TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Africa: Continent needs infrastructure

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Source: The Weekly Observer (Kampala)

Last week, the leaders from COMESA, SADC and East African Community (EAC) blocs converged in Uganda and agreed to expedite the formation of a free trade area. They also want to form a single customs union stretching from South Africa to Egypt. In their wisdom, it was the absence of such an arrangement that is frustrating trade among their countries.

Economic blocs and integration are very good for business, but African countries appear to be jumping the gun here.

The same countries aspiring to become part of a 26-member bloc have failed to realise faster integration in their smaller blocs!

For instance, travelling from Uganda to Kenya or to Rwanda remains a hustle with several hours wasted at the borders.

It's also laughable that our leaders have failed to define the competences and comparative advantages that their countries embody and instead chosen to focus miserably on meeting the global market demands.

The truth is that Africa cannot compete in the global market because we have no capacity to meet the required standards or even quantities. And there are several examples to back up this argument. For instance, Uganda has failed to take advantage of the opportunities that were offered by AGOA to export a wide range of products to the United States. We also failed to meet the quota to supply goats to some Arab countries.

Africa itself has a huge market that its members have failed to satisfy. We need to specialise and concentrate on our comparative advantages.

Africa needs good road networks, railways, marine services, air services, telecommunication. Africa has one of the slowest but most expensive internet connections in the world. It is also expensive to fly between African cities than out of Africa. For instance, to travel between Uganda and South Africa - a four hour flight - could cost you $800, yet from Uganda to Europe, a journey of about eight hours could cost you $700! Does Africa need a customs union before sorting out such an anomaly?

When security is maintained, roads are fixed and border bureaucracy reduced, trade between Sudan and Kenya or Uganda and Rwanda will flourish automatically.

That is what Africa needs.