Malawi takes over Comesa chairmanship

Malawi’s President  Bingu wa Mutharika on Friday became Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) chairman, succeeding King Mswati of Swaziland following the 15th COMESA Authority summit being held in Lilongwe.

Mutharika was the first COMESA secretary general from 1994 before he was unceremoniously dismissed in 1997 for gross mismanagement, fraud and insubordination.

In his acceptance speech at the New State House Grand Marque to scores of people who included Heads of State and Government, vice presidents, prime ministers of various member states, heads of delegations, diplomats, government officials, business people and other invited guests, Mutharika observed that the biggest challenge facing COMESA is the implementation of the regional integration agenda.

Mutharika and King Mswati at Comesa summit in Lilongwe

“Much as COMESA has been successful in adopting the appropriate policy and regulatory environment, the biggest challenge remains the disconnect that exists between the policy statements and effective implementation at the national level.

“There is also a related challenge that COMESA programmes are not fully reflected in our national growth and development strategy,” he said, adding that this was causing limitations in realization of the benefits of the regional integration efforts.

The Malawi leader therefore called upon his fellow Heads of State and Governments to ensure that the leaders’ policy pronouncements are implemented through creating a tangible and enforceable legal and constitutional framework.

He cited the deepening of regional integration; creation of competitive business climates; improvement of regional infrastructure; implementation of special economic zones; and the enhancement of capacity building for sustainable economic development as some of the “pillars” that could spur economic growth and transformation.

Mutharika also urged his fellow leaders to consider the “concrete proposals” emanating from the COMESA Council of Ministers that call for the establishment of a robust regional science and technology park with which to build the requisite skills and technology capacity for the region to be supported by satellite centres in selected member countries; advancing the African Food Basket as the pillar for food security programme; strengthening the support to the development of women through the establishment of empowerment funds; support to the industrialization programme for the region.

“Within such a broad framework, I see that the main thrust of my tenure as Chairman of COMESA will therefore be to champion the implementation of accelerating economic growth and transformation; harnessing science and technology for development through productivity in agriculture, value and diversification of our economy through developing industrial sector strategies based on value chain approach management, which includes clustering and networking; enhancing corridor development for spatial development as well as facilitating trade and business development; and development of innovative financing for development starting with the design and setting up of the apex revolving fund—the Women Empowerment Development Fund,” said Mutharika.

Based on the theme of the summit “Harnessing of Science and Technology for Development”, the Mutharika stated the “obvious” that science and technology has become one of the most important factors for growth and prosperity. Modern day economic development cannot be sustainable or even attainable without successful application of science and technology in all fields of human endeavour, he observed.

King Mswati said the year in which he served as COMMESA Chair was of significant progress across the board on all key COMESA programmes “and we can commend ourselves on this”.

He said however, it had also been a year of challenges that the leaders will have to face as they continue their integration programmes to achieve a more vibrant single market for “the good of all our people”.

“The global financial challenges have affected many countries across the globe; even our own region has not been spared. The sad part is that the impact of the crisis has affected our social programmes geared towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals,” King Mswati said.

Among the notable leaders at the opening ceremony were Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudanese Omar Hassan Al Bashir, Burundi’s Pierre Nkuruzinza, who presented vote of thanks, Zambia’s vice president Guy Scott and Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission Jean Ping.

The summit ends on Saturday when a Final Communiqué will be read by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.

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