A tough job awaits the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila, the new chairman of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).
Urgent tasks include fostering peace and security, and in turn attract investments to address the infrastructure deficit in the region in order to achieve a fully integrated market.
Several member states of Africa’s largest bloc are still smarting from governance issues and conflicts.
President Kabila assumed chairmanship of Comesa on February 26, taking over from Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, whose tenure since November 2012 saw him seek and aggressively engage Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (also known as the BRICS), the five countries that represent the major emerging economies from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
President Museveni urged the five countries to fund infrastructure projects in the Comesa region at the fifth summit of the BRICS held in Durban, South Africa in March last year.
“During my term, we participated in conferences in Yokohama, Dubai and Kampala. I used my visit to Russia to urge President Vladimir Putin to raise funds for bankable projects,” said President Museveni at the 17th Comesa summit in Kinshasa.
According to World Bank estimates, Africa needs $93 billion each year to cover funding gaps for infrastructure. Comesa, made up of 19 member states, has a population of 430 million people covering a land mass of 16.5 million square kilometres.
Yet, it remains poorly connected in terms of infrastructure compared with regional economic blocs in southern, western and northern African.
President Museveni hands over to President Kabila the task of mobilising $53 billion for infrastructure in the Comesa region. Broken down, this figure is $28.4 billion for railways, airports, ports, roads and border posts; $31.4 billion for electricity. In addition, the bloc requires $630 million for ICT infrastructure.
President Kabila will have the advantage of progressing with the multilateral infrastructure co-financing agreement for Africa — a key outcome of the Durban BRICS summit — that paves the way for funding of several Comesa projects.
However, the region needs to guarantee stability. The bloc has been consumed by old and new conflicts. Eastern DR Congo, for instance, is still home to several negative forces and militia despite the most dominant, the M23 group, being defeated recently.
Another member, Madagascar, has only just returned to democratic governance, recovering from political turmoil since 2008.
The ongoing conflict in South Sudan — a non-Comesa country — since December 2013 has had a significant impact in the economies of Comesa member states such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and DR Congo, which trade with it.
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According to the International Monetary Fund, Comesa countries such as DR Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia are among the fastest growing economies in the world, in spite of poor infrastructure, political turmoil and conflict in some areas.
Both president Kabila and his Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda argue that trade, peace and development are interlinked; therefore stemming conflict is the first major step towards realising the full potential and benefits of an integrated market.
Other countries like Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania despite not being Comesa members are also posting impressive growth figures, but happen to be major trade partners with the bloc under other regional groups, a scenario that augurs well for the planned merging of blocs like Comesa, the EAC and SADC.