"Integrate Africa", the fourth of the African Development Bank (AfDB's) five strategic development priorities, the High 5s, was the central theme of discussions with regional stakeholders in Abidjan.
Welcoming over 50 participants at the meeting, AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina set the tone of the deliberations, saying that integrating Africa would help achieve the High 5 objectives in a coherent way.
"Today, we are here primarily to discuss Integrate Africa, to bring down the tariff and non-tariff barriers that have marginalized and impoverished so many economies and prevented us from capitalizing on our physical and human capital resource base," he said noting that "The lack of integration amounts to Africa's own Beggar-Thy-Neighbour policy," adding: " It must stop."
Given the Bank's support to the Continental Free Trade Area, a critical part of the African Union's Vision 2063, Integrate Africa is an indispensable last piece in the puzzle, making sense of the whole picture, President Adesina added.
"In initiating today's meeting, our wish is to hear you, to gather your appreciation, to engage together the battle of integration, but especially to win it together. We bring the highest appreciation to your contribution today," President Adesina said.
"Please be assured, ladies and gentlemen, that your remarks, your suggestions and even your questions and your reservations will be very useful to enrich this strategy which will need the contribution of all of us to be implemented effectively,» he added
The Bank's Regional Integration Strategy focuses on three pillars: Power and infrastructure connectivity; Trade and Investment; and Financial Sector Integration.
The Commissioner for Economic Affairs of the African Union, Victor Harison, who represented the President of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, reaffirmed the Union's commitment to the continent's integration.
Regional integration and development of the continent are in perfect synergy with the statutes of Member States of the Union and the Regional Economic Communities, he said.
"Regional integration is a noble challenge that can only be achieved with the contribution of all stakeholder. This requires sustained efforts: in short, leadership and perseverance," Commissioner Harison added.
Presenting the 2018-2025 Regional Integration Strategy, Vice President for Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery, Khaled Sherif, explained that the document proposes measures and mechanisms to address issues related to building larger and more attractive subregional markets, including linking landlocked countries to African regional trade points.
Ultimately, the strategy aims to improve the business environment for private sector investment. Other expected effects include a substantial increase in income and a real impact on human development due to the free movement of people, ideas and cultures, skills building, knowledge exchange and information.
Frank and direct discussions were held between key actors in Africa's regional integration agenda, in particular the regional economic communities (RECs), multilateral development finance institutions and AfDB's senior management.