•Says no to devaluation of naira
African leaders and bankers turned out at an economic summit in Egypt yesterday, vowing to push for trade and investments on the continent despite growing security concerns in the region.
More than 1,200 delegates including President Muhammadu Buhari aim to sign business agreements during the two day summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to attract private sector investments in Africa.
Buhari said at the forum that growing security concerns in Africa were absorbing huge resources.
“The new problem affecting investments is international terrorism… lot of resources that could be used for development are being diverted to address security issues,” Buhari said.
Organisers hope the “Africa 2016” conference can build on a 26-nation free trade pact signed last year to create a common market on half the continent.
Analysts say that despite the continent’s economic growth rate of more than four percent, Africa still accounts for about only two percent of global trade.
The forum is aimed at “pushing forward trade and investment in our continent to strengthen Africa’s place in the world economy,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in his opening remarks at the conference.
“It not only aims to present investment opportunities that Africa offers to the international business community… but aims to pave the way for active decisions, communication and cooperation.”
Organisers are also seeking to turn the spotlight on Egypt as its economy remains sluggish after years of political turmoil following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
Heavily dependent on tourism, Egypt’s economy was dealt a body blow when a Russian airliner broke up mid-air on October 31, minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh.
All 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists, were killed when the plane blew up over the Sinai Peninsula. The jihadist Islamic State group said it brought down the jet with a bomb on board.
Egypt says it still has no evidence that a bomb downed the plane, although Moscow has acknowledged that a “terrorist attack” caused the disaster.
“Africa 2016 forum is expected to position Egypt as a gateway for foreign investments into African markets,” Omar Ben Yedder, member of the organising committee, told AFP.
Those attending the summit organised by Egypt and the African Union include the presidents of Sudan, Nigeria, Togo, and Gabon, and dozens of ministers and senior officials from Africa involved in trade and investment.
President Buhari spoke of his administration’s determination to ensure national food security before export of food products abroad.
He said that that government decided to lay emphasis on agriculture and solid mineral development because Nigeria, being a mono-economy dependent on oil, and with a teeming unemployed youth population must now find a way out of the current slump in the global oil market.
“The land is there and we need machinery inputs, fertilizer and insecticides,” he said.
On calls for the devaluation of the naira, President Buhari said that Nigeria cannot compete with developed countries which produce to compete among themselves and can afford to devalue their local currencies.
“Developed countries are competing among themselves and when they devalue they compete better and manufacture and export more. But we are not competing and exporting but importing everything including toothpicks. So, why should we devalue our currency?,” the President queried.
He added: “We want to be more productive and self-sufficient in food and other basic things such as clothing. For our government, we like to encourage local production and efficiency.”
Those who have developed taste for foreign luxury goods, he said, should continue to pay for them rather than pressuring government to devalue the naira.
Optimistic that Nigeria would get out of its current economic downturn, he noted that another major problem militating against economic revival is the huge resources deployed towards fighting insurgency and international terrorism.
He, however, commended the support being received from the international community in the administration’s fight against terrorism and cooperation in tracing looted funds stashed away in foreign countries.
Responding to a question on his performance since he assumed office, the President said that his administration has been quite focused on three fundamental issues of securing the country, reviving the economy and stamping out corruption.
He said that those accused of stealing public funds are cooperating by voluntarily providing useful information while investigations and prosecutions are ongoing.