(IGAD – Addis Ababa) A meeting to discuss the regional integration plan for the IGAD Region started yesterday at the UN Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The three-day meeting bringing together more 80 participants drawn from IGAD Member States, development partner agencies and regional experts was officially opened by H.E. Amb Sahlework Zewdie, Director General for African Affairs on behalf of Hon Seyoum Mesfin, Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers.
After welcoming the participants to the city, he thanked IGAD for organizing the meeting aimed at formulating an economic integration plan for the region. The Minister also expressed his gratitude to IGAD development partners, especially GTZ and UN Economic Commission for Africa for their financial and expertise contribution to assist IGAD in its efforts to develop the regional integration strategies.
He recalled a decision of the 12th Ordinary Summit of the Assembly of the IGAD Heads of State and Government held last June in Addis Ababa directing the Secretariat to undertake an inventory of what has been achieved so far in terms of regional integration, and make recommendations on the way forward as well as develop and implement regional integration programs.
“I believe this meeting marks a milestone in our resolve towards revitalizing and making IGAD a vehicle for regional integration,” said Hon Seyoum adding that there is an increasing urgency to have a clear road map on the way forward in trade policy harmonization, free movement of goods and services in the region.
While acknowledging the importance of peace and security as critical pre-conditions necessary for economic development, the IGAD Executive Secretary, Eng Mahboub Maalim pointed out that the challenge and urgency of the moment for IGAD is to prioritize economic development and integration in the region.
In his speech, he further stated that the human and natural resources of the region if properly managed could significantly contribute to the economic and welfare development of region’s 200 million people.
“The Member States will require to allocate development funds based on a specific percentage to finance identified projects and programmes,” said Eng Maalim adding that this calls for the creation of an IGAD Development Fund or even a regional development bank, modalities of which can be worked out.
Mr Abdoulie Janneh, the UNECA Executive Secretary in a welcoming speech read by Dr Abdalla Hamdok, recalled that since the inception of IGAD, its political leaders have continued to strive to transform the region into an area where sustainable peace and stability, and shared growth and development would prevail.
Recognizing the pivotal importance of regional integration for Africa’s sub regional and continental development, he pointed out that ECA undertook some reforms to refocus its interventions on promoting regional integration and responding to Africa’s special needs including implementation of NEPAD.
“We have strengthened our sub regional offices and empowered them to work closely with and in support of the Regional Economic Communities,” stated Mr Janneh adding that the sub regional office for Eastern Africa based in Kigali has developed a multi-year program of assistance in support of the RECs within the sub region including IGAD.
The meeting that ends on Wednesday 5th November 2008 is expected to come up with a Minimum Integration Plan for the region that encompasses transport, industry, ICT, peace and security, agriculture, livestock and food security, environment and natural resources sectors as well as cross cutting sectors such as gender, health, etc.