The point expressed by Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, that Africa’s future growth is dependent on having more open borders and enabling people to look beyond their countries in seeking prosperity needs to be supported.
For a long time, African countries have remained largely unconnected to each other to the extent that there is still very limited trade among them. There is actually more trade and other links with countries outside the continent that within.
Dr Kituyi noted that the African youth are interested in what is happening outside their borders and indeed do not respect the physical boundaries of their countries.
The point is that these people should be encouraged to forge more foreign links with other African countries rather than with the physically more distant western nations.
Apart from the young people, businesses are also keen to freely access markets within the continent but they face numerous barriers, both tariff-based and nontariff types.
Whereas agreements have been struck, for example in the case of the East African Community, on how international trade should be conducted it is hardly smooth-sailing for businesspeople on the ground due to the barriers placed on their way.
These hurdles need to be drastically reduced. There should be a way to monitor the implementation of regional agreements and also to penalise unjustified erection of the barriers as opposed to the current situation where a country goes scot-free after committing serious breaches of rules that have been mutually agreed upon.
A key tariff barrier relates to imposition of taxes on imports whereby you find that countries have different charges with some having very high ones that prevent doing business. African nations should harmonise these tariffs or remove them altogether where they hinder transactions among them and as a result encourage business with countries outside the continent.
Further, countries on the continent have a dearth of good infrastructure linking one to the other such that it is sometimes easier to export goods to Europe or Asia that it is to nations in Africa.
Another key problem in continental trade results from the countries having similar goods, mainly raw commodities.
It is an opportunity to pursue value addition so as to have more differentiated exports that would encourage more trade within Africa.
In Kenya, for example, it may be easier to trade with Dubai than with South Sudan simply because there is the Indian Ocean and air links with the Middle Eastern country. It calls for improvement in the road, rail and air networks among the countries within the continent.