By Daniel Ooko
August 4, 2009
NAIROBI, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) — The Kenyan government on Tuesday challenged African countries to open up their own borders for trade to enhance business among themselves.
Speaking at the opening of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum which kicked off in Nairobi on Tuesday, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said it was crucial for Africa to coordinate more effectively with the United States in achieving its shared goals in an orderly manner.
He said that for trade initiatives such as AGOA to make a difference, African nations must strive to increase quality, quantity and competitiveness of their products.
"We need to urgently increase the quality, quantity and competitiveness of our export products," Odinga told thousands of participants from the United States and 39 African countries that included trade ministers.
"Only then can we become significant global actors economically and politically and make maximum use of AGOA opportunities," he said.
Odinga said Africa should initiate far-reaching and sometimes painful reforms to tackle systemic constraints that have festered for decades.
"Undertaking infrastructural development, building the rule of law and institutions that enjoy national and international respect and investing in education and health to eliminate abject poverty must become our indivisible priorities," Odinga said.
"Much also remains to be done to strengthen investor confidence in the opportunities that abound in our continent. It takes less time for goods to move from European countries to Africa while its takes a long time for goods to move within African countries," he said.
Odinga said Africa should stop the blame game and instead open up its borders to allow the free movement of goods and services within Africa to enhance trade.
The prime minister said Africa, a continent perceived by the West as a high risk region, should not be lectured on governance by anyone.
Odinga said that the continent is undertaking reforms on good governance and democracy out of its own volition.
The remarks came hours before U.S. top diplomat Hillary Clinton arrives in the country later in the evening for the Forum where she was expected to deliver a speech on Wednesday and proceed for talks with senior Kenyan leaders.
Odinga noted that instead of speeches on how to improve the rule of law, African countries welcome ideas on how to increase trade and thus better the lives of its people.
"We need more lectures on how we are going to trade with the rest of the world than how we are going to govern ourselves," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger called on Kenya to urgently implement the reform agenda agreed upon after the signing of the National Accord that ended the post-poll violence last year.
The ambassador noted and lauded the role played by the civil society, media and private sector to pressure the protagonists to reach a political solution to the impasse.
"The full implementation (of the agenda) is absolutely essential. Failure to do is one factor holding back economic recovery," he pointed out.
Speaking at the forum, Odinga said the current global recession was particularly challenging the continent which has been ravaged by conflicts, diseases and wars.
"It adds to our growing crises in water, food, energy and sluggish economic growth, which means that for tens of millions, even a small drop in income can catapult them to the edge of survival," he said.
"Difficult as periods of crises are, they also carry within them seeds of immense opportunity. Crises make leaders and common folk alike recognize that new ways must be found to urgently unlock our people’s energy to both cope with adversity and find new ways to tackle problems that can not be addressed with conventional methods," Odinga said.
He said Africa was most fortunate that as "we ourselves think anew about how to develop our economies, we have in Washington a new administration that is seriously exploring new ideas and has shown an extraordinary commitment to supporting Africa’s efforts to do much better."
He noted that AGOA has acted as a catalyst to promote the trade between the United States and Africa, noting that it was however, too early to claim that AGOA has made a striking difference to African fortunes.
Odinga said in 2008, apparel imports to the United States were valued at 93 billion U.S. dollars of which sub-Saharan Africa accounted for only 1 billion dollars — while Bangladesh alone exported three times of that amount.
"One reason for this weakness is that most African production is from SMEs, which are at the heart of our growth strategies nationally. They cannot however meet the bulk orders of large U.S. corporations. Moreover, our producers are yet to harness high production technologies," he said.