Regional integration represents a unique opportunity for East African countries to strengthen their economies, affirmed delegates concluding the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) meeting which ended in Asmara on Thursday.
Representatives of governments, private sector, regional economic communities and civil society from 14 Eastern African countries adopted unanimously the Asmare communiqué at the end of the three-day regional meeting which was taking place for the first time in Eritrea.
The 23rd meeting of the Intergovernmental committee on senior officials and experts for Eastern Africa (ICSOE), organized by the ECA in Eastern Africa in collaboration with the State of Eritrea, focused on leveraging new opportunities for regional integration.
In his closing remarks, Ambassador Tesfamicael Geratu of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Eritrea said the meeting had consolidated a unity of thinking among East African countries to contribute towards nation building aspirations while unlocking opportunities for regional peace, security and development. The meeting, the Ambassador said, had shown Eastern Africa's determination to focus on strengthening regional integration.
Mr. Geratu said Eritrea was honoured to host the high-level meeting after decades of isolation.
"A new peace dividend has emerged between Eritrea and Ethiopia. This has revitalized the regional dynamics of peace, security and development in the Horn of Africa region," he said, adding that Eritrea would strengthen its partnership with the ECA in particular in the sectors of energy and the blue economy.
For his part, Andrew Mold, the Acting Director of the ECA in Eastern Africa Office thanked the government and the people of Eritrea for their 'excellent hospitality' adding that "this meeting was indeed historic, the first meeting of the ECA to be organized here after decades. This will help to guide us as we continue to work as a partner with member States in their quest for sustainable development."
The final communiqué insisted on the importance of regional cooperation to tap on the potential benefits of the AfCFTA, for job creation, social cohesion and industrialization. Further economic integration, through the effective implementation of the AfCFTA, could help create a more sustainable and inclusive growth, address the current challenges affecting the East African economies and concretely create up to 2 million new jobs. Examples drawn from national experiences, notably Rwanda's development vision, illustrated the debate.
Regional integration was also highlighted in the sectors of tourism, a sector that currently employs over 7.2 million people and could benefit from a regional focus on intra-African tourism and urban tourism. Discussions were also held about the energy sector, where participants asserted the need to diversify financing sources to meet the goal of ensuring clean and affordable energy for all by 2030, highlighting the initiative to be launched by the ECA through the issuance of a special bond.
Participants debated on the issue of social cohesion, threatened by rising inequalities and learned from the example of Kenya where legal and institutional frameworks have supported a national effort to promote social cohesion.
With examples from Seychelles, Comoros or Madagascar, the meeting worked on blue economy and its potential for regional integration, underlining the need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that local communities also benefit from its dividend, and underscoring the important role of regional cooperation in fostering sustainable sharing and management of resources.
The meeting concluded with a learning visit outside of Asmara, which included a visit of the Gergera and Logo dams, a solar farm and Halhale Dairy Farm.