The world's economic storm has hit and it has shown us that while sub- Saharan Africa's nascent globalisation has brought huge benefits, these benefits are fragile and global integration can all too easily take back what it gives. Indeed, critics of globalisation might argue that it's no longer the case that Africa is doing well because of globalisation: Africa, they might claim, is surviving despite globalisation.
The global recession has re-ignited the perennial crisis of faith, or direction, in African development. Should it be trade, not aid, for the developing world? Has aid failed, and should it be replaced by private investment even as private flows fall?
In truth these are not the choices they are posed as. Aid, trade and investment are all needed. They are mutually dependent, and no one must drive out the other. But I would pose a different challenge for Africa during this recession. Use the opportunity of the crisis to speed up the process of regional integration: economically, in terms of trade and infrastructure; politically, in terms of institutions and the African Union; and socially and culturally, in terms of Africa's impact on the world stage and its sense of solidarity at home.
The way to seize the opportunity is this: it is for Africa – its leaders, policy makers, civil society, businessmen and women – to make a collective investment in building Africa-wide markets and institutions. If Africa is to weave the social safety nets that lift its people out of poverty, if Africa is to build the businesses that give its people jobs, if Africa is to deepen democracy to put sovereignty firmly in the hands of its people then it's through a regional push that it will get there.
But let me be clear that this is not a veiled call for a united states of Africa, but rather like the EU using economic integration and regional institutions as the vehicles for national success. This is my response to the false choices of aid versus trade versus private investment. The real choice is building an Africa of competitive global scale in both markets and institutions. And that regional integration will take both public and private leadership and effort.
Taken from a speech – 'Africa: Weathering the Storm' by the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Foreign and Commonwealth Office at Chatham House; www.chathamhouse.org