Achieving AfCFTA dream through border efficiency

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he signed the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area during the 10th Extraordinary session of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit at Rwanda Convention Centre, Kigali,Rwanda.

If you walked up to the average traders at the Kenya - Uganda border and asked them about the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), they will most likely respond that they have no clue about the initiative.

So, is AfCFTA a myth perpetuated by leaders who are not in touch? I say this because despite all the protocols and agreements the common trader at the border is constantly facing challenges that make their wares more expensive or procedures that consume their time at the border. Traders and transporters face the challenge of police roadblocks at the border and the hinterland, causing unnecessary delays and also add to their costs through arbitrary monetary demands.

The reason this problem persists is that the police presence is justified on the basis of security challenges, however, such actions only escalate inter-country suspicion and undermine the high level goodwill that exists in international meetings. The border processes involve many physical checks and re-checks of trader’s goods. Under the One Stop Border Posts initiative, there are now non-intrusive inspection devices to hasten the physical inspection processes. Not all the borders have been reconfigured into OSBPs and thus the inefficiency persists. 

The interventions by the border agencies are mostly uncoordinated and repetitive. This is mostly observed with the security agencies, quality control departments, health departments and customs administrations. The situation is exacerbated by the use of paper-based processes, even where computers are lying in front of the officers.

There is a need for Interface between border agencies, especially the Customs administrations. The use of blockchain technology would facilitate the creation of profiles for importers and exporters to have more of them on green channel clearance. And only a few being subjected to physical checks on cargo. It is also necessary to move cargo interventions away from the OSBP. What should happen is for transporters and drivers to be cleared through Port Health and Immigration at the OSBP, whereas other processes such as Customs Clearance are undertaken away from the OSBP. 

There is a need for improved efficiency through re-engineered border workflows, which must be addressed by the intra-country and cross border agencies. The cadres of staff at the borders need to be effective decision makers and not rely on the head offices for directions on operational issues. In most cases the operational staff are posted to the borders as disciplinary measures hence work morale is low.

The Member States of the Regional Economic Communities should institute green channel operations, especially for large and medium sized importers wo are well known.

 The writer is an international trade consultant