It will be quite a challenge to be brief about development on a continent as big as Africa, but I will try.
The group of African ambassadors is delighted to have the opportunity to appear before the committee to share with it a broad overview of developments on our continent. There are seven resident African embassies in Ireland and I am delighted to confirm that six ambassadors are present. Apologies have been sent by the ambassador of Egypt. Members will, therefore, have the opportunity to engage in discourse with them. Please allow me to begin, on behalf of the group, by thanking committee members for their great interest in and strong support for Africa. In attending other hearings we have witnessed vibrant debate on development issues in Africa and clear and determined support for the provision of Government development and humanitarian aid funding. At a time of austerity, this is very commendable on the part of the committee and the Irish people.
This week we celebrate Africa Day to mark the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. We remind ourselves of the vision and dreams of its founding fathers and mothers, to stand united in the fight for total liberation of the continent. Africans have since made steady progress, especially in democratisation, economic development and conflict resolution. However, much remains to be accomplished and many of the gains remain fragile, but now, more so than at any other time in the continent's collective history, the fate of Africa is in the hands of the African people.
The African Union is central to discussions on Africa. It is an organisation which seeks to improve the quality of life of all Africans through political, economic and social integration, co-operation and development. It strives to promote unity, solidarity, cohesion and co-operation among African states and their peoples. It serves as an enabling vehicle for the development of new and stronger partnerships worldwide in Africa's quest for sustainable development that will eradicate poverty and bring Africa into the global economy. It has far-reaching plans to set up a human rights court, a central bank, a monetary fund and, by 2023, an African Economic Community with a single currency.
Africa is home to many diverse nations. We are proud nations with a deep culture and values and have come a long way together. Today there are fewer wars then ever before in our continent's history. The demand for improved governance means that dictators can no longer survive. The people across the continent are demanding democratic governance. The wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa, also known as the Arab spring, has changed the political landscape of northern Africa and forged new bonds between north African neighbours and possibly beyond. As events unfolded, we witnessed how north African youth voiced its legitimate claims and aspirations for a better future that entails more democracy, human rights and good governance, as well as equitable socio-economic development. All these events have enabled the emergence of new leaders and could even be seen as a positive step towards the activation of the Arab Maghreb Union. Consequently, on 18 February 2012, Morocco hosted a meeting of Arab Maghreb Union foreign ministers, their first meeting in 18 years. Today, more than 20 years since its creation, and amid profound political changes in the region, the Arab Maghreb Union could well find a new impetus and finally become a strong and viable political and regional entity. It is Morocco's belief that a strong Arab Maghreb Union would have a great impact on the economy of the region and also on Africa as a whole.
As we speak, Egypt is making history as it decides on its leader for the first time. There are also many African countries that have managed to hold free and fair elections. They have made serious reforms to institutionalise accountability and good governance. Many have an independent judiciary and can hold their governments and the executive to account.
It would be our wish that such would be the situation in other troubled spots in Africa. Somalia is a country on the brink, a victim of long conflicts with very deep problems. Tension is building along the border of the Sudan and the newly-established South Sudan, just when it was hoped that this problem was now in the past. Guinea Bissau is grappling with the effects of a coup d’état staged last month. The Democratic Republic of Congo remains challenged and the situation in Zimbabwe continues to be precarious.
In the area of economic growth, Africa has made commendable progress. Our countries are working on our procedures to ensure that African countries have the most accessible environment for business. A strong investment climate is essential to attract business. We are reducing the red-tape and bureaucracy in almost every country. We are developing stronger economic policies. Black markets are virtually a thing of the past. There is better balance between the state and the private sector. We work with partners to manage aid in a more transparent manner. We have also resolved the crippling debt situation and this has created space for growth. Across Africa the debt burden is significantly lower than it was even ten years ago. As a result, some of our countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world, with Ghana at 12%, Ethiopia at 10%, and Mozambique, Angola and Botswana all at 7%. The Kingdom of Morocco ranks first in terms of investments in west Africa which shows its effective commitment to upgrading and developing the economic networking of the continent's countries.
The other area of focus for Africa is developing intra-Africa trade which remains low compared with other regions at around 10%. By comparison, intra-Asia is about 52%, intra-Latin America about 26% and the figure is much higher for intra-Europe trade. Identified as critical in hindering intra-Africa trade is the lack of regional transport infrastructure including ports, rail, road, as well as strengthening trade facilitation.
Some regions have begun to address this and good examples are Ethiopia and Kenya which have made huge investment into revamping their infrastructure. The impressive infrastructural investment which Ethiopia has made on energy, road, rail and communications, stretches well beyond its borders. The railway connection between Ethiopia and Djibouti and power transmission line projects that connect Ethiopia with Kenya and Sudan, are estimated to cost $3.52 billion. Large hydropower projects are also currently under construction which will enable Ethiopia export power to Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti and other countries. One of these projects includes the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with an installed capacity of 6,000 MW, from which neighbouring states will also benefit.
The Lamu port and Lamu southern Sudan-Ethiopia transport corridor, is a transport and infrastructure project in Kenya that aims to improve access and connectivity between Kenya, Southern Sudan and Ethiopia as well as to stimulate economic activity in the northern and eastern parts of Kenya. Regional economic communities also play a critical role to promote intra-Africa trade through integration. Currently, there are eight regional economic communities recognised by the African Union. One such is the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, with 15 member states.
Of interest to this committee is that ECOWAS has expressed optimism about the prospect of concluding the ongoing negotiation of an economic partnership agreement with the European Union that will define trade relations between the two communities for the next 25 years. It will be recalled that the negotiations commenced in 2004 with the hope that they would be concluded by 2007. However, that has not been the case for several reasons: west Africa's demand for substantial EU funding to finance an infrastructure development programme to improve the competitiveness of the region's economy; the need to ensure sustainable and gradual liberalisation to safeguard the region's tax revenue, its development capacity and to avoid a reversal of the recent regional integration achievements; to maintain the policy space required to promote trade with other trading partners such as south-south country blocs; and the need to resolve the divergences in order to ensure simple and development friendly rules of origin which take into consideration the different levels of development of the two parties although the region, however, has recorded some success in harmonisation of policies of the member states; reinforcement of capacity and promotion of regional peace and security, in southern Africa, the regional bloc, namely, the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, has endeavoured to ensure economic well-being; improvement of standards of living and quality of life; and freedom and social justice and peace and stability to the people of the region. The region's political outlook has been one of relative stability with the exception of countries mentioned earlier.
On economic development, the identified regional priorities focus on energy, transport, communication, ICT and water. The priority projects identified are: generation and transmission projects aimed at addressing current challenges relating to regional energy security and national energy security; projects in the various SADC corridors relating to rehabilitation, expansion and modernisation of road, rail and port related projects; projects relating to the development of ICT broadband networks; and water projects relating to water supply and sanitation, irrigation and hydropower development.
We cannot be blind to the many challenges that continue to afflict our continent. Although some countries have recorded impressive success in achieving the millennium development goals, many are lagging behind. Issues of poverty, disease and environmental sustainability continue to plague us. Drought and the resultant failure of food crops leading to displacements of persons and loss of life seems an ever-present problem. Of note is the tragedy of the Horn of Africa and, as we speak, the Sahel region.
In conclusion, we are aware that Ireland will assume the EU Presidency in 2013. I wish, by means of this committee, to kindly urge the Government to advance a case favourable to Africa for the promotion of sustainable economic development. I thank the Chairman and the members of the committee most sincerely for this opportunity to meet with you and for their positive engagement with Africa. I look forward to this afternoon's discussion.