The 23rd meeting of the ICSOE in Asmara

Articles - General

Over the past few decades Eastern Africa has shown an notable economic growth with an improvement in agricultural production and sustained infrastructure investment.

The peace accord signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia promises to provide a boost to the growth in the Horn of Africa. However this momentum cannot be maintained without the joint efforts of the countries in East Africa. It is for this reason that the 23rd meeting of the intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) was held in Asmara from 5 to 7 November. The meeting, which was held at the Hotel Asmara Palace, was attended by more than 250 decision makers and economic stakeholders representing 14 African countries.

The three-day meeting was held under the theme “Leveraging new opportunities for regional integration in Eastern Africa”, and was attended by senior government officials, officials from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), UN officers in Eritrea, members of the diplomatic corps as well as over 250 participants.

In his opening address, Mr. Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that it is with great gratitude and honor that the people and government of Eritrea are hosting the 23rd meeting of the ICSOE of the economic commission for Africa-sub-Region of Eastern Africa and thanked them for the opportunity given.

Signifying that Africa, in general, and the Eastern Africa region, in particular, have remarkable potential and capabilities to leverage and expedite regional integration, Mr. Osman Saleh said that after decades of externally induced inter-state and intra-state conflicts, the Horn of Africa has begun to breathe an air of hope and togetherness and that will have significant contribution in creating new opportunities for leveraging regional integration.

Mr. Osman also said that Eritrea has been engaged in implementing development polices and projects using its internal capacities to ensure the delivery of basic social services, such as health, water, education and transportation.

“Eritrea’s view of regional integration is guided by simple and doable vision; that is building strong regional blocks. We should not be trapped in overlapping and ambitious regional gatherings and forums. Gauging our real capabilities entails prudence,” added Mr. Osman.

Dr. Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, stressed on the importance of increasing regional trade and implementing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. “By trading more among ourselves we can build the equitable and balanced economies which can hold the promises the youth are looking for, and realize the dream of a prosperous Africa. In East Africa alone, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could result in 1.8 billion USD welfare gains and the creation of 2 million new jobs.” AfCFTA, was first established in March 2018 at the African Union (AU) meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda, where 13 of the 14 countries of East Africa signed. It was then launched in July 2019 believing that it could boost intra-Africa trade and accelerate the pace of structural transformation in the region.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Eritrea, Ms. Susan N. Ngongi, on her part, applauded the fact that Eritrea is engaged and is open for business. She also agrees that such a conference is both relevant and prescient for a country like Eritrea that is set on forging a way forward in a new era of peace.

East Africa is the fastest growing region on the African continent. The economy of the Region is set to grow at 6.4% in 2019, following an annual growth rate of 6.6% in 2018. However, it is not without challenges. In his overview of the economic and social developments in the region, Mr. Andrew Mold, acting director of Economic Commission for East Africa (ECA), said, “The strong performance is forecast to continue. ECA estimates that regional economic growth will attain 6.4 % in 2019…yet structural challenges remain and pose a risk to the development of the regional economy. Structural transformation has been happening at a slow pace; this raised the question of sustainability and the inclusiveness of economic growth in the region – in a context of low industrialization levels, weak productive capacities and sluggish job creation.”

“Cross-border problems affecting the region need a cross-border answer and that enhancing regional cooperation is needed to make regional growth more sustainable and inclusive,” added Mr. Andrew Mold while pointing out possible solutions to the existing challenges of the region.

In the three-day conference, the ICSOE hosted the following plenary sessions:

  • Macroeconomic and ??Social Overview of Eastern Africa;
  • How to fast-track AfCFTA ??Implementation in Eastern Africa;
  • Boosting Tourism ??Development in Eastern Africa; . Crowding-in Investments for Energy and Infrastructure Development in Eastern Africa; and
  • Sustainable Development in Eastern Africa: Aligning National, Continental and Global agendas.

The ICSOE also included parallel breakout sessions, the outcomes of which were discussed collectively. These Ad Hoc Expert Group Meetings (AEGMs) were:

  • Promoting Regional ??Trade for Faster Job Creation;
  • The State of Social ??Cohesion in Eastern Africa.

There was a side event on ‘Harnessing the Blue Economy for Regional Integration’ as well as a High-Level Dinner which considered ‘Legal Perspectives on Regional Integration in Eastern Africa’.

At the end of the session, with insights shared, the assembly unanimously recommended the following actions:

  • Align methodologies on how Blue Economy progress is measured in the framework of 2030 UN Agenda and 2063 AU Agenda;
  • Work together as regional platforms to avoid duplication and promote good practices so that regional policies can be aligned and complementarity achieved at RECs, Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs) and Regional Seas Programs (RSP);
  • Design and formulate strategic communication on the Blue Economy in order to create awareness and mobilize all stakeholders effectively;
  • Promote circular economy as a strategy to conserve critical habitats, encourage entrepreneurship and address marine pollution;
  • Invest in mitigation and adaptation measures to combat climate change and address issues related to natural risks;
  • Strengthen maritime safety and security through regionally-owned mechanisms so as to address Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), marine pollution, illegal trafficking, search and rescue;
  • Involve academia and  research institutions in the science-policy nexus for addressing the Blue Economy in the region; Incorporate all stakeholders, through dialogue and consultations, including youth and private sector, so as to ensure synergies with all other regional initiatives;
  • Work together at the  regional and continental levels to address innovative financing in the implementation of Blue Economy frameworks, through leveraging partnerships with RECs, IGOs and RSPs and adequate budgeting and co-funding;
  • Develop adequate policy and legislative frameworks to foster deep seabed mining and hydrocarbons extraction in a sustainable way, capitalizing on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) initiatives;
  • Raise awareness and organize an annual or biannual Blue Economy Forum at the regional level;
  • Adopt, replicate and  upscale successful regional initiatives on the Blue Economy; and
  • Formulate national  and sub-regional Blue Economy strategies or action plans where needed, building on the ECA Blue Economy Policy Handbook and the African Union Blueprint for Africa’s Blue Economy.

Since it was a first time visit for most of the international participants, activities were planned parallel to the conference in order to make the participants feel at home and help them to know Eritrea in their short stay.

Moreover, as a sign of courtesy of the Government of Eritrea, international participants were taken on a tour outside Asmara to Gergera and Logo dams, a solar farm and Halhale Dairy Farm. The participants expressed their gratitude to the Government of Eritrea for hosting the 23rd ICSOE annual meeting and the excellent hospitality and facilities provided.

The ICSOE is held annually to discuss key issues and challenges about the economic and social development of the sub-region with a view to making appropriate recommendations to address them. Last year the conference was held in Kigali, Rwanda. This year’s conference was jointly organized by the Government of Eritrea and UNECA and was attended by 14 East African countries, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles.