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[Column] Maria Auma: Let's really talk AfCFTA

Finally! Africa seems to have woken up! Or at least her leaders have. Or have they? It is sad that it had to take nearly two decades for the continent to realize that a unified continent benefits the people in her country.

I did write a post related to this where I criticized Africa’s inability to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. I guess someone did read that blog and decided to act on it. But let’s be clear - this is not just about increasing GDP, or profits. It is also about improving the African way of life and building a system that enables citizens to thrive.

When I envision AfCFTA, I see a continent where the cost of trade is cut by nearly 80 per cent. Having been in the importation business for over three years I will say first hand that the one thing that eats up our profits the most was the importation taxes and duties. We calculated that importing a container alone was nearly the same price as purchasing the container itself, doubling our costs in the process, and that is not considering the freight and storage costs. Having regional trade agreements like COMESA and SADC may go some way in curbing these costs, but it is still a very small, tiny little way. If I think about the cost of doing business elsewhere, for example in China or the US, the only costs traders have to incure are the usual transportation costs, local taxes and occasional surcharges. This is because somehow their government understands the importance of collectivism and the advantage of operating under a single monetary system.

I cannot begin to think of the number of times I have lost money in foreign exchange within Africa because the country I am visiting won’t accept my Ugandan shillings. And I do not blame them, but we have to ask ourselves with sincerity how it benefits us to lose money in mere forex, when we could be increasing the continents financial reserves by operating under one single monetary system. As I type this, I still have lose change from my trips to Ghana, Nigeria and Egypt because the forex in Uganda did not have an equivalent value for it. You may say that ah well, this is small change, why make such a big fuss about it? But if you look at the numbers and do the math, you will realize that it does add up to over 200 million dollars annually and that is a conservative estimate. Imagine what that kind of money can do for communities in Africa, improving roads, providing better access to electricity and even safer drinking water. It’s the little things.

And while we are at it, let us also talk about this visa issue. It begs the question; do we as Africans simply enjoy shooting ourselves in the foot every time? Because I cannot imagine why it is not common sense to abolish visas in Africa. And honestly it is short of a disgrace that we cannot travel freely to member states within the region, and yet we want the rest of the world to call us the “continent on the rise”. In the past month alone I have had to pass on opportunities to participate in conferences because of visa costs and exorbitant airfares. Take for example the fact that a flight from East Africa to Ghana would cost roughly 500 – 600 dollars, about 150 more than a flight from the States to the UK.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my continent, which is why as BLI we are already implementing a series of development projects in the region, but good heavens, I bleed sometimes when I think of the damage, be it intentional or otherwise, that we do to each other. So will leaders of the 55 African countries please get a grip and start to govern with continental vision instead of personal ambition? And then let us have a discussion about growing and utilizing our own financial reserves. And if the leaders of today cannot get over their high horses and stop governing like they are over-rated chiefs protecting their kingdoms, and really get down to the heart of the matter to build an African system that truly works for Africans, then I assure you that the leaders of tomorrow, who by the way constitute over 220 million, and of which I am a part, will certainly do a much finer, swifter job of it. Or we could all just not take this seriously and go on talking about brain drain for the next two decades. Our destiny is literally in our hands, so help me God!

Maria Auma is CEO, Blue Luxury Investments, Uganda.


This column a contribution to [Africa CEO Forum] What are the opportunities that AfCFTA brings for business?

You will find this forum here.


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