West Africa Rising: New effort to boost regional trade by fighting delays, corruption

A pilot project in Ghana and Togo aims to make intra-African trade more efficient by educating shippers about customs procedures, required documentation, and traffic rules.

West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

The disorderly main border crossing connecting Ghana and Togo is a major inconvenience for the hundreds of people who pass through it every day. But it's even worse for businesses shipping goods between the two West African countries. The border costs time, when trucks are delayed, and it costs money, when officials demand bribes.

But Borderless West Africa, an organization focused on removing trade barriers in the region, is trying to improve the situation by setting up new border information centers. There, truck drivers can educate themselves about procedures and their rights and to assist them to cross the borders more efficiently.

The two information centers, opened last week on both sides of the Ghana-Togo border, offer information for truck drivers on customs procedures, required documentation for goods and vehicles, and traffic rules and regulations.

The effort is a pilot project and will be monitored throughout the year by Borderless, which is comprised of a network of NGOs and private and public sector players, such as USAID and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). If the project successfully reduces the average time that trucks transporting goods spend at border checkpoints, Borderless plans to replicate it at border crossings throughout West Africa.

Trade between West African nations remains limited, despite the fact that ECOWAS established a Trade Liberalization Scheme that allowed for free flow of goods and people across West African borders more than 20 years ago. At the launch of the information centers. Alfred Braimah, the Director of Private Sector Directorate of the ECOWAS Commission, said that trade between countries in the region remained low, between 11 and 15 percent.

Transport costs in West Africa are among the highest in the world. This, when coupled with the prevalence of bribery along major transit corridors, is believed to be the foremost factor inhibiting international trade in the region.

Joe Lamport, the Outreach Coordinator of West Africa Trade Hub, says that part of the problem was the lack of familiarity with – and lack of access to – customs legislation and regulations by customs officials in West African countries.

“If officials do not know the rules and regulations and people transporting goods don’t then it is just a recipe for corruption,” he says.

The project is built on the back of research by the West Africa Trade Hub, an organization that is part of Borderless, into the causes of road delays. The research, which has been ongoing since 2007, involves the surveying of documented truck drivers who have adhered to the regulations. Drivers provide the researchers with the number of times they have been stopped at police, customs, gendarmerie, and other official bodies, and the amount of money in bribes they have been required to pay. Borderless is currently monitoring road corridors throughout Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Togo.

According to the Borderless website where it posted the group's latest quarterly report, bribe costs are "very slightly" down 2 percent since the end of last year, "but remain excessive as a legal truck pays 100 USD per trip on average."

"The results show that border crossings are particularly difficult for drivers: 27% of the bribes and 42% of the delays happened at border posts," the website reports. "Efforts focusing on simplifying procedures and eliminating corruption at the borders will have high impact."

On average, the highest amount of bribes and delays per 100 kilometers were recorded in Cote d’Ivoire, with an average of $21.44 paid in bribes, and 33 minutes of delay, followed by Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Ghana. Ghana and Togo recorded relatively low averages of delays and bribes, with the average delay being about 17 minutes and the average bribe around $2.10 in Ghana and $3.34 in Togo.

The president of the West African Chamber of Commerce, Wilson Atta Krofah, praised the initiative.

West African nations “are good at exporting across the world, if only we could be as good at trading with each other,” he said. “We believe that trade between West African countries will encourage economic growth, and this will take us a long way in encouraging trade across borders.”

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