Your Excellencies, All other protocols observed, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
Annually, I am invited to fora just as this or gatherings that aim to examine the subject of growth, especially as it affects Africa.
Several decisions and policy documents are churned out at the end of such meetings. Yet, this is 2017 and the continent is far from the realisation of the numerous promises of the elusive subject of growth.
For example, my country Sierra Leone has been a subject of various international discussions on rebuilding the nation after its brutal decade long civil war.
Today, it still remains in the back water of underdevelopment; still thinking about economic growth, which will lift its people out of the mire of poverty. Yet, this country is exceedingly rich in resources and with unbelievable potentials.
So, where does this economic growth actually come from?
I am aware that there are eminent personalities and scholars at this summit who are better qualified than I am and who will do justice to the theme of leveraging our shared heritage for collective growth; so I will not pre-empt some of the exhaustive research and submissions that will be made in their presentations.
Instead, as we gather this year for the ritual of honing the mandate to promote the interests of the African bloc of the Commonwealth of Nations, I wish to focus on a personal and passionate plea about the importance of utilising the strength of the African continent, especially and the collective resources of the commonwealth in general, for the benefit of the people of member states.
If we remember that what made the United Kingdom great in its hey days was the utilisation of the collective resources of the nations that made up its empire, then it behoves us to appreciate the enormity of the power that lies in our collective heritage.
I must confess that in looking across the achievements of the past decade, I am saddened that much more has not been achieved in the goal of lifting Africa.
Yes, African member states are recipients of generous aid and financial commitment from the United Kingdom, but the truth is that in general, the level of economic co-operation has been and continues to be skewed in favour of the developed world.
The continent has been literarily left to labour alone by the wealthier and more buoyant members, in deference to the trade and economic benefits of and from other regional and more advanced economies.
Because of this lack of mutual confidence and preference, the potentials for exponential economic development that abound within the seas, shores, ground and surface of the continent has been and continues to be lost to both sides.
This is why at this year’s summit; as the world economic dynamics change as a result of BREXIT and the tremendous progress being experienced against all odds by African countries, I remember the words of the former US Vice President, Al Gore, that we have to abandon the conceit that isolated personal actions are going to solve the dream of economic prosperity, sustainable development and closer co-operation.
Our policies, actions and focus, not only have to shift but they must do so faster than the speed of lightning. It has become that imperative.
There comes a time and a season in human existence where we can no longer defer the exigency of choice on what next; as we have seen demonstrated by the people of the United Kingdom.
For the commonwealth-Africa initiative, I believe that this is the season.
The wealthier nations can continue to live safe and be protected by the courage of their belief in regional co-operation.
However, with the growing incursion of China, Japan and other Asian power houses in the resources of Africa, commonwealth member states may miss out and the opportunity to leverage our common heritage and resources for collective growth will be forever shattered.
Africa is in haste. It has been held back for so long. But there is a sudden realisation in the continent that things have got to change; and indeed, the wind of change is blowing at a frenetic speed.
In the international imagination, media representations of drought, acute poverty, wars and upheavals that used to be what Africa is all about may have given way to images of protective bodysuits and diseased bodies, etc.
The reality I’m proud to say is much more different from that. The agenda is all about change and prosperity through introspection and the utilisation of available resources to achieve optimum result.
It is now about the pressing need of realising the potentials of regional trade and integration. Members of the commonwealth need to key into this dream now.
The current dislocation in the global economy is an opportunity for re-orientation and rehash of old profitable values to further advance the decision to once again raise the socio-economic life of the people through cooperation and integration, which had served the commonwealth very well before the emergence of regional blocs.
Let us therefore ensure this time that this year’s gathering would also serve as a peer review forum where member states can compare notes and benefit from the experience of one another.
At a time like this, when the world is going through economic trials, it will take courage to confront the challenges, innovation to make changes and introduce new methods and excellence by African nations to turn the fortunes of the continent and lift it to a higher glory.
This requires sincerity of purpose, commitment and selflessness among other cardinal qualities required in the service of the people.
After so much plans and while some might see the decision to embark on finding concerted ways to leverage our resources for common growth at this time in the day as coming a little bit late, the commonwealth as a body now needs to revisit issues such as the lop-sided trade agreements that hinder co-operation.
Africa has been noted as being the fastest-developing economy. We are aware that it is blessed with unique agricultural and natural resources for a virile economy through prudent management and a level playing field.
Amidst the imperfection of the global trade, the peoples of the continent have had to resort to the traditional knowledge systems which are the essence of the social capital of the poor and the source of their survival strategies particularly in generating export earnings and creating employment in rural areas.
The new awareness of the Diaspora African, following current political and economic trend in developed nations, has led to a dynamic individual and community responses to the challenges facing the continent and the glaring failures of the much-professed international assistance promised at several gatherings such as this.
It is what is responsible for the achievement of the continent even when the rest of the world and many of the commonwealth member states were facing economic upheaval.
The development underscores the fact that at this crucial stage of preparation for the changing market dynamics, post BREXIT, all efforts are made, to not only revisit past recommendations, but to also speed up the implementation of decisions that are widely recognised as significantly vital to making a socio-economic contributions to growth in member states and reduce the inevitable impacts of failure to act.
One thing is clear. When it comes to growth, even small differences can make a big difference to our living standards over time, whether it is in a developed or developing nation.
The use of information, ideas and resources generated from the inventive and creative processes of our African communities, if broadly shared and honestly implemented will be of paramount importance to the much professed vision of a new economic model for the commonwealth
Luckily, we’re not starting from a blank sheet. Among member states are vibrant nations and others with vastly untapped resources that can ensure economic growth, improve the living standards of all nations and resolve the challenges facing all member states.
Some of these countries are already creating growth and jobs the same way that growth has always been created – through innovation. Making better stuff, and using fewer resources to do it.
There should be a renewed focus in the commonwealth, on reducing and eliminating trade barriers and distortions in our markets while encouraging more trade and investments, integration and collective development.
Africa is aware that it has also become imperative that in order to maximise the benefits of integration and the vast opportunities that abound on the continent, the commonwealth as a body and the world in general need access to accurate and comprehensive data.
It is in this context that most countries in the region are revamping their institutions to reflect commitment to advancing knowledge and sharing of best practices. Governments and institutions in Africa have demonstrated their will to enable the process and develop measures to increase trade and integration, within their respective regions and also at the continental level. The world needs to meet us half way.
When you look at the potentials of a country like Nigeria, when you think of even the resources of a small country like Sierra Leone, when you look at the fact that Britain’s been in the economic growth business for a long time – in fact since the industrial revolution from the end of the 18th Century, then we need to appreciate that if indeed the commonwealth can leverage its collective resources and heritage, it can become the economic powerhouse of the world.
Because we share a common past and an integrated history, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let us ensure that this year’s forum is the start of the realisation of that dream.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
For the developed countries, let me say this: “Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow.’It is profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow.
Monday March 27, 2017.