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Open Africa comes to Nairobi

Published on October 25, 2017

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On October 19, the Hub hosted trade specialists and interested parties for a panel discussion on barriers to the regional movement of labor and trade. The panel discussion contributed to the Open Africa Initiative, launched during the 2017 World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa. USAID East Africa Chief for the office of Regional Economic Integration, Scott Cameron, officially opened the event and emphasized USAID’s support to regional integration, stating that USAID invests in hard and soft infrastructure to help make Africa borderless.

The panel consisted of representatives from the Shippers Council, TradeMark East Africa, East Africa Chambers of Commerce and the Hub. Discussion topics focused on the challenges and progress made in reducing barriers to the movement of labor and trade in Africa.

“The rate at which Africa is engaging in intra Africa trade in comparison to developed countries is very low and to set the continent in motion, there needs to be growth of 14 percent per year in trade for Africa to grow and keep up with the rest of the world,” said Mr. Agayo Ogambi  a panelist from Shippers Council.

There has been opposition by some African countries with regard to the opening of borders. Critics to a borderless Africa cite concerns over foreigners taking away opportunities from locals. In that regard, the panelists noted that there is need to implement measures and incentives to increase competitiveness in the region, ensuring that there is enough trade and access markets to benefit all people.

Charles Kahuthu from the East Africa Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture stressed the need for more private sector engagement for effective regional integration. “Plenty of agreements and deals are made between governments in the presence of senior government officials, with the exclusion of the actual policy makers and the private sector. As a result, there is no action on implementation as the core players and implementers are not present. Private sector exclusion in these decisions keeps them in the dark and they are not able to push for implementation or help in proper facilitation of exclusion as they are not aware of these commitments and intentions. It therefore is very important to bring the players together so that there can be proper implementation of commitments.” 

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Panelists discussed the positive steps that have been taken to facilitate increased trade in the East Africa region and the continent. Waturi Matu from Trademark East Africa cited one-stop border posts as an initiative that has contributed to the free movement of goods, and which has saved traders time and cost at border points.  One-stop border posts have personnel from each side of the border to speed efficiency and ensure individual country needs are met.

The panelists also discussed the role of youth in regional integration. The panelists observed that to help the youth, there needs to be free movement of young people for professional development. In the past, there was a stronger sense of regional integration as there was free movement of labor and each country accorded the other the opportunity for its citizens to gain employment.

Mr. Ogambi said, “For there to be effective movement of goods, there needs to be free movement of people. Visa requirements and restrictions across Africa have proved challenging as people are not able to move across countries to work or trade.”

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To add to the conversation, Kanini Mutooni from the Hub mentioned that youth need to articulate what they want in program design and take a more participatory and active role on matters that concern them.  She suggested that young people should participate in platforms such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, where decision makers from across the globe congregate to express their ideas and solutions.

The Open Africa Initiative includes a bus journey, Uhuru (Freedom), in which participants travel to different cities across the African continent, documenting experiences and barriers to cross-border travel and trade on the continent. Along the way, tour supporters host activities and organize multi-stakeholder sessions with policy-makers to develop visions, experiences and recommendations for a united Africa. Once the tour completes, the findings from the journey will be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 24, 2018 and at the African Union 30th Assembly in February 2018 in Addis Ababa.