[Column] Bob Koigi: Deepening regional trade and East African integration with one stop border posts
Traders passing through East African border points have traditionally grappled with harrowing experiences, from bureaucratic procedures to harassment by custom officials which have not only cost their businesses but made trade in East Africa one of the most expensive and uncompetitive in the continent.
Scenes of trucks stuck at these entry and exit points for months have been commonplace in what has been described as one of the greatest barriers to trade.
A trader on arrival at the border post would have to declare their goods at the customs of the exit country who would make physical inspection of the cargo. Upon completion of the laborious process they would then have to move to immigration for clearance before moving to the entry country to repeat the same process.
Considering hundreds of traders use these routes on an average day, long queues meant spending days on the borders translating to numerous losses. This has traditionally dented the competitiveness of the East African trade with studies showing that transport costs in East Africa are among the highest globally.
But a new phenomenon is quickly changing this narrative, ensuring faster and efficient movement of goods and people across the region while boosting revenue collection.
The one stop border post model combines two border control processes into one and merge border control functions in a common space for exit and entry countries.
Immigration, customs and other related activities are handled in one stop, a landmark step that has greatly reduced the time it takes at the border with the Kenya Revenue Authority indicating that custom clearance has now been reduced from more than three days to just under one hour.
The taxman has also more than tripled custom collections as technology drives operations at the posts. The new system has also collapsed the number of documents required at both sides from 16 to 4 in line with international best practices. For travelers, crossing time has also been reduced from one and half hours on average to an estimated 37 minutes.
Trade Mark East Africa, the institution that has been championing the one stop border posts seeks to boost economic growth and regional trade in the East African community while bolstering the region’s trade with the rest of the world.
The impact is already being felt. Conservative figures indicate that improved and efficient border crossing has seen the region save an estimated $70 million every year.
In the Busia border post for example, one of the busiest in the region, an approximated Sh1.4 billion was collected in the 2016-2017 financial year for Kenya, representing a 47 per cent growth since it was established.
The posts have also mainstreamed the operations of informal small scale cross border traders who form a very vital but often ignored aspect of regional trade. With the strict border processes, the traders have traditionally embraced illegal routes, which ended up being expensive and dangerous.
Now with the simplified trade regime, borrowed from the COMESA model and which embraces simplicity, efficiency and transparency, more traders have found business sense in using the mainstream border routes.
Having 13 border posts spread across Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya now fully operational means trade among East Africans is poised to flourish, making it more competitive in the African and global space while deepening integration which is key if East Africa is to industrialize through trade.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities