Time for Pan-African Trade to Flow Across all the 54 African Countries

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African countries don’t buy products from each other as much as they should be doing. A new economic pan-Africanism should rise like a bright sun whose light cannot be stopped.

On May 8th 1996, Thabo Mbeki, the then Deputy President of South Africa, gave one of the most memorable speeches on pan-Africanism.

He began his speech by unfolding his fingers, casting an intense look at his audience and declaring three simple and powerful words, “I am an African.” He paused, allowing applause to flow through the room like the Zambezi River, then continued, “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.”

The then President Nelson Mandela, the one man that the entire continent looks at as their very own, was looking on like a proud father As Thabo Mbeki uttered those words. I am an African. I am also an African. My passport may recognize me as a Kenyan but my genes recognize me as an African.

55Dazzling Maasai Sandals from KenyaIt makes sense that Thabo Mbeki used natural resources to emphasize his African being.  Indeed, transboundary natural resources are scattered all over Africa. These resources transcend boundaries, and are not restricted by them. Think of Zambezi River, Africa’s fourth longest river. It begins its epic journey in the wetlands of Mwinilunga District of north-western Zambia. Before its journey ends in the Indian Ocean, the Zambezi powers through Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

In 2018 and 2019, I had a first-hand experience of Africa’s border-defying transboundary resources and immense pan-African potential.  During this period, I was the Coordinating Lead Author of a historic United Nations Environment Programme’s Youth Publication known as Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) for Youth, Africa: A Wealth of Green Opportunities. You can download the book in the link below:

(https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/report/global-environment-outlook-youth-africa).

More than one hundred young African writers, photographers and reviewers from at least thirty African countries contributed to this Publication.

This experience of producing this Publication proved that it is possible for Africans to follow the example of the Zambezi plus other great African rivers and unify efforts across borders. Our national borders should only exist in maps, not in our minds. After all, we are all Africans.

In 2005 when I was still in my twenties, I was consumed by a desire to be part of the solution, not the problem. That year, I founded Sasafrica Productions, a company whose vision was to ‘unveil Africa.’ Together with a team of nearly 30 staff and associates, we wanted to showcase to the world and to fellow Africans the beauty of Africa. We did these through short films acted by young talented actors from Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum. In later years, Sasafrica Productions integrated other media into its African storytelling quest. We began helping clients to use audio, poetry, short stories, book writing and strategic communications in their storytelling. Being a writer myself, I even travelled to Nigeria for three months to research on and write a book about one of the early founders of the Young Women Christian Association in Nigeria.

I later travelled to nearly twenty African countries, which left me with a much deeper appreciation of Africa’s common heritage and shared future. It is because of this that in 2017, I founded Sasafrica.Shop, an E-commerce website that prides itself as Africa’s first ever online marketplace for African products. The goal is to ensure the extensive sale of African products on the global market and within Africa.

I am convinced that for our shared African future to be much brighter, we need to trade a lot more with each other. It is a shame that many African countries trade more with their former colonial masters than with fellow African countries. Although Africa produces far fewer industrialized goods than the West, we are overflowing with millions of cultural, ornamental, fashion and agricultural products that we can sell to each other. Such are the products that Sasafrica.Shop is showcasing, thus opening a regional and global market for the greatly talented craftsmen and craftswomen who make them.

If it is made in Africa; if it depicts the soul of Africa; if it oozes the passion of Africans; if it is handcrafted by talented African hands; you will find it at Sasafrica.Shop. A good example of high quality African products that are becoming popular across the continent are the Kenyan produced Maasai Sandals, also known as Swahili sandals. These sandals are a fusion of real leather and elaborately handwoven beadwork. They are mostly made in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and Malindi, a coastal city. Through Sasafrica.Shop, we have been able to sell these sandals to USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and other European countries. Ironically, it initially proved difficult to sell the sandals to fellow African countries due to the high air shipping charges.

Fortunately, earlier this year, we discovered parcel delivery trucks and vans that travel all the way from Kenya to South Africa. Drivers of these trucks and vans are the unsung Ankara Jeans Rucksack 5Ankara Rucksack from Kenyaheroes of trade within Africa.  They endure long days and nights on the road, cumbersome border agents and unpredictable weather, to deliver goods to countries in eastern and southern Africa. Because their charges are quite affordable, it has now become possible for us to ship maasai sandals, Ankara bags, Rwandan uduseke basket, brass jewelry and other African products to countries like Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Our goal is for great African products from those Southern African countries to also take full advantage of the East African market.  The more these products reach a wider market on the continent, the more the people who are on the value chain of their production will benefit economically.

Although the distance between Nairobi, Kenya and Windhoek, Namibia, is 4,000 kilometers, this shouldn’t stop entrepreneurs from the two countries from trading with each other. We are therefore making it possible for traders in Namibia to buy Kenyan products like the maasai sandals, then sell them within Namibia. In the same vein, even Namibians who just want to buy and use them without necessarily selling them, should be able to do so at the click of a button. Either way, distance between African countries should not be a barrier for trade between people from those countries.

Time is ripe for economic pan-Africanism to take root and flourish. Thankfully, African policy makers are finally catching up with African traders who have been trading across borders for centuries. The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is committing African countries to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods. Our presidents should prioritize the operationalizing of this historic agreement so that Africans can trade freely. If that happens, Africa’s market of over 1 billion consumers and a total GDP of over $3 trillion will turn Africa into the largest free trade area in the world!

We are therefore going to begin highlighting which African countries have operationalized AfCFTA, and which ones are dragging their feet.

But we are not going to just sit and wait for policy makers. Instead, we choose to follow the example of Zambezi River and ensure that amazing African products can flow all the way from Eastern Africa to Southern Africa. More than that, awesome African products from each of the continent’s 54 countries should be able to be sold freely and easily all across the continent.

At Sasafrica.Shop, we are committed to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.

David John Bwakali, Sasafrica CEO

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