Regional integration was the theme of this year's African Development Bank summit held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Intra-African trade is still only 18% of the continent's total compared to 70% for Europe. The annual gathering discussed how this figure could be scaled up.
After AGMs in India and South Korea, the African Development Bank (AfDB) returned to Africa this year to convene its 54th annual meeting in Equatorial Guinea's capital city of Malabo.
Under the theme of 'Regional integration for Africa's economic prosperity', the four-day event brought together members of government, the private sector and development institutions to discuss harmonising cross-border interactions across the continent.
Despite 24 countries having ratified the long-awaited African Continental Free Trade Area, which will usher in a $3.3 trillion zero-tariff trade area when rolled out across the continent, the bank's President Akinwumi Adesina kicked off the forum by illustrating the scale of work left to be done.
"In Europe regional trade amounts to 70% of the total, in Asia it is 60% and in Africa it is only 18%," Adesina told a press conference before the official opening.
The low level of intra-African trade is a major stumbling block to Africa's development aspirations and more must be done to retain wealth on the continent, he said.
"Apart and divided, Africa is weakened. Together and united, Africa will be unstoppable. Pulling down non-tariff barriers alone will spur trade by at least 53%, and potentially, double trade."
In line with its strategic High 5s agenda (Light up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialise Africa; Integrate Africa and Improve the quality of life for people in Africa), the AfDB has been working to strengthen regional integration across the continent.
Up to $1bn has been invested in trade finance, together with $1bn invested in the bank's partner, Afreximbank, which specialises in intra-African trade as an import-export bank.
According to Adesina, $630m has also been invested in two South African banks--FirstRand and Absa--in order to support the expansion of access to trade finance for 20 countries.
Digital finance initiative
On the sidelines of the meeting the bank launched the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI) together with its partners the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the government of Luxembourg and the French development agency--the Agence Frangaise de Developpement (AFD)
Pierre Guislain, AfDB vice-president for private sector, infrastructure and industrialisation, said the goal is to ensure that at least 320m more Africans, of whom nearly 60% are women, have access to digital financial services.
Africa has enjoyed a surge in mobile phone ownership and internet access, which includes a suite of financial technology products. However, although rates vary drastically between countries, as well as between urban and rural demographics, it is estimated that only 43% of adults across the continent have access to a bank account.