Painful though it is to say, our continent is being held back. According to UN figures, the share of intra-continental trade in Africa’s over the past decade was only about 11%. Sadly, many of the regional integration plans we envisaged for a host of reasons never effectively took off. Neither the 1980 « Lagos Plan of Action » - which imagined the division of Africa into five regional economies – nor the 1991 Abuja Treaty, which proposed to implement a single currency across Africa by 2028, can be honestly qualified as “successes.”
In 2012 a decision was made to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017. To make sure that this latest ambitious agreement succeeds, we need to muster a collective political will. Our institutions are not strong enough to implement plans from a purely technical approach. A country’s strategy has to be grounded on a social contract and political reality, so that people feel they have a stake in it.
A continent that is grounded is not going to take off economically.The lost benefits and actual losses created by this situation are putting our future in peril. The continent is plagued by poor and under-developed transportation infrastructure, limiting accessibility to consumers, hampering intra-regional trade and driving up import and export costs.
As long as Africa is stationary, you can just as well forget industrialisation or economic diversification. The competitiveness of our industries is directly affected by Africa’s transport and logistics infrastructure challenges.
One car manufacturer for instance informed they charter Airbus to move vehicles from Johannesburg to Nairobi.
Another manufacturer in the soda industry says it is easier and cheaper to buy passion fruit from China, move it to Kenya, bottle it and sell it in Kenya, than it is to buy directly from next-door Uganda.
Needless barriers to trade and the free movement of people also plague Africa. It is staggering that an African entrepreneur cannot move freely across the continent. And before we set up functioning regional economic communities, one-stop border posts could do unprecedented good to the facilitation of movement inside Africa.
To reap the economic benefit from international trade, it is critical that we facilitate intra-regional trade with comprehensive corridor development. Current estimates indicate that trade volumes in sub-Saharan Africa will more than triple from 102.6 million tonnes in 2009 to 384.0 million tonnes in 2030, but only if trade corridors are completed.
Indeed regional integration remains key to narrowing the gap between the continent’s promises and its reality.
According to the World Economic Forum, the potential gains from increased regional integration in Africa are substantial: almost half of Africa’s 54 countries have a population of less than 10 million, and more than a third are landlocked, making it the most fragmented continent in the world.Thus policymakers need to understand that in many development sectors, the optimal solutions are regional.
To achieve this, African governments and regional economic communities will need to pursue a deeper engagement with the private sector on developing transport and logistics-related projects.Given its role as an echo chamber between the private and the public sectors in a regional perspective, the NEPAD Agency is uniquely placed to launch MoveAfrica.
This latest initiative aims to address the transformation of trans-boundary transport and logistics sector in Africa; it will seek to drive down costs and increase efficiency for the manufacturers operating in Africa. It will complement the work stream of the Continental Business Network (CBN), an initiative designed to get business and political leaders around the same table. The NEPAD Agency will officially launch MoveAfrica on 11th May 2016 on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki of the Republic of Niger is the Chief Executive Officer of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).