Covid-19 should be a reason to accelerate the AfCFTA, not slam the brakes on it

By Victor Kgomoeswana Time of article publishedJul 6, 2020

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Wise people say no crisis should be wasted, and that is exactly what we are doing with Covid-19 in Africa.

Last week’s version of this was the fuel shortage in Botswana. Queues of motorists and patrons with jerrycans overwhelmed petrol stations in Botswana because of congestion at the South Africa-Botswana border. Why?

Botswana’s screening and testing regime is stricter than that of South Africa. Trucks ferrying fuel there take longer to be processed at the border. What kind of African neighbours cannot share fuel in hard times?

The lack of consistency among member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in containing the outbreak renders certain regional routes more popular than others. This raises the strain on road infrastructure.

Less stringent measures elsewhere have diverted road traffic away from Botswana to Beit Bridge between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Last month, Zimbabwe Standard reported delays at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border amounting to more than 30 laden stationary trucks on the double-lane facility of the 540m bridge. A maximum of five trucks at a time is recommended.

PR manager of the Zimbabwe National Roads Agency, Tendai Mugabe, attributed this logjam to increased vigilance at other regional border posts, especially in Botswana.

Instead of the daily average of 600 trucks crossing the Beit Bridge, the diversion of traffic increased traffic flow to 1000 trucks. Other gridlocks were reported since April between Lesotho and South Africa.

This led to protest action at some border posts and to Lesotho citizens resorting to dangerous methods to cross the border back home as the lockdown in South Africa left them without work.

The SADC is supposed to be a regional economic bloc with protocols that facilitate unfettered movement between its member countries.

The misaligned systems in screening for Covid-19 reflect a deeper problem: African countries talk intra-Africa trade and regional integration without practical measures to make it work. If the SADC struggles, what about the AU?

Unsurprisingly, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on July 1 was postponed – ostensibly due to Covid-19. We missed the train that was supposed to help us create the world’s largest free trade area – a market of 1.3 billion people in a regional economy that is estimated at $3.4 trillion (R57.6 trillion).

Covid-19 should be a reason to accelerate the AfCFTA. What better chance is there going to be to manufacture masks, sanitisers, gloves and other anti-Covid ammunition for more than a billion people?

When are we going to get a shot at strengthening the movement of goods among African states and ramping up industrialisation or manufacturing other than the present when international travel is restricted or closed?

Instead, we are importing more than 80% of our personal protective equipment from China and elsewhere – the easiest consumables to make – diverting our Solidarity Fund and other borrowed money to non-African economies. That is the bigger crisis than Covid-19; our blindness to Africa’s worth.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.