African countries weak as individuals, powerful as collectives

For Africa’s potential to be truly realised, the continent’s countries need to integrate in order to compete globally as regional collectives, rather than individual economies.

Mina Baliamoune (left) and Lyal White (right) discuss regional integration on the continent at the SWIFT African Regional Conference.

Mina Baliamoune (left) and Lyal White (right) discuss regional integration on the continent at the 2015 SWIFT African Regional Conference.

This was emphasised by Lyal White, director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He was speaking during yesterday’s panel discussion at the SWIFT African Regional Conference.

“African economies are tiny, and we need to build scale… The African market and regional entities – or even sub-regional blocs – are going to be competing in the global market, and alone they are not all that competitive. Collectively they are far more relevant.”

To achieve this, the continent’s economies need to view each other less as competitors, and more as economic partners working together towards a competitive advantage.

“Many African countries produce the same products at the same time of the year, so they become competitive with each other. These are the mindsets [that need to be changed], and there are real policies and reforms which need to take place.”

Also participating in the panel discussion was Mina Baliamoune, director of research at the African Centre for Economic Transformation. She argued that agro-processing could potentially become the continent’s strength due to the incredible amount of available arable land.

“You want a type of manufacturing that links with what Africa has. We don’t just want to start inventing products that China is already providing. We must take on things we have so that we can use our comparative advantage.”

Lowering visa requirements

While infrastructure development projects to facilitate trade are necessary for integration, White argued the biggest driver is actually enabling the movement of people. And lowering visa requirements in African countries is a lot easier to accomplish.

“It is so important and really doable. Something far quicker to achieve than these mega-projects.”

Moreover, Africans should be motivated to travel to other African markets. “And we need to encourage  travel back to South Africa, and make Africans feel welcome here,” he added in reference to the recent xenophobic attacks.

“Because the future of South Africa lies north of the Limpopo; it doesn’t lie here in [the South African] market.”

African regional blocs should also look at introducing common – or similar – education systems, and develop a standardisation of skills, continued Baliamoune.

Thus if there are too few job opportunities for a particular skill in one African country, people can easily cross borders to find employment in another.

“If we get to that stage, then Africa will be truly integrated.”