need to have a paradigm shift in terms of our national economic strategies, regional development strategies. We have done quite a lot a lot during my reign, but we could have done more. Development and success in life is for those who are paranoid, if you are paranoid then you will get there. If you are complacent, you will beat your chest and say, ‘I am great!’ You will remain there without achieving anything. So, I would say we have achieved quite a lot as COMESA, but I think it’s high time in integration and development in Africa we begin to set our own rules. Development is when you own your own economy, the market in Africa is big that is why Africa is the last frontier for development, that’s why everybody wants to be in Africa,” observed Ngwenya.