Senior Vice President; Markets, at MTN Group, Ebenezer Twum Asante has told African leaders that their insistence on placing the sovereignty of their individual countries over and above the integration of the continent is inimical to the progress of Africa and it must stop.
His words were very emphatic and direct – “the tyranny of sovereignty must give way for borderless trade in Africa to lift”.
He was speaking during the maiden panel session at the second edition of the Africa Prosperity Dialogue jointly organized by the Africa Prosperity Network (APN) and 3i Africa on the broad theme “Delivering Prosperity in Africa: Produce, Add Value, Trade.”
The topic for the maiden panel session was “Doing Business Differently – Integrate Africa”.
Eben Asante noted that whereas AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement) has set the tone for intra-Africa trade to be accelerated, there still exist some country-specific policies, laws and regulations that stand in the way of continental level protocols and therefore impedes smooth and borderless trade.
He sees those country-specific elements as representative of leaders’ desire to hold on to their territorial sovereignty at the expense of the common interest of the entire continent, saying that, that is tyrannical.
Eben Asante noted that history shows that other regions around the world have been able to capture top value from global trade because they understood and took advantage of the paradigm shift that resulted from major crisis, be it the mass trade era or the industrial revolution.
According to him, the COVID crisis and the current geopolitical challenges, are also drivers of a shift in trade and Africa must take advantage of the opportunities it presents, particularly in the areas of sustainability and digitalization to gain top value from global trade.
On the issue of digitalization and how the tyranny of sovereignty is standing in the way, he explained that the global shift that resulted from COVID and the ongoing geopolitical issues have made technology/digitalization critical to the effort at gaining top value from global trade.
He said African governments need to understand that technology breaks down borders and if Africa must benefit fully from that potential, taking advantage of fintech, there is a need for African leaders to rethink their insistence on sovereignty.
He asked with a very punchy voice “take e-commerce for instance, why is that I sit in Ghana and I cannot transfer money to Nigeria and I cannot receive money from Nigeria, all because everyone says money can come in but money cannot go out?
“The tyranny of sovereignty must give way and we must break the borders for Africa trade to lift,” he said.
The MTN Group Senior VP, Markets noted that one main reason countries put impediments in the way of intra-Africa e-commerce is because, for 99% of those transactions, tax collectors are unable to trace value in terms of taxes. But he believes tax collectors need to get their act together and put the necessary measures in place to tax those transactions, instead of putting impediment on borderless trade.
Speaking of breaking the borders, Eben Twum Asante noted that African states should have granted visa-free entry to each other 20 years ago, but better late than never. Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has promised to do that from this year, and Eben Asante thinks all African countries must follow suit.
Eben Twun Asante noted that there is global focus on sustainability, which now makes that sector a trillion dollar one, and there is a big case for Africa to gain massively from sustainability if only “we position ourselves strategically”.
He explained that global trade and investment today is a question of sustainability and carbon trading. The world is focused on how to create carbon footprints by engaging in production/manufacturing/processing activities in a way that cuts down on carbon emissions.
According to Eben Asante, there is no better case for sustainability than to ensure that factories are built closer to the source of raw materials, instead of transporting raw materials across borders and oceans for processing and reshipment across the world for sale, all of which emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
He said is therefore time for Africa to get off the narrative of the West on sustainability and begin to make a strong case for cocoa processing factories, agro-processing factories, precious minerals processing factories and more to be relocated to Africa where the raw materials are to ensure sustainability.
“We need to begin to have serious conversations with the West on what they need us to put in place to ensure that they relocate their factories here because we already have the raw materials. When we begin to do that Africa will be on its way to be a leader in carbon trade in the next 20 to 30 years,” he said.
The Africa Prosperity Dialogue is a three-day event being attended by former Africa presidents, government officials, policymakers as well as captains of industry from across the continent.
Other interesting topics to be discussed during the dialogue include, ‘Critical Enablers for Single Market Success – Leveraging Infrastructure, Innovation and Technology’; ‘Scaling Up Mobile Interoperability to Deepen Financial Inclusion and Intra-African Trade’ and ‘Building Africa’s Single Market – The two-way Expectations and Responsibilities of Business and Political Leaders’.
As part of the event, there will also be Presidential Gala Dinner and the Africa Prosperity Champions Awards to be hosted by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the Kempinski Gold Coast Hotel in Accra.