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Sharm el-Sheikh: African leaders push for more trade and investments

African leaders and bankers have come together at an economic summit in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, vowing to push for more trade and investments on the continent. The Sharm el-Sheikh summit, which will continue over the next two days, brings together more than 1,200 delegates, including some heads of state, who plan to sign business agreements aimed at attracting private sector investment, AFP reported. The summit, which is organized by Egypt and the African Union, is attended by the presidents of Sudan, Nigeria, Togo, and Gabon, and dozens of African ministers and senior trade and investment officials. Organizers hope the "Africa 2016" conference will be able to build on a 26-nation free trade pact signed last year to create a common market on half of the continent. "Investments in infrastructure will unlock the true potential of Africa," said Sindiso Ngwenya, head of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), who added that trade and investments within COMESA have increased from USD 837 million in 2007 to USD 12 billion at the present time. 

Analysts believe that despite an economic growth rate of more than four percent, African countries still account for about only two percent of global trade. Addressing the opening ceremony, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the forum is aimed at "pushing forward trade and investment in our continent to strengthen Africa's place in the world economy." Sisi added that other goals of the conference included to present investment opportunities in Africa and "open a direct channel of communication and cooperation" between African businessmen and overseas investors. Conference organizers also seek to bring the focus on Egypt since the country’s economy remains sluggish after years of political turmoil following the ouster of the former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in early 2011.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is present at the event, said growing security concerns in Africa are absorbing huge resources, adding, "The new problem affecting investments is international terrorism... lot of resources that could be used for development are being diverted to address security issues." Meanwhile, President of Africa Development Bank Akinwumi Adesina was quoted by AFP as saying, "We plan to invest 12 billion dollars in the energy sector over the next five years ... so that people in Africa can have universal access to electricity." According to Adesina, Africa still has 645 million people without access to electricity, and the only way to address the issue is to widen private sector participation in the energy sector. Noting that Africa's economy is projected to grow by 4.4 percent this year and five percent in 2017, Adesina added, "Africa is doing well despite the challenges it is facing."

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