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Feature Article of Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Columnist: Saka, Dr.

Intra-African Trade Is Possible, But...

Intra-African trade is the way forward

By Honourable Saka

“As far as I’m concerned all of them need to go back and read Osagyefo’s (Kwame Nkrumah’s) speech in 1953 and 1955, that all because it’s so prophetic that everything the man said in both speeches (is true) and Africa is the worst for it. A president of a country that goes begging even for 1 million dollars is not a country worth being a part of, and that is Africa’s story. -Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa.

There is no doubt that the African people can generate huge  investment opportunities for their various countries if they were to focus more on trading among themselves rather than having to travel several thousands of kilometers outside the continent for their business and economic needs. Apart from the huge employment opportunities that would come with this initiative, Africa will also have the opportunity to retain the huge amount of money that usually flows out of the continent to elsewhere. Â
Over the years, many African countries have taken their precious resources and raw materials to the “global market” where unfair prices are imposed by the West. In many cases, either they’re forced to accept these unfair prices or the raw materials would rot on the world market.
After the high shipping and transportation costs, the cost of dollar-to-local currency exchange (currency conversion) and many other unnecessary costs, our various governments are often left with no choice but to comply with these unfavourable prices.
With such a system in place, there is no doubt that Africans stand to benefit more if they were to take it upon themselves, the challenge to address such a system once and for all. Intra-African trade would be a very useful approach. However, there is the need for certain key measures to be put in place before such an idea can be implemented for the benefit of future generations.

1. Industrialization
Currently, Africa still remains the number one supplier of raw materials to the entire world. Yet, where are the industries? Strange isn’t it?

There are certain simple issues that the African people must understand. For instance, if Nigeria and Zimbabwe decide to supply Ivory Coast and Botswana (respectively) free uranium for electricity, one should ask: where are the industries that will convert this uranium to the electricity? Is it a wonder that many are living without electricity in Nigeria? The sad part of it is that, these African countries which have the uranium (Nigeria, Zimbabwe, etc.) do not even have the industries that will produce the electricity themselves. How then can they trade uranium with other African countries?

This problem is the same with copper and bauxite (aluminum) which Zambia and Ghana have in abundance (respectively). But it is sad that these African countries do not have the industries that can convert the raw materials to the needed finished products in substantial quantities for export. This explains the reason why intra-African trade is currently difficult. We all have plenty of raw materials but we have no industries to process them.

For decades, Ghana and Ivory Coast have been the leading producers of cocoa. Yet, as we continue to ship this precious material to the world market, no steps have been taken to establish the industries that will process the cocoa right here in Africa. Therefore we will always expect to produce the cocoa beans as much as we can. But then, when we take the raw cocoa beans to the market and we do not get anything out of it, we continue to blame others for our lack of foresight.

In his book “Towards Colonial freedom”, Nkrumah states the following:
“It is the aim of colonial governments to treat their colonies as producers of raw materials, and at the same time as the dumping-ground of the manufactured goods of foreign industrialists.”
Immediately after independence, Kwame Nkrumah laid down the industrial framework for the future of Ghana. He established the Akosombo Dam as a reliable source of energy to power the industries. He laid the various motorways that connect the cities to the main Tema Harbour. He set up the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission to carry out research to produce nuclear energy in the future. He also established several industries for the production of rubber, textiles, shoes, and many more
After the military coup which overthrew the Nkrumah’s government, successive leaders sold all the industries and closed many of them down.

Today, Instead of building industries, the government is building democracy, while majority of the ordinary people focus on building churches. Warehouses and industrial sites in Ghana are being converted to churches while the majority of the youth walk the streets with no jobs.Â
Therefore anytime the politicians fail to deliver on their campaign promises, they play the religious card to cover their incompetence.
2.     Â
Too Much Visa and Border Restrictions
In today’s world, time is money, and the African leaders need to understand this: If time is money, then speed should be seen as profit. The faster one can transact business without unnecessary delays, the more profit one can make within the shortest possible time. This is how businesses grow.

Therefore why would the South African businessman, allow himself to be delayed for two months before he can acquire a visa to travel to “Ivory Coast”, “Ghana” or “Malawi”, when he can just travel the next day to Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Hong Kong or Malaysia without the need for any visa?

Can somebody now understand what is basically wrong in our diplomatic relations with our own African neighbours?

In my recent letter to the African Union, I highlighted the urgent need for African leaders to immediately take steps to remove the long visa routines that have restricted the African people’s ability to explore the continent for business and cultural purposes. Doing business in Africa has become frustrating because of the long visa queues and the cross-border restrictions.

For over 40 years, successive African leaders have been gathering in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the name of “African Unity”. Yet, how many Africans can travel to Ethiopia without the usual visa queues? Isn’t it ironical for Africans to accept Addis Ababa as the headquarters of the AU, when the majority of them cannot travel to that country without going through tough visa routines?

Recently, the AU, during one of their usual tea-conferences declared: “we’re going to have free trade by 2017”. With such a declaration, one would expect that certain political decisions would immediately follow to ensure the free movement of goods and services across the continent to make the declaration feasible.
Instead of removing the thick boarders, Zambia (a country I admire so much) is rather tightening its visa rules for many African nationals.

Meanwhile the time taken for cargoes to successfully cross over our borders is another headache. Just take a trip to a typical border crossing area even within the so-called “free border zones” and find out how long it takes the cargo drivers to cross over to the other side. Yet we continue to hear our politicians chanting “economic integration” and “intra-African trade” at their various summits/forums while this problem remains unresolved. These talks must stop. We must begin to see real actions.

We have consistently been reminded that Africa is 500 years behind the “developed” world. But I want to remind the African leaders that in the “developed” world, such restrictions are not imposed on their citizens. All those visa restrictions are imposed on Africans and the so-called “third world”. Therefore the earlier we remove many of these time-wasting procedures on our people, the better it would be for us to develop the continent we so love.

3.      Transportation and cost
Transportation is a very useful instrument in all the major economies worldwide. Goods and services cannot be conveyed from one point to the other without a reliable system of transportation. The challenge posed by poor transportation networks in Africa is very enormous. Currently, the most reliable system of transportation across borders in Africa is by air. There is however more limitations on how much goods can be conveyed by air as compared to road and sea transits.

Additionally, the cost involved to travel by air is too expensive. In many cases, travelling by air within Africa is even more expensive than from Africa to Europe and other parts of the world.
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Meanwhile road transports are more ideal for the conveyance of large amount of goods from city to city and across borders. This is one of the reasons why African leaders must focus on the Trans African Highway project so that they can establish the necessary foundation to offset the current deficit as soon as possible.Â
African governments led by the AU, must come together, put resources together and establish a team of professionals that should be tasked to oversee the swift implementation of this project. The project can be initiated from the various regional levels, and then connected to the continental level. It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Therefore the leaders of our current generation have a responsibility to take the initial steps so that future generations can have a sound foundation to build on.
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4.      A Change of African mentality towards African products/innovations
For decades, many Africans continue to develop the mind-set that anything produced (in Africa) by an African is not good. Africans with special talents are therefore struggling for attention.

In today’s Africa, even though many individuals/institutions have made some technological breakthroughs in their various fields, it remains to be seen whether the African people will patronize these services. Thanks to Apostle Safo Kantanka, today the people of Ghana can make cars. There are also many African companies such as Alltell Ghana Ltd, rLG Ghana Limited, and tens of others who produce laptops, smartphones, digital notebooks, smart TV (Akasnoma), in the country. While Ghanaians produce the K-Pad Cameroonians are producing the Cardiopad, a digital medical tablet to save lives. Nigerians are coming out with the 'INYE', also a table that could soon to be unleached onto the African market. These are all set to compete with the iPad and other similar forms of innovations. In Kenya, Uganda… the list is endless.
Yet, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will attract the attention of the African leaders and the people as we continue to look elsewhere for similar “inferior” goods.

Some Recommendations
·         Ideally, it would be more appropriate for African leaders to abolish the visa restrictions altogether so that all Africans can travel easily to any African territory without having to acquire a visa. This would make economic integration and intra-African trade more realistic, reliable and profitable since all the waiting times would be eliminated altogether.
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·         In the meantime, African leaders must also consider the issuing of Regional Visas (Ecowas Visa, EAC Visa, SADC/COMESA Visa, etc) and abolish the individual country visas. This would also enable foreign investors/visitors the opportunity to visit many African countries on a single visa while avoiding all the long visa queues at the various African embassies. The European Union currently has such a system in place where citizens of the “third world” can acquire the Schengen visa and travel to as many EU countries as possible.
Until this is done, the dream for African economic integration will remain a mirage. Time is money. Let us take these measures so that we can our business investors the unnecessary delays as a result of many visas queues.

May God bless Africans to overcome our inferiority complex and to resolve our differences once and for all. For we will have nothing to loose but our chains!

Honourable SakaThe writer is a political analyst on African affairs, and a well-known social commentator in Africa. As a strong Pan-Africanist, he is currently seeking to establish the "Project Pan-Africa" (PPA) to create a mental revolution across Africa. He is the editor of “The Doctor’s Report”, your most reliable source of critical analysis on African issues. Please visit his blog at: http://www.honourablesaka.blogspot.co.uk and Email him at: honourablesaka@yahoo.co.uk. Also visit PPA at: www.projectpanafrica.orgÂ

Honourable Saka
The writer is a political analyst on African affairs, and a well-known social commentator in Africa. As a strong Pan-Africanist, he is currently seeking to establish the "Project Pan-Africa" (PPA) to create a mental revolution across Africa for the freedom of Africa. He is the editor of “The Doctor’s Report”, your most reliable source of critical analysis on African issues. Please visit his blog at: http://www.honourablesaka.blogspot.co.uk and Email him at: honourablesaka@yahoo.co.uk. Also visit PPA at: www.projectpanafrica.org

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