The United Nations Office in Nairobi this week hosted more than 10 heads of state and deputies attending the 12th Summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
The host, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya called on the trading bloc to explore ways of harmonizing their projects and activities with other regional economic communities to harmonize projects and programmes under these regional organizations.
“As we collectively position ourselves towards deepening our regional integration, it is imperative that we also intensify our dialogue with other regional economic communities, notably the Southern Africa Development Community and the East African Community,” President Kibaki said.
In welcoming remarks, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, who hosted conference in her role as Director General of the UN office in Nairobi said: “Make no mistake, trade has everything to do with the natural and built environment – be it offsetting the pollution that leads to climate change, or economic refugees pouring into our cities at such a rate that they are bursting at the seams – the urban slums that are home to 70 percent of urban Africans.”
She said Africa’s cities are the fastest growing in the world and that nowhere was the urbanisation poverty greater than in Africa.
“The fact that one third of our people in Africa are environmental refugees is a trade issue. We need to remove the bureaucratic barriers to free up trade for poverty reduction. We need better planned cities with proper trading sites and market places where everyone can trade. And that means improving slums, and providing better water, sanitation and other urban services. Trade is arguably one of the most important tools we have in the arsenal against poverty,” she said.
The outgoing chairman President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti reported that during his tenure, great progress had been made towards achieving Comesa customs union and in the establishment of Comesa fund for development. He expressed his country’s readiness to host the fund. President Guelleh also welcomed efforts by women in Africa towards advancing the rights of women in the region.
Regional leaders in attendance for the two day meeting also included King Mswati III of Swaziland, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as well as President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mr. Levi Mwanawasa of Zambia, Mr. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Mr. Meles Zinawi and the President of Southern Sudan and first Vice-President of Sudan, Mr. Salva Kiir.