250 | Border issues reveal broader limits to Africa’s potent potential

ONE TRACK TO CROSS THE BORDER: Africa rising is a challenge. The legacy of infrastructure paved out, eaten up by the rich lush green growth and institutional apathy. We are confronting a situation where developing our continent is subject to a number institutional pre-requisites. These are the portions of our reality that we aren’t exposed to.

Right at its borders, Africa has not realised that it perpetuates sovereignties drawn by colonial lines, scrambling its resources, potential for development and inhibiting dignified development and growth. While the headlines do not cover the issue now, it remains unresolved, waiting to hold trade and mobility hostage once more. 

The hostile queues at border posts have led to delayed supply chains in freight transport, and have become potential super-spreaders for people crossing and drivers waiting. Both of these circumstances were complex policy choices which echo the ‘protectionist’ political economic sources of insecurity and uncertainty—call it poor planning around COVID testing. 

One stop border posts open opportunity’s gates

A drive toward  one-stop border posts (OSBP) could pave the institutional and economic bridges African countries need to cross between each other. Turning them into smooth paths toward regional integration and economies of scale. 

This cannot be done in isolation. The Infrastructure Consortium for Africa’s OSBP sourcebook highlights the importance of developing the value chains which drive the utilisation of these borders, and lure investment opportunities—especially along transport corridors. This means connecting people with industry and industry with customers through appropriate transport infrastructure, networks and systems. 

The CEO of Oxfam talked about this at one World Economic Forum. She described the need for a focused drive toward ‘dignified’ jobs in Africa, to do this, regional trade becomes critical as it enables deeper cross pollination. In Europe, intra-continental trips were about 65 trips for every 100 people, in Asia, 19, Americas, 11, and Africa 4 in 2016—not only is disposable income an inhibitor, but political integration and geographic proximity are contributing factors. Africans need more access to their continent in order to broaden the scope of potential and opportunity. 

A report from the International Monetary Fund indicates that improving regional trade flows can insulate the region from unexpected external shocks—be it a pandemic, an oil crisis or geopolitical changes globally. A continental approach could shield for the continent’s workforce from future threats, and make them more resilient if the work they did was dignified and meaningful. 

A bigger scheme beyond South Africa

We have started. But I do not see the bigger scheme truly grasping what the African Union has pioneered since 201: to have an integrated. An integrated continent means Africa could compete with the US, EU, China and India to build big business and transport networks along global trade lines. A VISA Free Africa is justified and improves the cross-pollination of business and eases the potential for Africa-wide tourism by Africans, within Africa. It enables the labour mobility needs of the African Continental Free Trade, and the Single African Air Transport Market.

But in reality it must also confront what Carlos illustrated on the 7th January alongside “HATE BRIDGE”; “#PutSouthAfricaFirst”; “#ZimbabweansGoHome” with a bleeding blue bird. 

As sectors get larger on a continental level, railways and ports will become increasingly important. The competition for Africa’s “trade-hub” will only support the capacity needs embedded in Africa’s future, as a net-exporter of final goods—not raw materials, resold as part of a high value product. Railways will need to form part of Special Economic Zones scattered throughout the continent, as in India. 

Road networks will be needed to support the distribution of goods and people for the purpose of development. The backlog in infrastructure investment—nearly $50bn a year—needs a reason: financing institutions need a reason to facilitate these massive transactions. 

In the bigger scheme, each country’s domestic prosperity is part of a broader continent when the market is integrated. But the pre-requisite seems to be improved domestic economic conditions which require development, industrialisation, education and participation in global value chains. To participate, we will need to cross borders and trade quickly and effectively thus, border crisis was only symptomatic of broader crises. A crisis of integration. 

This article was initially published The Star.

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