The President of Afreximbank, Dr Benedict Oramah,
HE Chairperson of the AU Commission, Mr Moussa Faki,
HE President of the Republic of Niger, President Mahamadou Issoufou,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and privilege for me to be part of this occasion, which marks a remarkable milestone in the history of Afreximbank.
Allow me to congratulate you on this great achievement and for the important work the bank has done over the past 25 years.
I am very pleased to be sharing a platform with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who has been leading the African Continental Free Trade Area process.
Under his leadership, we have made significant progress towards making the AfCFTA a reality.
The 25th anniversary of Afreximbank coincides with two historic occasions in South Africa – the centenary of the birth of former President Nelson Mandela exactly a week from today and the centenary of the birth of Mama Albertina Sisulu in October.
These two great Africans are synonymous with South Africa’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
The outstanding role they played in our journey to democracy will forever be etched in the annals of history.
As a country, we are today able to participate in such events as the 25th anniversary of Afreximbank thanks to their contribution not only to free South Africa, but also to ensure that it ties its future to the future of the African continent.
We continue to be inspired by these two icons in the work we do every day to create a better Africa and a better world.
We are guided by the words of President Mandela, when he said:
“I am fundamentally an optimist... Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
We gather here in Abuja as optimists, our heads pointed towards the sun, our feet moving forward.
We are not daunted by the obstacles we face, nor discouraged by the setbacks we experience.
We are determined to build an Africa that is prosperous, that is at peace, that is inclusive and where all its people enjoy an improving quality of life.
We are encouraged by the progress that has been made in many areas of endeavour, from governance to trade, from education to technology.
We are encouraged by the ongoing work of the African Union and its organs.
We have seen significant growth and development in economies across the continent.
We have many success stories of companies and organisations that are making a great difference in the lives of the people of Africa.
Afreximbank is one such story, which serves as an example and an inspiration to many others.
We are optimistic about Africa’s future because of the momentous developments over the last few months in forging a free trade area across the continent.
The Extraordinary African Union Summit in Kigali in March was a watershed, with most of the countries on the continent signing up to the agreement on the African CFTA.
At the 31st Session of the AU Assembly in Mauritania just over a week ago, South Africa joined its counterparts in signing the agreement.
Agreement on the Continental Free Trade Agreement represents a new dawn for Africa.
This new dawn signals the unity of purpose among Africans and a quest to work together to achieve a common goal of a prosperous and independent continent.
The AfCFTA makes us a winning continent because it carries a vision that represents the aspirations of our forebears.
It encourages unity among us rather than division.
It gives practical expression to our long-held belief that the interests of any nation in our continent become meaningless if they are not pursued within the context of shared prosperity among African people as a whole.
It is a significant step towards the creation of an integrated and diversified market of approximately $3.3 trillion with a population of over 1 billion people.
In pursuing the CFTA, we seek to combine market integration with industrial and infrastructure development to ensure that we enhance Africa’s productive capacity, address supply-side constraints and alleviate the infrastructure deficit.
We have to have the means to produce the goods that will be freely traded across the continent and we need to have the roads, railways, ports and air routes that are going to carry these goods.
The CFTA will assist Africa as it works towards self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
By trading among ourselves, we will be able to retain more resources within our continent to be shared among our people, alleviating poverty and reducing inequality.
Integration, and the economic development that will accompany it, will also contribute towards the maintenance of stability, democracy, peace and development.
At the same time, we need to work with greater determination and urgency to end conflict and instability to create improved conditions for economic development.
Greater integration and inclusive growth provides greater possibilities to replace conflict with constructive dialogue.
Integration will assist in our efforts to silence the guns on our continent.
This annual meeting is convened at a time when the multilateral trading system is under severe strain, largely due to an abandonment by some of the agreed upon rules of engagement.
It is important that this meeting considers the full extent of this strain because it carries the risk of reversing the modest gains we have made in placing development at the centre of the multilateral trading system.
Our response must be to consolidate and advance the integration of our continental market.
Under the leadership of President Issoufou, our collective priority should be to conclude Phase I and II of the negotiations of the CFTA, before commencing new preferential trading negotiations with third parties outside of the continent.
We have set ourselves a deadline of 2020 to conclude the CFTA negotiations and to ensure that the liberalisation of trade in goods is complimented by rules on investment, competition policy and intellectual property rights.
In this way, we will be able to unlock Africa’s full productive capacity.
I have no doubt that those of you gathered here have the requisite ability not only to deal with the economic challenges facing our continent but also to develop practical programmes that will accelerate the pace towards meaningful regional integration.
Let us spare neither effort nor strength as we work collectively to build and achieve the Africa we want, as articulated in Agenda 2063.
As I conclude, please allow me, once more, to congratulate Afreximbank for achieving this milestone, and wish that you grow from strength to strength in order to make a meaningful contribution in the development of the continent.
I wish you well in your further deliberations.
I thank you.