Strong political will needed from African leaders to boost critical aspects of intra-African trade

Published: 27th January 2012

Addis Ababa 27 January 2012- As the 18th African Union Summit starts in Addis Ababa, civil society organizations from across Africa are concerned that the summit’s central theme, “Boosting Intra- African Trade,“ risks being overshadowed and will not get the focus needed to tackle this urgent issue.

The organizations said that 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, the groups 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,” said Michael Orwa from the State of Africa Union Coalition, a Pan-African institution leading the call for greater efficiency within the African Union.

Désiré Assogbavi from Oxfam said,” 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.”

The organizations said that there is scope to improve trade in the continent and this Summit is the time to do it. While other parts of the world are experiencing difficult financial and economic downturns, the economic growth in the continent remains strong, with many countries having between 6 to 11% annual economic growth.

Regional organizations like ECOWAS, COMESA, SADEC 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.

“These 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, Secretary General of Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association, an organization 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.” added Mr Tawanda.

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa, as well as that currently unfolding in the Sahel, points to the key opportunity for Member States to deliberate on the role of regional food markets and regional trade and take decisions on concrete measures in this regard to address chronic food insecurity on the continent.

For Dinah Musindarwezo from FEMNET, African Women Development and Communication Network, “We need not forget women’s contributions to intra African trade. Business women 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”.

Leaders here in Addis Ababa need to look also to cross-border population movements, which are promoted in regional organizations like ECOWAS, and that 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.

“So we expect from African Heads of States the necessary strong political will, translated into concrete actions, based on the Pan-African spirit that gave birth to the African Union,” concluded Mr. Assogbavi from the international agency Oxfam.

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East Africa food crisis

West Africa food crisis

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.
Désiré Assogbavi

Notes to editors

ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States – An economic institution launched since 1975 that includes: Benin, Burkina-Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo

COMESA - Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa – Created since 1994 - Nine member states formed a free trade zone in 2000: Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SADC – Southern Africa Development Community – 15 members states launched in 1992.

EAC - East African Community - Launch since July 2000. Members’ states are Five East African countries Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

• Intra-African Trade figures are from UNECA, and also figures from Europe and Asia,
• Small scale farmers figures are from SADC

Contact information

Charles Bambara - Mobile in Addis +251 (0) 912 963 910 other mobile + 221 77 639 4178  
Alun McDonald  -  Kenya - +254 73 666 6663