Durban, South Africa — The New Partnership for Africa’s Development is hoping to play a dominant role in strengthening ties between African countries that would boost traditionally low levels of intra-African trade by focusing on trade corridors, or transit cross-border road networks.
NEPAD, as the agency is more commonly known, plans to achieve its goals by tackling logistical transport concerns such as issues of tariff setting, duties and regulations, and harmonization through their Move Africa initiative, which launched in 2016. NEPAD, the technical body of the African Union, works specifically with regional economic communities in Africa to select projects and programs to support.
However, in order to fully realize the objectives of this project NEPAD’s head of regional integration, infrastructure and trade, Symerre Grey-Johnson, told Devex that the development community must reverse the idea that investment in cross-border infrastructure is risky.
“The issue of the perception of Africa being risky is costing Africa a lot of opportunities,” Grey-Johnson said. “Of course we have our own ideas on how to best create an enabling environment to finance some of these projects, but I think the development community needs to start looking into ways and means of derisking the continent.”
Discussions on regional integration in Africa is not new, but the support of regional economic bodies — eight of which are recognized by the African Union — means that leaders on the continent appear more convinced than ever that regional integration is key to development strategies. “In terms of developmental approaches, we cannot be country specific anymore, but instead take a regional dimension,” Grey-Johnson said. “What it means is that the movement of finance, goods and people have to be done in a regional setting.”
NEPAD’s focus on regional trade facilitation will primarily target three corridors this year, including the North-South corridor (South Africa to Tanzania), the Central corridor (Tanzania to Burundi) and the Abidjan-Lagos corridor (Nigeria to Ivory Coast). There is also an ambition to have the Abidjan to Dakar (Ivory Coast to Senegal) corridor also come on board in the near future.
In concrete terms, the agency has been instrumental in assisting the North-South corridor in formulating a memorandum of understanding of participating countries to help deregulate the movement of goods across southern Africa. And in West Africa, it helped recruit consultants to see how to expand the coastal Abidjan-Lagos highway project as a way to spur trade potential in the region.
“We are working with ECOWAS to look at a multi-modal complex corridor for ground, sea and air cargo as a sort of first generation set of corridors that could work for Africa by looking at the movement of cargo and goods across West Africa,” Grey-Johnson said.
For him, West Africa remains an example for the rest of the continent on how to better move goods across a sub-region. However, he said, barriers to intra-Africa trade remain apparent.
“You hear the statistics: it takes four days to move cargo, it’s cheaper and easier to move a container from Europe to Africa than within African countries. So the data and statistics support that we do have a challenge in terms of the movement of goods,” Grey-Johnson said.
But, he argued, that if properly implemented, these large-scale projects have huge potential to reduce unemployment, transfer knowledge, and give young people the skills they need to get well-paid jobs. “The question of growing markets and empowering the youth is a real challenge so we are hoping that these trans-boundary mega projects that we work on will help create the jobs that are needed such as tradesmen, auxiliary workers or engineers,” he said.
By Christin Roby, Devex