Magazine article New African

Egypt Sets Its Sights South

Magazine article New African

Egypt Sets Its Sights South

Article excerpt

The Africa 2016 Forum in February in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, brought together private sector and government leaders. There was a recurring message: there is a huge African opportunity--but it will take trust, confidence and courage to be fully realised.

Egypt's leadership is sending clear signals to the rest of the continent: it is committed to Africa and wants greater engagement with the continent. Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has taken it upon himself to make this happen.

In June 2015, the President hosted the signing of the tripartite agreement that brought together three regional economic communities--the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)--to create a free trade area comprising all 26 countries.

El-Sisi has travelled throughout the continent, making state visits to Ethiopia, Algeria and Sudan, and has hosted a number of his counterparts back home. Meanwhile, his ministries have been instructed to increase bilateral agreements and initiatives between Egypt and the region, developing greater business and investment ties.

Indeed, after what could have been considered a fractious relationship between the President's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, with countries in the Nile Basin, the tone between Egypt and its neighbours has changed to one of reconciliation and a shared agenda--evident at the Africa 2016 Forum in February in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In a speech at the Forum by Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, the message was one of inclusiveness and of working in the interests of the region: "Today, in our globalised world, no country can achieve development in isolation," he said.

Hazem Fahmy, Secretary General of the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD), which operates in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the Forum's main conveners, reiterated Desalegn's point: "One hand alone cannot clap."

Building trust

Less than two years since el-Sisi became President of Egypt, the country appears to be on the right path. A recent IMF report lauded the country for developments it has made in enacting structural reforms as well as improvements made to streamline legal and investment codes in the country.

As reform continues, multibillion-dollar projects have been announced, including the building of a new capital city 45km east of Cairo, and a drive to develop special economic zones at the Suez Canal to boost trade and investment in the region.

From the President's perspective, Egypt offers logistical benefits to the wider region. Education, capacity building and healthcare were also identified as areas where Egypt could make a valuable contribution to the region's development.

But throughout the Forum, it was acknowledged that there is still considerable room for greater collaboration and cooperation between African businesses and states. For instance, intra-African trade in Africa is still low, hovering between 10-15% of total trade values. There are many reasons for this: firstly, Africa doesn't produce the goods and services that its people consume, and ultimately infrastructure deficits mean that it is cheaper getting goods from abroad than it is from one African country into another.

However, sentiment at the Forum pointed to greater trust as the key enabler for collaboration and cooperation. …

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