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Asmara Palace 23rd Meeting of Intergovernmental Committee 14 East African countries convened today – Impressive progress

Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Africa

“Leveraging New Opportunities for R egional Integration in Eastern Africa”

Written by Asmait Futsumbrhan | 

Articles – Q & A

A three-day meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) was held at the Asmara Palace Hotel from 5 to 7 November. The 23rd meeting was jointly organized by the Government of the State of Eritrea and the United Nations Economic Com¬mission for Africa (ECA) in Eastern Africa.
As the chair this year, Eritrea hosted the regional meeting for the first time. The three-day meeting included reports and discussions regard¬ing the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA) implementation in Eastern Africa, blue economy and boosting regional tourism.

Participants discussed issues related to the creation of job opportunities for the Eastern African region as it happens to be one of the fastest growing regions in the continent. Discussions centred on the challenges Eastern African countries are facing in regards with job opportunities and trade between the neighbouring countries.
Today we talk to Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Mr. Andrew Mold, Officer-in- Charge, UNECA office for Eastern Africa, regarding the meeting. Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UNECA

The East Africa region is the fastest growing region on the continent. The growth rate is estimated to be 6.4% today and we expect it to continue. We need to create comfortable job opportunities in East Africa, ensure that all the youth are able to grow in a prosperous Africa. We believe that the AfCFTA is part of this blue print to create those jobs. Directly we can create 2 million jobs and another 2 million indirectly. We are hoping with the infrastructures that are needed we will be able to create as many jobs as possible.

In a time when the Eastern Africa Region is enjoying peace, it is an amazing time to be in East Africa. The AfCFTA couldn’t be taken on if we didn’t have stability. We are in Eritrea, Asmara today to have the discussion.

I think this is part of what the AfCFTA is about, not only to involve the eastern African counties in Regional integration but also to connect people through economy, peace and prosperity. We look forward now to getting all the East African countries to sign up for the AfCFTA to help create a prosperous Africa in a short term and realize the dreams.

I have been in Eritrea just recently, and my impression is very good. I am impressed with how friendly the people are. Eritrea has a lot to offer. We have been talking today about the potential the country has regarding tourism and ports.

We are in a sub-region that has 420,000,000 people with Eritrea being a much smaller economy. We believe that joining the sub-regional market would create a space Eritrea needs to sell its products and also to ingrate in an economy that is moving very fast.

Mr. Andrew Mold, Officer-in-Charge, UNECA office for Eastern Africa

Mr. Andrew Mold, Officer-in-Charge, UNECA office for Eastern Africa

It is the first time we are having this regional meeting in Asmara. The report that I just presented was about the state of the regional economy and progress in the developmental goals section.

During my presentation, I tried to stress on the various challenges that occur within the region. To mention one, the job creation opportunities for the region are much slower than the rate of economic expansion over the past decade. We did a calculation on this topic and it is estimated that the region will have to sustain at least 6% growth rate to create sufficient jobs.

The demographic dividend is actually resulting in a situation where the job market has expanded very rapidly. So we have got an additional 8.5 million people joining the East Africa job market.

We also discussed challenges such as trade and intra-African trade. All of the 14 countries except one actually have very large merchandise trade. So, shifting towards higher level inter-regional trade is important for a number of reasons.

One of the reasons is that there are huge domestic demands in the region. Growth is being lit by consumption but that demand is being met increasingly by imports, particularly from Asia; nearly 70% of all imports in the Eastern Africa region are from Asia.

I was stressing the fact that inter-regional exports tend to be very difficult to the composition of trade with the rest of the world. If we wish to move forward with regional agendas for industrialization and diversification of economies we really need to push the regional trade integration.

 14 East African countries convened today at Asmara Palace.

Asmara Palace 23rd Meeting of Intergovernmental Committee

Asmara Palace 23rd Meeting of Intergovernmental
Asmara Palace 23rd Meeting of Intergovernmental

23rd Meeting of Intergovernmental Committee of Experts & Senior Officials of 14 East African countries convened today at Asmara Palace.

Three-day Conference is sponsored by UN Economic Commission for Africa & GOE. Opening speeches by FM Osman Saleh & ECA Executive Secretary…

Welcoming remarks by H.E. Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Eritrea

At the 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE)-ECS Office for Eastern Africa 5th-7th November 2019 -Asmara, Eritrea

Honorable Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UNECA,

Honorable Ministers and Senior Government Officials,
Distinguished Delegates and Invited Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all to the beautiful city of Asmara which is often referred to as “Africa’s jewel of Modernity!”.

Indeed, it is with immense gratitude and honor that the people and government of Eritrea are hosting the 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts of the Economic Commission for Africa – Sub-Regional for Eastern Africa.

In this regard, I would like to thank the Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa for providing us with the opportunity to host this timely and important event.

I would like also to recognize the outgoing Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts, the Republic of Rwanda, for steering ably the works of the 22nd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts.

Distinguished Delegates,

As the theme of this gathering insinuates, Africa in general and the Eastern Africa region in particular, have remarkable potential and capabilities to leverage and expedite regional integration.

Our sub-region – the Horn of Africa – after decades of externally induced inter-and-intra-state conflicts, has begun to breathe the air of hope and togetherness.

Peace and stability, critical prerequisite of regional integration, are new opportunities that we can leverage for regional integration.

Evidently, central to the recent hopeful environment prevailing in our region is the landmark peace deal signed between H.E. President Isaias Afwerki and H.E. P.M. Abiy Ahmed last year here in Asmara.

The peace-dividend of this historic event can simply be attested by the consequential engagements undertaken among the leaders and peoples of the sub-region in the past 15 months.

The leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, South Sudan, the Sudan and Kenya have reaffirmed their strong commitments to work together and realize the aspirations of their brotherly peoples.

Indeed, this is what we need to capitalize on as we envisage materializing regional integration.

Distinguished Delegates,

The combined human and natural resources of our region are significantly enormous to transform the lives of each individual person.

Apparently, these resources are not an end by themselves. The lofty ideals of regional economic integration might seem appealing on blue prints. However, it is judicious to design pragmatic polices and measurable projects.

Without transforming our existing infrastructural capacities, both human and physical, lofty objectives of enhancing regional trade or economic integration, will remain wishful and incomprehensible.

Transformation and improvements of our connectivity through roads, railways, sea-ports, airports, pipelines…etc.

will inevitably entail substantial financial and human capital, as well as technological and energy capacities. To put in place all these inputs, we should primarily value and mobilize our domestic resources.

Africa has already drawn enough lessons from falling victim to global financial institutions and corporate conglomerates.

Distinguished Delegates,
For its part, Eritrea has been engaged in implementing transformative developmental polices and projects; driven by its internal capacities.

To ensure the delivery of basic social services, such as health, water, education, transportation and livelihood, significant policy measures have been executed.

At this momentous peace-time, the ‘can do’ sprit of the Eritrean people and the government of Eritrea has prompted them to embark on rapid development to regain lost opportunities and attain a viable socio-economic transformation in the coming few years.

Distinguished Delegates,

In the following three days, as we reflect on the “new opportunities for regional integration,” we have to be mindful of the interdependency of every single sector and we need to create synergies to ensure coherence and sustainability.

All the thematic areas identified in our Programme of Work are topical and I hope our deliberations would galvanize to unlock the shared opportunities and potentials in our region.

Eritrea’s view of regional integration is guided by simple and doable vision; that is building strong regional blocks.

We should not be trapped in overlapping and ambitious regional gatherings and forums. Gauging our real capabilities entails prudence.

Distinguished Delegates,

Finally, while I place my trust in the success of the 23rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts, I hereby officially open the Meeting. I wish you all very successful deliberations and a pleasant stay!

I Thank You!

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