3 June 2008

Africa: Continent Should Negotiate Jointly With Asians


Kampala — African leaders were on the road again last week. After attending the China-Africa summit and the India-Africa forum last month, the 40 African heads of state were in Japan attending the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) which first met in 1993.

The summits underscore the importance these Asian economic and political competitors place on getting on the right side of African leaders many of whom are sitting on huge mineral, oil and other resources. Africa is also emerging as a last frontier for financial investors. The continent also offers a growing market for low-end manufactured goods that are no longer exportable to the developed countries of Europe and America.

Whereas these Asian countries can offer Africa a faster route to development this can only happen if the individual leaders from the continent go into these summits with their own well-thought out agendas. Better still, it would be of immense value if Africa went with a continental-wide agenda which could then be broken up into country-specific ones during the subsequent bilateral meetings.

Drawing up a common agenda detailing the trade and investment issues would be easy because the continent is grappling with similar challenge which include poor infrastructure and trade terms that are weighted heavily against Africa.

The prices of Africa's export commodities are set outside the continent because it has little say in their extraction or production. Exporting these commodities raw with, little if any added value simply adds insult to injury.

Africa has no say either in setting the prices at which it imports the consumer and industrial goods it needs even when their quality leaves much to be desired.The tragedy for Africa and its people is that the drawing up of a common agenda is not happening. Instead, the leaders are left to compete against one another with the hosts assuring every one of them of receiving most favored terms.

Another mistake African leaders are making is leaving their respective private sector heads behind. They don't seem to have learnt from their European and American who go on state visits with a full complement of industry leaders.

The result is that whereas European and American leaders go back with plenty of concluded business deals that could otherwise have taken years to negotiate and sign up our leaders return with plenty of promises.

But all is not lost. Not yet anyway as Bostwana demonstrated recently with the setting up of a modern diamond refining factory. Uganda, too, as an emerging oil producer could benefit from copying the kind of deals countries like Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have with oil majors.Uganda and its other regional partners should wake up to the reality that they wield a bigger clout negotiating with all interested parties as a region than individually.

Whether the negotiations are over investment or trade terms a region of more than 100 million people will always be more attractive than one of 30 million.

Mr Mbatau is a journalist

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