UNECA - United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

07/25/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/25/2023 12:39

Joe Attah-Mensah, outgoing regional integration champion, offers his parting shot on Africa’s economic transformation

Addis Ababa, 25 July 2023 (ECA) - Africa's regional integration realized through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is imperative to the continent's economic growth and development, says outgoing Joe Attah-Mensah, Principal Policy Adviser at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

"What many Africans aspire for is that the 55 fragmented economies on the continent become integrated into one strong, robust, diversified and resilient economy," said Mr. Attah-Mensah, in a farewell seminar on the theme: "Is Africa Integrating or Disintegrating? A Reflection over the last 20 years and the future". The seminar was organized by ECA staff to mark his retirement.

The AfCFTA is a free trade area launched in 2019 by African countries to create a single continental market with a population of about 1.3 billion people and a combined GDP of approximately US$ 3.4 trillion. At its full realization, the AfCFTA with the mandate of eliminating trade barriers, will be the largest free trade area in the world bringing together the 55 countries. To date it has been signed by 54 African countries and ratified by 47 others. Throughout his career at the ECA, Mr. Attah-Mensah is widely acknowledged as a passionate advocate of the regional integration agenda.

An integrated Africa is a prosperous Africa

In a presentation punctuated by sayings and statements by Africa's founding leaders, Mr. Attah-Mensah stressed that an integrated Africa is underpinned by a first-class trans-boundary infrastructure, a highly educated, flexible and mobile workforce as well as highly mobile financial capital. Furthermore, sound health facilities, peace and security are vital in supporting an integrated Africa.

Mr. Attah-Mensah, called for investment in and "strengthening of the supply chain infrastructure, such as transportation, communication, utilities and technology to support the AfCFTA."

Abolish visas for Africans

"Abolish visas for Africans traveling in Africa," Mr. Attah-Mensah said, describing the issuing of visas on arrival as "notenough" and suggested countries could "share intelligence to bar Africans who are a security-risk."

He called on Member States to ratify the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment, stressing the link "between free movement of persons and economic growth and the contribution of free movement of persons to the creation of a common market."

While the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons has been signed by a number of member States, only four have ratified it. Some member States have eased travel restrictions by facilitating visa-free entry for Africans traveling within Africa and by issuing visas on arrival.

Mr. Attah-Mensah also called on member states to embrace Artificial Intelligence for deepening regional integration, noting that emerging Machine Learning and Artificial Learning applications promise to reshape healthcare, agriculture, and democracy in the developing world.

Touching on infrastructure issues, he highlighted the importance of reliable and affordable electricity, stressing the need to "urgently address persistently high energy costs, which raise the cost of production and reduce the competitiveness of trade."

ECA in support of regional integration

Mr. Attah-Mensah also elaborated on ECA's central in supporting the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union with its integration agenda and informed the audience that the 1963 ECA conference of Finance Ministers in Khartoum, Sudan gave birth to the African Development Bank (AfDB). In addition, the ECA supported the creation of some Regional Economic Commissions.

ECA Acting Executive Secretary, Antonio Pedro, praised Mr. Attah-Mensah for his "commitment and key role in championing regional integration in Africa" and acknowledged his substantial contribution to the work of ECA.

Deputy Executive Secretary and Chief Economist Hanan Morsy lauded Mr. Attah-Mensah for his p"assion, achievements and commitment to the Regional Integration agenda" and wished him a fruitful retirement.

For his part, Robert Lisinge, Acting Director, Private Sector Development and Finance Division and long-time collaborator on infrastructure issues offered a vote of thanks on behalf of ECA staff.

The seminar was chaired by Said Adejumobi, Director of ECA's Strategic Planning and Oversight and Results Division. Over 300 dignitaries, past and present colleagues, family members and friends attended online and in person to celebrate Joseph Attah-Mensah's illustrious career and contributions to the ECA and to Africa's regional integration agenda. Speakers included the ECA Former Executive Secretary, K.Y Amoako; Former AU Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mwencha; AU High Representative on Silencing the Guns, Mohammed Ibn Chambers; Economist, Former Finance Minister of Malawi and former AU Commissioner of Economic Affairs, Maxwell Mkwezalamba; Economist and Former Finance Minister of Tunisia Hakim Ben Hammouda; Principal Advisor to Albert Muchanga, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Jean Bertrand Azapmo; former Senior AfDB official, Lamin Manneh; and the Second Lady of the Republic of Ghana, Samira Bawumia, who spoke on behalf of the Vice President of Ghana, Mahamudu Bawumia. Also present were former AU Commissioner, Anthony Maruping and former COMESA Secretary-General, Sindiso Ngwenya. Ayodele Odusola, UNDP Resident Representative, South Africa and Stephen Karingi, Director at the ECA Regional Integration and Trade Division served as discussants to Attah-Mensah's presentation.

Described as a "fearless and sometimes lone voice," Attah-Mensah retires from the ECA after two decades of dedicated service in various capacities. He led organizational planning the work on the Regional Integration Assessment Report and numerous policy-oriented research. Prior to this, Mr. Attah-Mensah worked for the Central Bank of Canada.

Click here for Mr. Attah-Mensah's presentation.

Issued by:
Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: +251 11 551 5826
E-mail: [email protected]