As the 18th African Union Summit starts in Addis Ababa, civil society organisations from across Africa are concerned that the summit’s central theme, “Boosting Intra-African Trade,” risks being overshadowed and will not get the focus it needs.
Intra-African trade remains weak, making up only 11% of total trade in Africa. Comparatively, in Asia intra-trade represents 52% and in Europe 82%. Failure to invest more in intra-African trade is likely to harm the continent’s development.
Michael Orwa from the State of the Union coalition, which calls for greater AU efficiency, said: “Electing new commissioners and chairpersons should not overshadow the real development challenges on the continent, which can be addressed through improving and boosting intra-Africa trade.”
Now is definitely the time to improve trade. While other parts of the world are experiencing difficult financial and economic downturns, the economic growth in Africa remains strong, with many countries having between 6 to 11% annual economic growth.
Many things are at stake at this Summit. Not only do we need decisions to be taken at a continental level to lead and speed-up this process, but leaders must also act concretely at regional and national levels. Regional organisations like ECOWAS, COMESA, SADC and EAC, should be on the frontlines of this battle to boost intra-African trade.
Bold and visible actions are needed at all levels, targeting established companies but also small scale traders.
“Small scale traders represent 30 to 40% of the business in the continent, and governments should aim to facilitate and reduce paperwork to improve the trade regime all over Africa,” said Augustine Tawanda, the Secretary General of Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association, an organisation leading the cross border trade in Southern Africa. “Our aim is to get a simplified trade regime, which will make our life easier, and boost not only trade but also development in our country and improve life of ordinary people in cities and villages.”
For Dinah Musindarwezo from FEMNET, the African Women Development and Communication Network, “We must not forget women’s contributions to intra African trade. Businesswomen have a huge impact in urban and rural areas in Africa and have already started cross-border trade. Neglecting them or ignoring their impact will be a big mistake.”
The food crisis in the Horn of Africa, as well as that currently unfolding in the Sahel, illustrates the key opportunity for AU Member States to deliberate on the role of regional food markets and regional trade, and take concrete measures to address chronic food insecurity on the continent.
Leaders here in Addis Ababa need to also look to cross-border population movements, which are promoted in regional organisations like ECOWAS, and can facilitate trade flows. Inefficiency and high cost in cross border trade can be explained by lack of good infrastructure, as well as corruption across the continent.
We need African Heads of State to have the necessary strong political will, translate that into concrete actions, and show the Pan African spirit that gave birth to the African Union.