Africa is its own Salvation
In 2016, AFDB published a devastating statistic that spoke volumes of Africa’s relationship with itself. The fact is that only 13 out of 55 countries in Africa have given liberal access (described as Visa free or visa on arrival access) to other Africa countries. This means that Africans cannot freely access 55% of their continent (or at the very least with minimal procedures). Yet free movement of goods and people has been the catalyst of tremendous social, political and economic development since the dawn of time. Movement is at the very core of human nature and when curtailed tends to have adverse effects on every sphere of our lives. Restricting movement is stifling economic growth for Africa.
As of last year intra-African trade, stood at only 10% of its total trade. We are talking about the second largest continent in the world covering an estimated 30 Million square Kilometres, trading far less with itself compared to, for instance, Asia whose inter-regional trade is estimated at 18%. Incidentally the business case for opening up borders across the continent is strong and highlights a crucial ingredient in the building and sustenance of formidable economies that will secure the future of Africa.
Over the past 5 years many African countries have invested in building and expanding infrastructure extensively. These investments are aimed at ensuring that commerce thrives and socio-economic development increases from opening up highways, building port capacity and railway development etc. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if these investments focused inwards as much as they are outwards; many of these developments are looking at how resources and commodities can easily move in and out of Africa. But if we decide to make accessibility within Africa our number one priority, how much more powerful a trading partner are we going to be?
One persistent narrative that continues to dominate the ‘reasons for Africa’s slow economic growth’ insists that since Africa is so heterogeneous it is difficult to break the language and cultural barriers to trade with each other successfully. In fact this narrative goes on to say that Africa’s diversity in culture brings about trust issues between communities which bar effective commercial transactions, and in the long run a good business culture. But, the UN Transformative Industrial Policy for Africa report released last year, says that there are regions which are known to be homogeneous but still face the same constraints with regards to internal conflicts. A good example is South Korea, which experiences conflicts between citizens from the South East and South West, weakening cultural and social ties within the country. The report states that it is possible to build a sense of nationhood which embraces diversity and leaves no room for conflict.
More to my point however, is that ethno-linguistic differences should not be an excuse to deny access to each other. As a matter of fact, it is these differences in culture that bridge the gaps in skill, knowledge and resources. We could also use them to enrich each other’s social and cultural practices to create a close-knit African society that advances together towards the same Pan African goals of change. It is not right that our trade with emerging economies currently overshadows, by far, our trade with each other, yet most of the world’s resources come from within our borders.
As a continent our population is expected to rise to over 2 billion by 2050 and for us to achieve this transformation we must start reviving the groundwork already in place, but has for some reason stalled. The Abuja Treaty of 1991 is one example, it was celebrated as a landmark achievement at the time of its inception, for its Pan African vision and must be revived for the sake of our future. If we increase the movement of goods, capital, services and people, we will see a boom in sectors such as tourism and trade and essentially the sophistication of our economic structures.
For us we have to do our bit; as Wangari Maathai said ‘our little thing’. This includes looking into how industry, especially manufacturing can contribute to reginal integration. Kenya Association of Manufacturers launched its Manufacturing Priority Agenda which among other key things focuses on making Kenya a manufacturing hub for exports; which means looking into expanding our regional markets and advocating for ways to quash long-standing Non-Tariff Barriers.
We all have the same goal in mind for economic advancement and sustainability and if we look carefully we will realize that as Africans we have more in common than differences.