The World Bank Group has updated its approach to help strengthen regional integration in Africa. This reinforces the institution’s support to help the continent recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and realize its economic transformation through 2021-2023.
Titled “Supporting Africa’s Recovery and Economic Transformation”, the updated Regional Integration and Cooperation Assistance Strategy (RICAS 2021-2023) will support greater regional connectivity in the areas of transport, energy and digital infrastructure. It will also promote trade and market integration through trade facilitation in regional economic corridors, technical assistance for roll out of the AfCFTA, support to regional value chains and integration of financial markets.
Key highlights are on human capital development through strengthened pandemic and disease surveillance, skills development, women’s empowerment, statistics and Digital Identification for Development. A fourth pillar focuses on resilience and efforts to help address food insecurity and agro-pastoralism, cross-border risks such as climate change and pest invasions, working with partners to address issues related to displaced populations in border areas, and work on transboundary waters. The update also aligns with the Bank’s Fragility, Conflict and Violence strategy by placing special emphasis on cross border issues in fragile zones such as the Horn of Africa, Sahel, Lake Chad and Great Lakes regions.
“The update of the World Bank Group’s approach to regional integration comes at a crucial moment when the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has entered its operational phase, with the objective to boost intra-African trade, support trade facilitation and realize the potential market of 1.2 billion people”, said Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. “The key pillars are well aligned with our priorities for continental integration and are relevant to help ensure the recovery of our economies following the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged regional integration efforts, while highlighting the urgency of integration to improve countries and regional institutions’ ability and commitment to weather such shocks. “The high commitment of African leaders to regional integration is commendable and deserves our support”, said Ousmane Diagana, World Bank’s Vice President for West and Central Africa. “In our region, we will work with countries and regional institutions to ensure that efforts at the national level are complemented by regional solutions, and we will increase our cooperation with our partners to respond to the significant cross border challenges in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions”.
Hafez Ghanem, World Bank’s Vice President for East and Southern Africa said: “For the AfCFTA to succeed, we must invest in regional policies and regulations, including in the area of digital solutions and energy access, that are key to addressing barriers to integration and vital to our continent’s economic transformation.” He also emphasized the need for regional cooperation to support development in the Horn of Africa: “We are stepping up our work with our partners on the Horn of Africa Initiative to help develop regional infrastructure networks, increase trade and investments and to address transboundary threats such as locust upsurges, diseases and others”.
In its new approach, the World Bank Group is expanding its reach –for the first time—to include Northern African countries in its regional integration agenda to help strengthen dialogue on a continental integration policy agenda and to engage the private sector in North Africa to assess opportunities for scaling-up their investments in other parts of the continent. Ferid Belhaj, World Bank’s Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa said “The update of the World Bank’s approach to regional integration reflects and builds on the strong historical and socio-economic linkages that exist between Maghreb countries with the rest of Africa. The Sahara Desert is not a dividing line. Through our policy dialogue, technical and financial assistance, and mobilization of cross-border private investments, we will continue to support continental integration, from Tunis to Cape Town, from Marrakesh to Mogadishu”.
Enhancing the private sector to lead the continent’s economic recovery is important to maintain economic activities, keep goods and services moving, and to protect jobs. “Regional integration can open new markets to companies in Africa, which is particularly valuable during times of economic shock when companies need to find new opportunities to sustain and grow their businesses,” said Sérgio Pimenta, Vice President for the Middle East and Africa at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). “Together with the World Bank and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), IFC will seek to build up regional integration champions, promote trade, scale up the infrastructure needed to enhance trade activities and work with partners to increase resilience in the most fragile markets. These actions will be important to help people work, trade and connect within and across country borders.”
Leveraging intra-regional cross-border capital flows is essential for meeting the continent’s investment needs across sectors, including in power, transport and logistics, and digital technology: “MIGA will continue to work with the private sector, regional and international investors, and development partners to deliver results at scale, raise impact, and disseminate best practices across countries on these key sectors.” said Ethiopis Tafara, Vice President and Chief Risk, Legal & Admin Officer at the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
The World Bank Group remains a key contributor to Africa’s regional integration agenda, with existing commitments of over $19 billion across the institution. In the next three years, funding will increase by over $8 billion in IDA* financing with new investments to help the continent address barriers to integration and facilitate collective actions in priority areas.