By Abdel Monem Fawzi
Land-locked developing countries (LLDCs) are vulnerable to fluctuations which were further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in border closures that continue to affect the movement of goods and people. A high-level roundtable discussed possible measures that can be taken to address some of these challenges and support LLDCs during this critical time.
r Francis Ikome, Chief of the Regional Integration Section in the Economic Commission for Africa’s Regional Integration and Trade Division, said the think tank has a continuing interest in the development of LLDCs. He said within the scope of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) lies an opportunity to promote the smooth functioning of corridors, easing life for Africa’s LLDCs.
He said Africa’s infrastructure deficit posed a challenge that brings about additional costs in trade, especially for the LLDCs. Mr Ikome noted that African LLDCs were making commendable progress as noted by the mid-term review report of the Vienna Programme of Action, but still had a long way to go. He also recognised the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in the development of LLDCs, adding that no country will be able to overcome the pandemic alone and therefore collaboration was key.
“Corridors create opportunities for industrialisation and are vectors of market growth. The AfCFTA provides an opportunity for promoting smooth functioning of corridors for sustainable industrialisation and diversification during the Covid-19 era,” said Mr Ikome.
For her part, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Dr Amina Abou-Zeid said the AUC also pays special attention to corridors to ensure LLDCs are connected and that trade flows easily.
“Corridors don’t work alone. They need to be linked to ports which are affected by challenges like border control harassment and lengthy queues at the borders resulting in delays,” she said.
“One of the ways of tackling these challenges is digitisation, which provides an opportunity for facilitating the smooth flow of services. Digitisation goes beyond borders into e-commerce which has increased five-fold in the last year.”
Dr Abou-Zeid also noted that energy, coupled with digitisation, offered immense opportunities for Africa’s LLDCs.
She noted that the AUC, through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, was working to harmonise health measures and necessary health credentials at borders to ease access and mobility to improve the fluidity of transport and flow of people.
For her part, Ms Fekitamoela Utoikamanu, Under Secretary General, UN-OHRLLS, noted that impacts of Covid-19 affected the flow of transport in LLDCs, hampering their access to equipment needed to adequately respond to the pandemic.
She highlighted the need to enhance the use of digital tools, for example, electronic cargo systems, tracking systems and digital payment systems to ensure that transit transport systems are sustainable.
Ms Utoikamanu also called for the roll out of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in land-locked countries.
“LLDCs by their nature are more reliant on regional and global cooperation and the AfCFTA offers an opportunity for them to be integrated into the African market,” she said.
Ms Utoikamanu also noted that corridors were central to Africa’s recovery from the pandemic and that transport and infrastructure were important for sustainable development.
Delegates looked at real-life examples from the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) and Zambia. They noted the importance of digitalisation to aid the smooth functioning of corridors for sustainable industrialisation and diversification.
They also agree that digital transformation could be a game-changer for Africa; driving innovation, economic growth and job creation.
Digital transformation is a key driving force for innovation and sustainable growth that can ensure the fourth industrial revolution transforms Africa into a global powerhouse, says Bernardo Sarmiento, the Director of the Trade Capacity Building branch of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), “Africa’s population is an opportunity to enable digital socio-economic development but digital transformation should be inclusive of all,” he said.
Dr Amani added for industrialisation to happen, African countries should invest in technology and innovations as it will promote regional integration, generate inclusive economic growth, create employment and break the digital divide.
“This will eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, ensure free movement of goods and services in the continent,” said Ms. Abou-Zeid.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa’s Minister of Communications and Telecommunications said African countries should partner to transition to the digital economy and ensure that no country and no-one is left behind because that is where the world is heading. There is no industrialisation without technology, she said.
“So far, data indicate that only a few major towns in Africa – Lagos, Cape Town, Nairobi, Cairo and Accra – are our technology hubs. This is way below the level of the other continents,” Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams said.
“To leverage ourselves with the other continents, African countries should focus on including technology skills development, trainings, data coding, and entrepreneurship.”
Bogolo Kenewendo, former minister of investment, trade and industry of Botswana, said the continent must address the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment to smoothly transition to the digital economy.
“It is important to look at digital transformation and digital economy from our indigenous knowledge systems or products if we really want to be inclusive,” she said, adding that there was a gap between policy makers, implementers and the people, which is a hindrance to smooth digital transformation for Africa.
“We do not need to invest millions in order to create innovation hubs. It does not require millions to put up structures. All that is required is a simple structure that can nurture youth start-ups and entrepreneurships.”
Ms Kenewendo said failure by African countries to work with what they have, “simply means that we are never going to deliver the fourth industrial revolution because countries think they must first be at the level of Silicon Valley.”
She said African countries should formulate and implement laws, policies and regulations required to accelerate digital transformation for national, regional and continental development.
“To implement the policies and strategies, Africa needs to invest in diverse education, STEM and ensure access to internet for all. Innovation has to meet the needs of the continent, and address cyber security,” she said, adding that there was need to create awareness on issues that affect technology, including data protection.
The Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development is being held under the theme; Africa’s sustainable industrialisation and diversification in the digital era in the context of Covid-19.