Borderless in Africa

Borderless in Africa

Despite having our own fair share of obstacles and problems in southern Africa, we sometimes forget what logistics can be like in the rest of continent. THINUS VAN ROOYEN takes a look at how the West African region is improving its logistics chain.

Wikipedia describes a developing country as a nation with a low standard of living, underdeveloped industrial base and low Human Development Index (HDI) relative to other countries. Despite having no hard and fast criteria for what a developing country is compared to a developed one, it remains a pretty safe bet to assume that Mali doesn’t have as many iPads as the United States.

It remains a sad fact that Africa is yet to achieve the same level of infrastructure and fluidity in the logistics industry as developed countries. In fact, to claim that some countries in Africa are “developing” is a politically friendly statement at best.

In the West African region, many countries still suffer from severe corruption, civil unrest and crime.

The European Commission recently kicked off its Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) programme, which will see all the roads in the region connected into one big, easily manageable network.

Africa, on the other hand, still struggles with problems such as bribery, high taxation, and inefficient procedures. Together all of these factors account for the western region of Africa still having some of the highest transportation costs in the world. This, in turn, makes international investors uneasy and, without investment capital, there can be no development.

Many companies and civil servants in the region are doing their best to improve the area’s logistics chain and the economies that so heavily depend on it.

Established in 2011, as a campaign to address the challenges in the area, the Borderless Alliance (BA) seeks to promote cross-border trade and reduce procedural inefficiency throughout the West African region. The BA is made up of both private-sector companies and representatives from civil society. It also works with media authorities in the area.

The BA highlights trade inefficiencies throughout the region via Border Information Centres at border crossings that provide updates and information on processes at the borders themselves. This, in turn, helps to cement continuous stakeholder dialogue in identifying and addressing the various delays and harassments faced by the logistics industry.

The initial campaign kicked off in 2009 under the helm of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) West Africa Trade Hub. It worked with private sector partners to improve public awareness of bribery and border control delays. From here the BA grew from strength to strength – eventually becoming the region’s leading advocacy platform representing ports, supply chains and logistics operators.

Still retaining its status as a non-profit organisation, the BA now brings together more than 50 members to discuss and address delays as well as the harassment of truck drivers moving goods through the region’s connected roads and harbours.

“Our comprehensive understanding of the issues affecting regional integration, gained through detailed data analysis and hundreds of interviews over the last five years, has helped stakeholders identify what can be done to resolve the problems,” says Ziad Hamoui, president of the BA. “The BA is a vehicle for advocacy – without a unified voice and vision, change will not occur.”

Among its efforts to raise awareness, the BA constantly updates its evidence-based findings on the average costs of bribes and the number of delays and checkpoints throughout the target countries, on its website. Furthermore, the BA also offers telephonic assistance to any trucker who finds himself stuck at a checkpoint or border post due to these problems.

Its partners include groups such as the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Both of these organisations aim to improve the economic integrity
of the area.

The BA has set a series of milestones throughout the area; such as the elimination of police and gendarme checkpoints in Togo, and the removal of three checkpoints in Niger. The BA’s Information Centres also provide practical assistance to traders at the borders themselves. Considering that the upper half of our continent sometimes lacks the infrastructure to support tablets, Kindles and smartphones, the publication of a series of information brochures for traders, as well as guides for truck drivers, is another significant contribution.

The drivers’ guides, which are easy to understand, help affirm the rules of the road and create general driver awareness – things that are taken for granted in other parts of the world.

It goes without saying that the BA’s work is far from done but, as it stands, its work in the West African region is commendable. By keeping up the good fight, it has definitely helped the countries in the western part of Africa advance their “developing” status.

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