Open up African con­ti­nent to Africans

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Evans wadongo

IN this edi­tion, we re­port that ce­ment maker, Afrisam, yes­ter­day an­nounced a land­mark part­ner­ship deal with a lo­cal firm Ce­ment In­dus­tries Lim­ited to es­tab­lish the first ce­ment fac­tory in Le­sotho. It is cer­tainly the best news we have heard in a long time, as far as the econ­omy is con­cerned. Le­sotho needs more where such in­vest­ments come from given the se­vere shocks the econ­omy is un­der­go­ing due to dwin­dling South­ern African Cus­toms Union rev­enues and the slow­down in the South African econ­omy. How­ever, the deal also un­der­scores what Le­sotho stands to ben­e­fit if we get our act to­gether po­lit­i­cally. That is why the re­turn of op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors to the Na­tional As­sem­bly is a wel­come and sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment in the road to political sta­bil­ity.

even though the op­po­si­tion bloc still has valid rea­sons for con­tin­u­ing the boy­cott, the coun­try is also be­set with very se­ri­ous eco­nomic and so­cial chal­lenges that re­quire ur­gent at­ten­tion. The econ­omy needs to be ur­gently di­ver­si­fied to en­sure that Le­sotho does not only de­pend on the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) for its in­dus­tries to re­main afloat. Given that Le­sotho risks los­ing its AGOA com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage if a trade agree­ment be­tween the United States and Pa­cific Rim coun­tries is con­sum­mated, we need all hands on deck to find new av­enues for eco­nomic growth. The Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship would re­duce tar­iffs and trade rules among the coun­tries in­volved. It would also al­low very com­pet­i­tive economies such as Viet­nam to do more busi­ness with the US un­der the same priv­i­leges AGOA ben­e­fi­cia­ries cur­rently re­ceive.

The deal would dec­i­mate Le­sotho’s tex­tile in­dus­try overnight and leave up to 40 000 peo­ple un­em­ployed. Such a dire sit­u­a­tion de­mands our lead­ers to be brain­storm­ing so­lu­tions, and not try­ing to score points against each other. An area our leg­is­la­tors can work to­wards im­prov­ing is the laws and reg­u­la­tions on do­ing busi­ness in the coun­try. Afrisam Coun­try Man­ager Thato Tšuene told this pa­per that the process of get­ting the per­mis­sion for the con­struc­tion site from the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties took a long time to com­plete, adding that the de­lay held their plans back sig­nif­i­cantly. Ease of do­ing busi­ness is a ma­jor sell­ing point for coun­tries keen on at­tract­ing for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment and Le­sotho can ill-af­ford to get that wrong.

This sen­ti­ment was also echoed by econ­o­mist and for­mer Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho lec­turer Dr Frank Baf­foe in his anal­y­sis of the 2016/2017 fi­nan­cial year na­tional bud­get. he said the coun­try was be­ing held back by the lack of an en­abling busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment for the pri­vate sec­tor to op­er­ate and grow. Dr Baf­foe also noted that it was only through growth in the pro­duc­tive sec­tors, which are the do­mains of en­trepreneurs, that pro­duc­tion and em­ploy­ment lev­els could ex­pand. For Le­sotho to re­alise growth that is sus­tain­able, there is an ur­gent need for eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. This is achieved by di­ver­si­fy­ing the econ­omy and en­sur­ing we be­come more com­pet­i­tive on in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

Govern­ment, pri­vate sec­tor, work­ers, me­dia and civil so­ci­ety all have mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing roles in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. how­ever, they must be fa­cil­i­tated by a govern­ment that has strong ca­pa­bil­i­ties in set­ting an over­all eco­nomic vi­sion and strat­egy. Only the govern­ment can pro­vide the sup­port­ive in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices and main­tain a reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity.

Le­sotho has dra­mat­i­cally lagged be­hind the rest of the south­ern African re­gion and the even most of the con­ti­nent in terms of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. We have failed to di­ver­sify our econ­omy and re­main with one di­men­sional in­dus­tries that are also col­laps­ing. There has also been lim­ited tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments in in­dus­try while the stan­dard of liv­ing con­tin­ues to plum­met for most Ba­sotho. We can learn a lot from such coun­tries as Mozam­bique, Zam­bia, Kenya and Tan­za­nia. Struc­tural re­forms, sound macro-eco­nomic poli­cies, open­ing up to the global econ­omy and political sta­bil­ity have gen­er­ated strong growth since coun­tries like Mozam­bique emerged from civil war.

Over the last two decades, th­ese coun­tries de­vel­oped sta­ble macro-eco­nomic and political con­di­tions as well as an in­vestor-friendly en­vi­ron­ment. This is the foun­da­tion for growth Le­sotho sorely needs to come out of the dol­drums. The African De­vel­op­ment Bank just launched the Africa Visa Open­ness Re­port 2016, and it high­lights a huge prob­lem: as Africans, we can­not move eas­ily be­tween our coun­tries.

On av­er­age, Africans need visas to travel to 55 per­cent of other African coun­tries and can only get visas on ar­rival in 25per­cent of other coun­tries.

This means they can only travel to 20 per­cent of the coun­tries with­out a visa. even though coun­tries such as Seychelles, Mau­ri­tius, Rwanda, Ghana and Kenya have tried to re­duce visa re­stric­tions, other coun­tries are not re­cip­ro­cat­ing.

This rev­e­la­tion is in sharp con­trast to the African Union’s goal to in­tro­duce an African pass­port and abol­ish visa re­quire­ments for all African cit­i­zens in all African coun­tries by 2018.

What is re­ally ap­palling is that it is eas­ier for euro­peans or Amer­i­cans to travel within Africa than for many Africans them­selves.

In 2015, hold­ers of a United States of Amer­ica pass­port, for ex­am­ple, could travel to 172 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries visa-free or with visa on ar­rival, in­clud­ing at least 20 African coun­tries.

Ul­ti­mately, the visa re­stric­tions mean that African coun­tries are los­ing out.

One of the ben­e­fits of free move­ment of peo­ple that visa re­stric­tions in­hibit is in­creased tourism. Tourism con­trib­utes to one in ev­ery 11 jobs and nine-per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct world­wide.

With high youth un­em­ploy­ment, im­proved tourism could cre­ate thou­sands of jobs and help re­duce in­equal­ity. More vis­i­tors mean more ho­tels, restau­rants, shop­ping malls, and a growth in trans­port and en­ter­tain­ment sec­tors. The im­pact could be felt in both ur­ban ar­eas and ru­ral ar­eas.

Cur­rently, ac­cord­ing to the Africa Tourism Mon­i­tor re­port, while Africa ac­counts for about 15 per­cent of the world pop­u­la­tion, it re­ceives only about three-per­cent of world tourism re­ceipts and five-per­cent of tourist ar­rivals.

The re­port fur­ther says that visa re­quire­ments im­ply missed eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties for intra-re­gional trade, and the lo­cal ser­vice econ­omy (such as cross-coun­try med­i­cal ser­vices or education).

Visa poli­cies are among the most im­por­tant gov­ern­men­tal for­mal­i­ties neg­a­tively in­flu­enc­ing in­ter­na­tional tourism.

This is not just about non-africans vis­it­ing our con­ti­nent. As the new gen­er­a­tion of middle class is ush­ered into Africa, spend­ing on hol­i­days and shop­ping is in­creas­ing, but African coun­tries may not fully ben­e­fit.

Many of my friends opt to travel to europe for hol­i­days and shop­ping as op­posed to other African coun­tries. They cite as ma­jor rea­sons the ease of trav­el­ling in the Schen­gen area, which al­lows a vis­i­tor ac­cess to 26 coun­tries within europe, with one visa.

Com­bined with the cost-ef­fec­tive and easy in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity through rail, air and road trans­port, it is no sur­prise that europe re­ceives the high­est num­ber of tourists glob­ally.

Busi­nesses be­yond tourism are af­fected, too. As an en­tre­pre­neur, when choos­ing a new coun­try to ven­ture into, I con­sider the open­ness and ease of do­ing busi­ness, with free move­ment of la­bor, goods and ser­vices as key in­di­ca­tors.

I’m not alone. The on­go­ing in­te­gra­tion in the east African com­mu­nity has seen many busi­nesses that were ini­tially based in one coun­try ex­pand into the oth­ers. For in­stance, a num­ber of Kenyan based banks have ex­panded into Rwanda, Uganda and South Su­dan be­cause of the im­proved ease of do­ing busi­ness within the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to the pa­per eco­nom­ics and em­i­gra­tion: Tril­lion-dol­lar Bills on the Side­walk? open bor­ders could lead to a one- time boost in world gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by about 50-150 per­cent.

hence, African coun­tries should strive to make the dreams of the founders of the then Or­ga­ni­za­tion of African unity (OAU) true by al­low­ing Africans to move eas­ily and en­cour­age intra Africa trade and in­vest­ments.

eas­ier move­ment could also help the un­em­ploy­ment rates. I have of­ten found euro­pean or Chi­nese ‘ex­pa­tri­ates’ do­ing jobs that could be done by highly skilled Africans, some of whom lack op­por­tu­ni­ties in their home coun­tries, if only they could more eas­ily move be­tween coun­tries for work.

Move­ment of peo­ple can also be a driver of tech­no­log­i­cal change and a fresh source of en­trepreneurs. Much in­no­va­tion comes from the work of teams of peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and ex­pe­ri­ences. This can also make coun­tries within Africa to be more at­trac­tive to for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment.

While some have ar­gued that strict travel reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing visa re­quire­ments, are nec­es­sary for se­cu­rity pur­poses, there has been no di­rect link show­ing how free move­ment of peo­ple has per­pet­u­ated ter­ror­ism.

Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been on the fore­front say­ing that a few bad el­e­ments should not be used to re­strict mil­lions of good cit­i­zens who want to travel for leisure or busi­ness.

Political ex­ec­u­tive editor of the Tele­graph James Kirkup re­cently ar­gued too that “Sim­ply, all the bor­der checks in the world will not keep us safe. Pass­port con­trols can’t stop the spread of ideas, and it is ideas, not peo­ple, that are the essence of the ter­ror­ism that has just killed so many in Paris and Beirut and Bagh­dad.” I agree. Ul­ti­mately, there are many more rea­sons to re­move visa re­stric­tions for Africans trav­el­ing in Africa than keep­ing them. I hope that by 2018, that truly is a re­al­ity.

One of the ben­e­fits of free move­ment of peo­ple that visa re­stric­tions in­hibit is in­creased tourism. Tourism con­trib­utes to one in ev­ery 11 jobs and nine-per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct world­wide

l Evans Wadongo is the co-founder of Green­wize En­ergy Ltd, Founder of Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment for All, and a de­vel­op­ment ex­pert based in Nairobi, Kenya. . He is also a 2014 Aspen In­sti­tute New Voices Fel­low and was and one of CNN’S top ten he­roes of 2010.

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