The free movement of people, goods and services are vital components for any development crusade. And Africa remains one of continent gifted with natural and energy resources, strategic geographical locations and several ports that can facilitate access to and within our African countries. The continent is equally gifted with wealth of human resources and massive, 1.4 billion populations, which constitute huge market for African products and an abundance of labour that, if properly harnessed can enhance regional competitiveness.
But frequent archaic rules and bureaucracy at common border points are making this a far-fetch reality. It is time for Africans to work together; be it in governments, private sectors and civil society to maximize the use of her available resources and claim the benefits of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The central objective behind the AfCFTA was to reduce and/or eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers amongst the 54 member Countries that agreed to form the bloc by providing a single market for goods and services, facilitated by movement of persons in order to deepen the economic integration and prosperity. The question is: how far have we realized these objectives.
Though an ideal political union is yet to be realized anywhere globally, one can deduce that regional integration has generated less in Africa if comparison is employed. For instance, it is shameful to compare the European Union (EU) with the East African Community (EAC), ECOWAS or SADAC. Currently, there is heightened tension between the DRC and Rwanda. The DRC claims that Rwanda is supporting rebels in Eastern DRC. In October 2022, the DRC expelled the Rwandan ambassador. Similarly, Gambia and Senegal recently had a boarder scuffle leading huge economic loss in trade; while Migingo Island remain bourn of contention between Kenya –Uganda when we have EALA legislatures reaping from their respective government coffers that are funded by tax payers. This is not conducive environment to campaign for trade or regional integration.
Such boarder tussles that hinder intra-regional trade should not emerge when countries are straggling to accelerate regional integration through borderless Africa. To accelerate regional integration, there is need to expand access to trade finance and remove reduce/remove behind-the-border trade restrictions, for example, excessive regulations and weak legal systems; and remove restrictions on labour and capital but widen the scope of markets for goods that are produced in the region.
There is much expected of Africa countries to increase intra-regional trade. There is need to eliminate or significantly reduce non-tariff barriers that are major roadblocks to intra-African trade. But for any achievements to be realized there is need for dedication and sincerity and total respect for rules and principles that guide regionalism. It is what the Africa miss.
The non-tariff barriers' list is comprehensive and long, ranging from prohibitive transaction costs to complex time consuming immigration processes, limited capacity of border officials and costly import and export licensing procedures. For this to happen, it will take much more than political commitments; it will require practical steps on the ground even if they come with some costs.
Free Trade places consumers at the center of economic activity and lowers the cost of imports; hence gives people the opportunity to buy more with the same amount of money: domestic producers have to compete with the lowest global costs or invest in new business. But instead of products from the region, African states betray the spirit of integration, by selling to the region goods which they do not produce themselves. It seems Africa is one people but divided by colonial masters.
By Chris Mandu Mandu
Secretary General Ford-Kenya.