President Paul Kagame on Sunday told participants gathered at the inaugural 'Kusi Ideas Festival' that it was important for Africa to work together as one continent if it is to achieve the progress people aspire to have.
He was speaking at a Presidential Panel alongside, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Félix Tshisekedi, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Raila, Raila Odinga, the Africa Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development and Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Kagame pointed to the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (ACFTA) as one of the ambitious strategies through which the continent can work to fast-track the development countries want to achieve in the future.
"Nothing will happen unless Africans decide, which they have done. This is what was done here in Kigali when we met in 2016, seeing through the signing of the ACFTA," he said.
In 2016, African heads of state and governments met in Kigali to sign the AFCTA. More than 40 leaders at the time signed the agreement for the establishment of a free trade agreement that will create the world's largest market.
The African Continental Free Trade Area brings together all the 55-member countries of the African union to trade tariff-free.
While there is a lot of work to be done, Kagame said the AfCFTA is a good foundation.
"We now have to keep challenging ourselves to make sure we do all the things we have committed ourselves to do," he noted.
"My reassurance about the progress and success of the ACFTA and other things Africans have committed themselves to, lie in what pronouncements African leaders have made themselves and what we are seeing happening," he added.
The President had earlier met with members of the AU Reform Team, which he chairs, to review the progress. Among the key progress is the significant reduction of the African Union budget by 12 per cent.
By trimming the budget, the AU is aiming at being fit for purpose and drive towards financial self-reliance through the 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports model. The budget serves to finance the cost of running the Union, its organs, specialized technical agencies, representational offices and agencies across the world.
"I think we're starting from a good place. What remains is to build on that to achieve many things. The purpose of reforms is mainly to have an effective African Union, one that is accountable to the people of Africa," he reminded the participants.
The President highlighted that there is no question that if other countries have been able to work together to achieve the immense benefits they have achieved, nothing prevents Africa from being able to achieve the same results.
"Much as we are not where we need to be or want to be and we fully understand there is much work to do, I think we are up to the task. It's a question of working together," he noted.
Infrastructure, human capital
The panelists highlighted that education and investing in building infrastructure, are some of the prerequisites that will propel the continent to achieve the results it set out to achieve in the future.
Tshisekedi said he was embarking on rolling out free education in his country.
"Since I took that decision we are overwhelmed by the high number of young people who are now able to go to school. This is how we shall change a nation that is in the midst of problems it wants to overcome, he noted.
"The infrastructure is also important. We have been one of the last to have the right infrastructure. To achieve that, it will require integration and this is what informed our decision to request to join the East African Community," he added.
Leaders are looking at DRC as one of the countries with great potential to drive the future of the continent. Projects like the proposed Grand Inga Dam was highlighted as one of the most transformative projects.
Grand Inga is the world's largest hydropower scheme on the River Congo.
Both Odinga and Faki said one of the impediments in Africa is lack of proper infrastructure, which if addressed could turn around the continent's fortunes.
On the other hand, Vera Songwe argued that in 60 years Africa must be a continent that delivers ideas to the rest of the world.
"Africa's share of trade is currently 3 per cent. That means that we have 3 percent of global ideas. We do need to create a knowledge-based economy and I think that is what AFCTA is about," she said.