Two aid dependent West African countries, Sierra Leone and Ghana, have joined the community of Sahel and Sahara states saying the unifying project will help with their economic growth.
Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah tells VOA his small war ravaged country needs all the help it can get. "African integration makes sense. There are too many small countries and too few large countries," he said. " If we can really integrate in such a way that we define areas where certain countries should concentrate, where they have the best advantages, those countries can then address the concerns of the countries that do not have advantages for such facilities."
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi initiated the Sahel-Sahara community known as CENSAD, now counting more than 20 members, as a prelude to what he sees as a United States of Africa.
The grouping's seventh summit ended Thursday in Burkina Faso, and Mr. Kabbah says he was encouraged by the proposals for economic integration.
He says lush parts of Sierra Leone can help with agriculture, especially for some CENSAD members like Mali and Niger suffering from malnutrition due to droughts, while benefiting from expertise in such fields as solar energy. "We have a lot of potential, particularly in the area of agriculture. Sierra Leone is a country with 12 large rivers so, therefore, the agriculture potential is enormous. We were talking yesterday here about use of the sun to generate energy and Sierra Leone needs energy very much to kickstart our economy, particularly after war," he said.
Ghana's representative to CENSAD, George Kumi, also described to VOA his country's joining the community as a win-win scenario. "The people of Africa have always been in the past together, they moved freely, they lived together, they shared everything together. It is after colonialism that countries were divided. Now we have the opportunity of bringing all our energies together to develop together," he said.
Besides Sierra Leone and Ghana joining, few specifics were established at the CENSAD summit, but a number of projects were proposed.
The 15 heads of state in attendance agreed to create a cooperative water authority to help boost agriculture in the region, where subsistence farming remains the main economy. They also moved to create a seed bank to help ensure high quality seeds would be more easily accessible to crisis-hit areas.
A planned railroad that would link Libya through Niger and Chad to Senegal was also discussed.
Host Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore said for all these projects to work there was a need for regional stability.
While other leaders left, Mr. Gadhafi remained in Burkina Faso to inaugurate several buildings he funded in Ouagadougou.
Human rights activists in the region point out both these long-time leaders and allies have been accused of being behind the start of rebellions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast, pilfering natural resources in exchange for weapons. They have repeatedly denied the accusations.