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AfCFTA: will it succeed or fail?

September 4, 2019
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When it comes to implementing agreements in Africa, numerous challenges need to be overcome

The recently launched Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is under threat before it even gets started. The 54 African countries that have signed the agreement still act very much in isolation – particularly their revenue authorities. 

Historically, African countries are perfectly capable of talking about issues at a technical level and reaching signed-off agreements at head of state level. However, when it comes to implementation, agreements tend to fall apart, very seldom reaching reality.

Over and above this, the current status of inter-state or regional trade in Africa is being hampered by multiple tariff and non-tariff barriers presented at the many, two-stop border posts mostly in southern, central, western and northern Africa. 

Only the eastern African region  has taken bold steps to implement a one-stop border post (OSBP) concept at crossing points. This, coupled with the introduction of a single customs territory regime (SCT), has seen time reductions in excess of 50 percent at most border points. 

In southern Africa, a bleak picture of border bureaucracy, technical inefficiencies and resulting backlogs of trucks queueing for days to pass through key Southern African Development Community (SADC) transit points has once more emerged, with the regular congested crossing of Kasumbalesa yet again at the centre of road-haulage hold-ups.

A scene of logistical snags is apparent right across the region, with the worst problems being experienced in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At the crossing between Zambia and the DRC, which has regularly made headlines for all the wrong reasons, hundreds of tankers – including those carrying acid and fuel – are parked together, because DRC authorities have introduced seals, electronic tracking and locking devices that are attached to trucks and containers once they have been cleared by customs. 

Additionally, a more critical reason for a backlog of trucks heading into the DRC relates to delays in the issuing of Feri certificates – also known as destination certificates – which are needed for entry. Many trucks have been delayed for more than a week, as the company responsible for issuing the certificates simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the volume of online applications.

Major problems have also been experienced getting through Zimbabwe. Authorities there currently don’t have enough electronic seals for road freight passing through the country’s borders – Beitbridge, Chirundu to the north, and Forbes on the way to Beira in Mozambique.

Around 900 trucks pass through these borders on a daily basis and, besides the shortage of seals, having to park while waiting for clearance sees many vehicles’ batteries go flat. With Zimbabwe’s electricity generation issues – down to less than eight hours of power on a good day – it can take up to 12 hours to recharge the batteries before necessary cargo clearing can be done. 

Currently at Forbes Border post there are in excess of 800 trucks – mostly fuel tankers – waiting for seals. The two main parking areas in Mutari near the border are full to capacity and trucks are overflowing into the road. 

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) has acknowledged the shortage of seals and says that 200 will be delivered very soon. More seals have been procured from Singapore, but they are expected to arrive in Zimbabwe only later this month. 

In a nutshell, a hopeless situation prevails for transporters and inter-state or regional trade in the southern African region. On that note, the question remains: Will AfCFTA succeed or fail? What do you think, given the current situation? 

Mike Fitzmaurice is the CEO of the Federation of East and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations (Fesarta). He has 42 years of experience in the transport and logistics industry with several major companies in South Africa, as well as overseas exposure with some of the leading transport companies in six European countries. Since 2004 he has established and run Transport Logistics Consultants. In May 2015 he became CEO of Fesarta.

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