Towards the end of last year, I covered the first Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa Summit held in Nairobi. The summit was organised by an investment-thirsty Italian NGO to explore opportune areas for investment in clean renewable energy across sub Saharan Africa.
It brought to Kenya over 30 clean energy business minds, like Enel Green Power one of the largest solar investors in Europe. While this time we saw some government representation, it wasn’t those at the decision making level.
This reminded me of the World Economic Forum on Africa that concluded on May 13, 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda where leaders from around the world met to chart a way forward for Africa under the theme, “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation”. This event was attended by less than 10 African heads of state; a number less than half the number that formed the OAU back in 1963!
More attention is undoubtedly paid to political events around the continent rather than the economy meaning selfish political agenda tends to stagnate initiatives to improve the lives of our people.
Africa’s leaders spend more time flying out of the continent to seek grants and loans, when investors come to us, we are either unavailable, busy, out of the country.
More appalling is that African nations are either unwilling or incapable of identifying and exploiting intra-trade opportunities among themselves. in fact, we’d rather seamlessly do business with “strangers” (outside the continent) than with ourselves and build each other.
According to statistics cited by the World Trade Organisation, intra-Africa trade currently stands at 12 per cent of total trade, compared to 60 per cent for Europe, 40 per cent for North America, and 30 per cent for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Today it is far more beneficial to export goods outside of Africa than to other African countries.
It is more enriching to do business with multi-national companies outside of Africa than those within. But note: Each year, the continent loses in excess of $50 billion to illicit financial flows, sometimes because we care more about the companies coming through and less about whether or not they’re paying taxes.
Africans are also quite content to lament about bad road networks, but ignore the fact that African goods often head out of the continent by air. But how can we build infrastructure that inter-connects us if we are not doing business with each other?
To go to Tunisia in North Africa, for instance, one must first fly to Turkey in Europe. For Kenya’s flowers to reach Nigeria, they must first head to the United Kingdom and then to Nigeria. What sort of madness is this?!
We are our own enemies... signing agreements with each and backing out of them even before they yield any fruit, pretending we are united as Africans but then make it difficult to do business with one another.
Corruption is the jigger in every African toe with some of our leaders stashing billions of stolen money in overseas tax havens as millions of their citizens languish in poverty. Our youth, who should be generating wealth for us, have the highest percentage of unemployment rate around the world and while agriculture, which is the backbone of majority of African economies, is treated as a development programme rather than an income business.
The International Centre for Trade and sustainable development recommends that African leaders must urgently improve cross-border trade, remove a range of non-tariff barriers to trade, and reform regulations and immigration rules.
Given a worsening Euro zone crisis that could reduce Africa’s GDP growth by as much as 1.3 per cent, the World Bank warns that effective regional integration is of great importance. The time to begin is now.
Joy Doreen Biira is a business reporter at KTN