Egypt is the new Chair of COMESA after taking over from Madagascar, which has been steering the organization since 2016. President Fattah El Sisi took over from President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar during the 21st Summit of the COMESA Authority of Heads of State and Governments on 23rd November in Cairo, Egypt.
Heads of State and their representatives attended the Summit physically and virtually.
Soon after, President El-Sisi outlined his key areas of focus during his tenure as the Chair of COMESA, which are also aligned with the COMESA Medium Term Strategic Plan for 2021 – 2025. The MTSP was launched at the Summit.
His focus, he said will be on achieving regional economic integration by eliminating barriers to regional trade and promoting industrialization to increase the region productivity in the region.
“Egypt firmly believes in the importance of regional and continental integration and constantly seeks to develop intra-trade within this integration,” the president said.
He also identified infrastructure development particularly transport, energy, communications, and information technology as his priority. Besides, encouraging the flow of investments in the region, promoting regional integration in the health sector would also be top on his agenda.
During his tenure as chair, he will also focus on creating a conducive business environment, particularly initiatives targeting digital transformation and financial inclusion to serve small- and medium-sized companies.
President El Sisi commended his predecessor, President Rajoelina, for the concrete achievements realized to strengthen regional economic integration. President Rajoelina was chairperson of COMESA for three years, out of the cumulative five years that Madagascar was at the helm of the regional bloc.
In his address, President Rajoelina said digital transformation has been a key plank in his tenure. Specifically, he said digital trade had proven critical during the COVID-19 pandemic and thanked the COMESA Secretariat for coming up digital solutions such as online platforms to facilitate trade.
Nonetheless, he said the major challenge to regional integration remains funding.
“If we really want COMESA to become an effective tool of development, we have to think of better alternatives of financing opportunities,” he said.
The 2021 Summit themed “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration” comes three years since the last was hosted by the COMESA Secretariat in Lusaka, Zambia, on 18 – 19 July 2018. Egypt last hosted the COMESA Summit 2 decades ago, in 2001.
Heads of State who participated and addressed the Summit were; President Evariste Ndayishimiye, (Burundi), Pres. Kais Saied (Tunisia), Pres. Mohamed Younes al-Menfi, (Libyan Presidential Council), Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth (Mauritius), Pres. Wavel Ramkalawan (Seychelles), Pres. Mohamed Abdullahi (Somalia) and Pres. Paul Kagame (Rwanda). Three Vice Presidents; Malawi, Uganda and Zambia and two ministers from Kenya and D R Congo represented their heads of State and addressed the Summit.
The leaders called for adoption of digital technologies, harmonization and adoption of policies that promote the creation of such systems in various sectors. They further, stressed the need to develop green economies in the region to cushion the impact of climate change. They commended the COMESA Secretariat for implementing innovative systems such as the digital online platform to facilitate trade amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her address to the Summit, Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe said that, owing to the COVID-19, the COMESA region’s average growth had slowed to 0.6% in 2020 down from 5.2% in 2019 and 6.0% in 2018.
“It is my hope that renewed commitment will address the challenges faced by COMESA, which include amongst others, slow ratification and domestication of legal instruments, delayed implementation of the Decisions by the Authority and the Council of Ministers,” she said.
Other leaders that spoke at the Summit were the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the World Bank Director for Regional Integration, Africa, Middle East and North Africa Regions, Ms. Boutheina Guermazi, and the African Development Bank President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina.