Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) (AFP) - African leaders and bankers vowed at an economic summit in Egypt Saturday to push for trade and investments on the continent despite the growing threat of "terrorism" in the region.
More than 1,200 delegates including some heads of state were in talks to sign business agreements during the two-day summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, aimed at attracting private sector investment.
Organisers hope the "Africa 2016" conference can build on a 26-nation free trade pact signed last year to create a common market on half of the continent.
Analysts say that despite an economic growth rate of more than four percent, Africa still accounts for about only two percent of global trade.
The forum was aimed at "pushing forward trade and investment in our continent to strengthen Africa's place in the world economy", Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in opening remarks.
Sisi said the conference aims to present investment opportunities in Africa and "open a direct channel of communication and cooperation" between African businessmen and overseas investors.
Organisers are also seeking to turn the spotlight on Egypt's sluggish economy after years of political turmoil following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
Heavily dependent on tourism, Egypt's economy was dealt a body blow when a Russian airliner broke up in mid-air last October 31, minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh.
All 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists, were killed when the aircraft blew up over the Sinai Peninsula. The jihadist Islamic State group said it brought down the jet with a bomb.
Egypt says it still has no evidence that a bomb downed the plane, although Moscow has acknowledged that a "terrorist attack" caused the disaster.
"Africa 2016 forum is expected to position Egypt as a gateway for foreign investments into African markets," Omar Ben Yedder, a member of the organising committee, told AFP.
Those attending the summit organised by Egypt and the African Union include the presidents of Sudan, Nigeria, Togo, and Gabon, and dozens of African ministers and senior trade and investment officials.
- Security concerns -
African investors should spearhead growth in the continent, which can come from developing the region's infrastructure, some delegates said.
"When our own people invest then other investors get convinced," said Sindiso Ngwenya, head of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
He added that trade and investments within COMESA had surged from $837 million in 2007 to $12 billion currently.
Officials said a robust railway network could further propel growth.
"Rail will do to Africa what it did to agriculture in Asia and even in America. If you have power and rail, Africa will explode," Benedict Oramah, president of African Export-Import Bank, told AFP.
But rising terrorism and falling commodity prices pose challenges to growth.
"The new problem affecting investments is international terrorism... lot of resources that could be used for development are being diverted to address security issues," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said.
Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is fighting a brutal insurgency launched by Boko Haram in 2009.
Boko Haram, which wants a hardline Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has killed some 17,000 people and forced more than 2.6 million others to flee their homes since the insurgency began.
Bankers say despite these challenges, the continent remains an investment destination.
"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," Africa Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina told AFP.
The continent still has 645 million people without access to electricity, he said, and the only way to address the issue is to widen private sector participation in the energy sector.
Africa's economy is projected to grow by 4.4 percent this year and five percent in 2017 as against three percent growth expected in developed countries, he said.
"Africa is doing well despite the challenges it is facing," Adesina said.