The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) 54th annual meetings were held in the capital city of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. In the Central Africa region, the high-profile event is expected to boost growth in one of Africa’s least developed areas.
Convening under the theme of ‘Regional Integration for Africa’s Prosperity’, the AfDB met in the Equatorial Guinea capital of Malabo along with business leaders and heads of state to debate strategies towards strengthening Africa’s regional integration.
Despite almost half of the continent ratifying the long-awaited African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) enormous challenges remain with intra-African trade stunted at only around 18% of the total: one of the lowest figures in the world.
In 2018, the GDP growth rate in Central Africa doubled to 2.2 % from 1.1% in 2017, but remained below the sub-Saharan average of 3.5% with many countries suffering due to poor market access and paltry cross-border trade.
“Regional integration is crucial for Africa’s development,” said AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina at the conference’s opening ceremony. “We must connect landlocked countries to ports. Investors must be able to invest across borders. A divided Africa is weak. Together and united Africa is unstoppable.”
The president, who is hoping to be re-elected next year after overseeing revenue gains and disbursement increases, noted that the development bank had invested $30bn in the region over the last seven years.
Specific projects include leveraging Norwegian and British money for the Congo Basin Forest Fund to reduce the rate of deforestation for its surrounding 80m inhabitants, and financing a road corridor to link Brazzaville with the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.
“This region is endowed with arable land, forest, water and abundant diversity making it easily one of the world’s leading regions for national resources,” he commented.
Equatorial Guinea’s new finance minister, Cesar Mba Abogo, a 39-year academic formerly based in Spain who entered government after his predecessor was sacked in April for “irregularities”, stated that Africa needs to create 55 decent jobs until the year 2035 in order to capitalise on the continent’s phenomenal population growth.
He applauded the bank’s commitment to the subregion, and said it was a great opportunity to strengthen development gains.
“The celebration of these annual assemblies is crucial and the region which will benefit the most is our subregion of Central Africa,” he said. “We are opening and promoting our subregion.”
Along with Equatorial Guinea the region includes Angola, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Republic of Congo and São Tomé and Príncipe which together with Rwanda and Burundi make up the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
The Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) is a separate organisation which includes Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea to promote regional integration and to share the Central African CFA franc.
The region has some of the lowest scores vis-à-vis integration in comparison to the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang – who is Africa’s longest serving president, ruling since 1979 – praised development in his country since striking oil in the mid-1990s.
“Development in Equatorial Guinea has been radically transformed from being one of the poorest counties to one of the highest per capita income across the continent,” he said. “But development for me is not in terms of per capita it is the capacity of my people to live distinguished lives.”
The country’s per capita was $11,486 in 2017 – making it the highest on the continent.
Obiang, however, remains among the last of a dying genre of Africa’s lifelong dictators and is routinely criticised for corruption and human rights abuses.
Having celebrated his 77th birthday just days before the conference, tensions are mounting over who may eventually succeed the ageing president.