Customs and border controls in many African countries remain a governance challenge and that more is needed to achieve free movement of people and goods on the continent, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has said.
Ms. Songwe, speaking at the 2017 Africa Economic Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said the Africa Union is working on a continental passport to address the cumbersome border controls impeding cross border movement of people and goods.
“Africa also needs to strengthen the governance of its regional integration process, especially as the continent is increasingly pursuing continent-wide integration through initiatives such as the Continental Free Trade Area negotiations which stands to create the single largest trade area in the world with over 1.3billion people.
Given growing emphasis of pan-African integration, Africa will need strong pan-African institutions to set the terms of integration, ensure implementation and resolve disputes,” she said.
These institutions, she said, should take lessons from Africa’s successful regional trade agreements such as those in East Africa Countries (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), which all saw regional growth accelerate following their entry into force.
To give one example of a successful experience that can be replicated at continental level, she said COMESA’s non-litigious approach to dispute settlement has worked and could therefore be extended to the pan-African level with Continental Free Trade Area.
“Indeed, successful regional integration is key to supporting structural transformation in Africa, since intra-African trade is currently much more industrialised than Africa’s trade with the rest of the world.
As such, one could expect easing intra-African trade to encourage a shift towards greater consumption and production of manufactured goods in Africa,” she added.
According to Ms. Songwe, a computable general equilibrium analysis by ECA of the impacts of a continental free trade area shows that boosting intra-African trade is likely to boost intra-African trade in industrial goods by around US$66billion.
Infrastructure and energy
Touching on the issues of energy, Ms. Songwe said without adequate access to energy Africa will not be able to accelerate and sustain the growth process.
However, currently over 600 million people on the continent do not have access to energy.
She said sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent report, has only 300,000km of power lines compared to over 10 million in the European Union.
“Access to energy is not due to a lack base resources. With Africa’s major hydro resources, Africa can produce over 283 gigawatts of energy. Less than 10 percent of this clean energy source has been tapped to date. Ethiopia, Niger and Guinea are a few notable examples,” she added.
The ECA Executive Secretary said under developed energy infrastructure and growing demand could help attract more private sector investment and accelerate energy development.
She was quick to add that for this to happen, leaders of the continent need to improve the governance process for contracts awards, and licensing to ensure populations get affordable prices, improve the governance of energy utilities most of which are underperforming and most of all improve the governance of our regional power pool institutions.