Opposition chief Raila Odinga has opened up about his new job as African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development.
His immediate assignment would be to lobby Heads of State across the continent to jump-start stalled multi-trillion trans-African development projects.
On Tuesday Raila said he had accepted the appointment by the Africa Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki to spearhead the modernization and upgrading of selected TransAfrican highway corridors and their missing links.
“One of my main tasks will be to garner political buy-in and ownership of member states as well as ownership of regional economic communities,” Raila told a gathering at the University of Duke, USA.
He said he would also use his new position to rally nations to fight rampant corruption as well as champion for electoral justice and democracy on the continent.
The former Prime Minister has often chastised African strongmen for orchestrating electoral fraud to extend their stay in power. He expects to use his position and peace-building credentials to broker political and economic ceasefires among warring nations.
He said the existence of a reliable infrastructure of roads and railways, running north to south, east to west of Africa, is critical to opening up the continent.
Among other tasks, Raila will engage regional economic and political blocs to negotiate for removal of restrictive tariffs to aid free movement of goods and services among member states.
They include the East African Community headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, and the Southern African Development Community whose head office is in Gaborone, Botswana.
Raila will also engage “development partners’ and lenders including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and bilateral “donors” to fund continental projects.
Raila told the gathering that hat continental economic growth would be driven by African unity, political and economic integration.
To increase trade among states, Raila said he will be at the forefront in pushing for construction of major roads and railway lines across countries to facilitate fast movement of goods and services.
He will also work on air travel barriers among countries as part of the AU’s agenda for regional economic integration.
Terming sustainable economic growth in Africa as an elusive yet possible miracle, Raila said that he will lead the battle against critical issues that have held the continent back for decades.
“I envision that our own African growth model will drive an African miracle. Sustained high economic growth in the continent will be driven by African unity and political and economic integration,” said Raila.
The ODM party leader said that through his new job, he would help nations tackle intra-continental trade barriers that hamper free movement of goods and services across the continent to deliver the ‘African Dream.’
He said the seven per cent annual economic growth that has only been achieved by 13 countries mostly from East Asia, can be replicated by African states.
The favorable environment for exports of manufactured goods that drove the Asian miracle, however, no longer exists today thus the need for Africa to be innovative.
Raila said he would campaign for relaxation of visa restrictions for African citizens and the cutting of tariffs on exports as a move to boost intra-African trade.
He cited the signing of the Continental Free Trade Agreement by 44 African states in March committing to cut tariffs on 90 per cent of goods as a positive starting point.
Raila as well identified the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) launched by the African Union in January, as a game-changer to transform intra-African air travel, lower costs and increase connectivity.
Under the SAATM, African countries have already relaxed visa restrictions for African citizens with plans underway for an African Union passport for all Africans by 2020.
Raila noted that he will work hard to bridge existing infrastructure deficits in the continent to cut down on the cost of transport which stands at between 50-175 per cent higher than other parts of the world.
“The insufficient infrastructure networks across the continent have limited cross-border flows of trade, capital, information, and people. It has drastically affected Africa’s growth and broader development performance and regional integration. Improving land transportation is an imperative to development,” said the Opposition leader.
Raila’s appointment also places him at the centre of the African Union Commission’s negotiations with different states to ensure successful implementation of trans-African development initiatives.
This includes revival of the Trans-African Highway, the ambitious grand project launched in 1971 that is supposed to comprise of interconnected highways that would cover 60,000 kilometers across the continent.
One of them will stretch 8,000 kilometers between Cairo and Dakar; another of 8,000 kilometers between Cairo and Cape Town; a third for 6,000 kilometers between Lagos and Mombasa; and a fourth for 4,700 kilometers between Dakar and Lagos.
The Trans-Sahelian Highway, which runs 4,500 kilometers between Dakar in Senegal and N’Djamena in Chad, is the only highway out of the nine that has been completed so far.
“Although the others are only partially finished, countries are progressively opening them section-by-section. It is just one example of what we plan to complete,” Raila said.
Another big project that Raila will be the East African Rail Master Plan to rejuvenate railway lines among Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Ethiopia at a cost of $13.8 billion.
The Mombasa-Nairobi railway which was inaugurated in June 2017 is part of the regional master plan.
“With the support of all the relevant institutions and offices of the AU Commission and the continent’s partners, I will make full use of my position as the AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development to push Africa closer to the realization of the dreams of our founding fathers,” said Raila.
The founding fathers, Raila said, envisaged a united and interconnected continent that enjoys easy movement of goods and its citizens.
However, Raila warned that while the continent builds strong infrastructure and human capital to accelerate and sustain higher economic growth, special attention should be given to tackling corruption.
“Growth that enriches only the rich is not what we want. We must ensure lasting peace and stability that requires shared prosperity,” he said.
Raila acknowledged the difficulty of fighting corruption on the continent, including Kenya where he said he has joined President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“But I see a turning point. Now, in most African countries, people’s voice can no longer be ignored,” he said optimistically.
He gave the example of Tanzanian President John Magufuli whom he said has made huge strides in eradicating graft besides Kenya which has taken strong actions.
“Our actions are having a strong positive impact,” he said of Kenya’s anti-graft war.
He challenged the western powers not to forsake the democratic values and sanctity of human rights for the in the war against terrorism or in pursuit of own private businesses.
“Democracy will enable our people to believe in policies and ideologies instead of ethnic affiliation, or what we call “negative ethnicity”,” he said.
Raila told the world that while Kenya has survived being on the brink of destruction in the last two general elections, his handshake deal with president Uhuru would address the root causes of tribal animosity, corruption and inequality.
“Kenyans are now saying ‘we cannot continue living like this. We can’t continue living as Kikuyus, Luos, Kalenjins, Luhyas, Kisii, miji Kenda, etc.” It has to stop. Tanzanians have done it right from independence to date. It is Kenya’s turn to do it,” Raila told his audience.