Davos 2012: Africa leaders urge co-operation

Guinea President Alpha Conde Guinea's president said Africa's leaders needed to change the perception of their continent

Some of Africa's leaders have urged closer co-operation within the continent on energy and infrastructure projects to help its growth prospects.

Speaking at Davos, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma urged massive investment in infrastructure to promote trade within Africa.

Guinea's President Alpha Conde said there should be pan-African ministers for energy, infrastructure and trade.

He said he hoped the new ministries could be agreed by the African Union.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed on the need for closer co-operation on infrastructure projects and said the planning and coordination body of the African Union, Nepad, was already working on this.

But he urged caution, warning it would and should be a long process.

"It took 50 years for the Europeans to come up with a single currency and it appears they went too fast for some of its members," Mr Zenawi said.

The leaders were taking part in a session called Africa: From Transition to Transformation, at the annual gathering of economic, business and political leaders at the ski resort of Davos in Switzerland.

Mr Zuma said infrastructure was at the heart of one of the key issues for the continent, namely how Africa leads itself.

"Africans must trade amongst themselves," he said.

"Intra-Africa trade is negligible," Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga pointed out. "Europe trades more with itself that with the rest of the world."

The chair of the session, the former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, said the continent needed billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, but red tape and cross-border problems were getting in the way.

Mr Zuma said those issues, or bottlenecks, were being addressed.

"How we open up borders for the free flow of people, or workers, as well as goods - that is being discussed as well as infrastructure," he said.

'New Africa'

Speaking at his first visit to the World Economic Forum, Guinea's Mr Conde, who described himself as the country's first democratic president after ten years of dictatorship, said: "If we want to move ahead we have to help ourselves. If we do that we can agree on producing our own energy, breaking down barriers to trade.

"The African leaders have to change our attitudes... not have money in banks abroad... to develop our own resources for our own people."

"We have a lot of faults, we are a bit selfish, fight for power rather than our people.

"I am here to show there is a new Africa... that we can be the continent of the 21st century."

For some of the leaders, the Indian economy, which developed rapidly thanks to developing its manufacturing sector, was a model African countries could follow.

"We are where India was in the early Nineties, we have the same size of population," said Ethiopia's Mr Zenawi. "That is our ambition, based on the growth of the past few years. It is not an idle ambition."

He said although the Millennium Development Goals - on relieving poverty and disease in the world's poorest nations - concentrated on advances in primary education, that would not be enough to create the skills necessary to transform economies.

"Africa is a natural destination for manufacturing," he said, adding that he hoped companies who relocated to Asia for cheap, efficient labour, would relocate to Africa, given the necessary investment in education and infrastructure.

However tackling the problem of corruption was still a "major issue", said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

"The first thing to fight against corruption is transparency," he said, adding that his country was now publishing all mining contracts as part of a new mining code.

"The best guarantee for an investor is transparency."

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