On May 17, 2023 in Juba, South Sudan the 3rd LAPSSET Ministerial Council Meeting was kicked off with the theme; “Fast tracking LAPSSET implementation for Peace, Growth, Sustainable Development and Regional Integration”.
At the three- day ministerial council meeting attended by ministers and senior officials from Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan pledged to establish a coordinating structure to accelerate infrastructure projects along the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor. Similarly, the state representatives committed to operationalizing a Steering Committee and Technical Committee to ensure coordinated implementation of corridor projects in the three countries.
Cognizant of the opportunity that LAPSSET presents for regional integration and increased trade in the eastern and Horn of Africa area, Capital’s Groum Abate reached out to Adeyinka Adeyemi (@yadeyemi), a Senior Adviser at ECA’s African Trade Policy Center, Regional Integration and Trade Division, for an exclusive insight on the mega project.
Adeyinka, who also works on matters AfCFTA policy advocacy and customs coordination, to enhance trade facilitation in Africa, drew comparisons between the corridor and its correlation with AfCFTA and further shed light on how to deal with the various challenges to implementing such grand projects. The following are excerpts from the candid interview;
Capital: What are the objectives of LAPSSET and how does it relate with the AfCFTA?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport , or in short, LAPSSET Corridor Project, is an infrastructure project dedicated to interconnecting the East African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. This project is aimed at promoting regional integration and economic growth.
On the continental front, the AfCFTA is geared towards eliminating barriers to trade in Africa with the aim to significantly boost intra-Africa trade, particularly trade in value-added production and trade across all sectors of Africa’s economy.
With regards to co-relation, the LAPSSET is a good catalyst for the AfCFTA in that the infrastructure development will promote the achievement of the AfCFTA while the inter connectivity will enhance movement of goods and services. In addition, the more trade and interaction that any country has with another, the more the security and peace is upheld and maintained by the trading countries amongst each other. And as we all know, peace and stability is a great propagator of economic growth. Generally, you want your customer to do well so he can buy more from you. Therefore, as we say, you don’t kill your customers. The result is peace and security, which, in turn, enhances more trade.
Capital: What are the potential challenges that may arise from this integration? How can it be solved?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: Among the top challenges that we face include adequate political will. For instance, even if we have the will from our leaders, you have to ask yourself, do we have a system in place that can activate and actualize the will of our leaders? Leaders can sign and approve, but the cascading of that will to the various Ministries and mid level people remains to be fully capitalized on, and that is one area that needs looking into.
Secondly, the corridor infrastructure is very, very expensive. The project is meant to link the three states via rail, airports, seaports, roads, digital cities and oil pipelines and is overall a multibillion dollar project. When the LAPSSET started, I think it was around 25 billion dollars and is now projected closer to 40 billion. This is huge, and no country in Africa directly has the resources lying around to fund it, and thus requires outside private investment. This is one reason our ministers, during the 2nd ministerial meeting in Addis Ababa, June 2021, asked us to form the LAPSSET Business Council.
As part of the coping mechanism or solution, it is crystal clear that we have to lure investors on the project of this magnitude. As you know investors chase after business opportunity and profit and thus they will invest in infrastructure, not for the love of the three countries but for the interest of making profit. So attracting investors is integral, provided they align with the local regulations.
The other aspect that is critical is the availability of technical knowledge via public private sector cooperation and engagement. That is one reason the UN Economic Commission for Africa spearheaded the LAPSSET Business Council to facilitate the participation of the private sector in the implementation of the corridor programme. The LAPSSET Business Council brings together representatives from the private sectors of Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan as the premier advocacy arm and platform for private sector cooperation and engagement in order to accelerate the implementation of the project’s expected outcomes including seamless connectivity, new jobs and a transformative infrastructure.
Capital: How can the LAPSSET or AfCFTA contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: SDG number nine encompasses three important aspects of sustainable development: infrastructure, industrialization and innovation. These projects as stated earlier are interlinked in spurring SDG- 9.
For instance, the LAPSSET Corridor Programme has been adopted as an African Union project and has been redesigned to link the Lamu port on the eastern African Coast of the Indian Ocean to Douala port in the central Africa Atlantic Ocean through a land bridge. The ambition is to then connect with the Apapa Port in Lagos, Nigeria from where we will have access to the Lagos-Abidjan corridor and the over 400 million people along that corridor.
The adoption as a Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI) means it is now under the African Union (AU) and further elevates the project’s status to attract foreign direct investment and other financiers compared with its status during the launch in 2012. It also means LAPSSET implementation is routinely reported to the heads of states coordinating committee in the framework of AUDA/NEPAD during the AU Assembly. It will, therefore be important to the realization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Since the project will comprise roads, railways, ports, pipelines and special economic zones, it is evident that it will contribute greatly towards the SDG 9.
Capital: Can you give us an example of regional successful integration?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: Well a great example would be that of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which over the years has strengthened socio- economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation of southern African states.
SADC continues to facilitate trade and financial liberalization, as well as establish competitive and diversified industrial development, to increase investment, and eradicate poverty in the subregion. Another successful one is the Econ omic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has a robust dispute resolution mechanism and, for example, a single passport for all citizens of ECOWAS. Thus visa is not required and the right of movement of persons, goods and services is respected. ECOWAS has also been working on a common currency in its member States.
Similarly for the AfCFTA, countries should be competitive in that they must work in tandem with each other to promote such liberalization. In commerce, there are certain questions that are basic for seamless trade. Questions, such as: Can I come to the country to register and start business? Can I import or export to that country? Can I establish a residence? Will the banks let me open my account for my business? These are questions underpinning implementation and success. But we must not be afraid of them, even if we don’t have all the answers right now. The AfCFTA is like a new house, until it starts raining you don’t know where it is leaking. So when we fully implement it we will know what works and areas to improve upon. You don’t stop building the house because the roof might leak during the rains.
Capital: What is the time line for the implementation of LAPSSET?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: It’s not easy to give a timeline for completion of projects that cost 30 or 40 billion dollars because these are budgets that have to be raised by members, by the countries. No country in Africa has $40 billion hanging around or even $10 billion hanging around saying let me build these bridges, let me build these ports. So, what countries are doing is prioritizing projects that can integrate more and enhance trade.
Of course in Africa, there are greater priorities in health, education, food security and all that where resources are channeled appropriately, thus such financial colossal projects may not fall within immediate priorities. But if you consider the multiplier effects, these projects can help countries achieve their targets in health, education and food security.
For instance, trade experts, business executives, and advocates of the AfCFTA from across the continent have expressed concerns about the slow progress on the ratification of the Protocol on the movement of persons. This is critical for a successful AfCFTA. How do you promote free trade if people can’t move across borders? Why should we build mass transborder transit infrastructure if Africans can travel freely? For instance, forty-seven countries have deposited their instrument of AfCFTA ratification, but only four have ratified the Protocol on the movement of people.
Pushing for free movement can be a catalyst in speeding up the timelines of LAPSSET. The three states need to work on the bilateral relations and harness those relations for a seamless program implementation. We also ought to push for compatibility of currencies to transact commerce with ease. Happily, Afreximbank has the Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) and ECOBANK is in 37 countries, availing businesses the opportunity to do international business in local currencies. These can do until we develop a common African currency.
Capital: Instability and corruption is lagging projects behind. How can these issues be solved?
Adeyinka Adeyemi: Corruption in any situation is dealt with by responding to it, that is, by making sure that there are adequate laws, and making sure that people don’t get away with crimes. Making sure that you teach people the lesson that if you do it, no matter how highly placed you are, you will be punished if you’re guilty and will eventually serve time behind bars.
In many contexts, if you live above your means, the society will pay attention. Somebody will report you to say this man is a civil servant, how did he manage to buy this brand new Mercedes Benz for example. So these are the multiple mechanisms many countries use, that is, investigating, monitoring, and punishing, to abolish corruption. So you just need to scale this up across Africa and make sure that it is blind. It is not going to say: Oh, it is Mr. X, therefore let’s just excuse him because he is important. It has to be blind, it has to be effective, and it has to be applied liberally and fairly among everybody.
Instability, particularly political instability, is attributed to many reasons. In Africa, instability arises due to ethnic rivalries. We did a study some years ago on elections and the management of diversity in Kenya. This was just before the problem with the election. And most of the things we touched on were that when you have a multiethnic society there are ways to handle it, to devolve power and bring everyone in, without causing strife. When you want to create diversity, you ought to make sure that there is diversity in representation. This will lead to people knowing that they have a voice outlet. These are the basic elements that will cement society. So if you don’t make people feel like they are heard or listened to, they will feel excluded which will lead to conflict and eventually instability.
Therefore, to stop the instability you have to work backwards and listen to what the people are saying. Countries ought to govern with fairness, equity and inclusiveness. Of course, I am not saying lock up three million people in one room so you can show inclusivity. I am saying make sure there is proper representation across the citizens of the particular country.
Africans are entrepreneurs by nature. If you do not have the environment to pursue your daily business, you become dependent on government’s policy and good intentions. Most Africans don’t want to be in this sort of space People want to sell their thing, make money, send their children to school, access hospitals, and so on. Now, if there is darkness for 15 hours daily, and these activities are disrupted, then people begin to think and their government. But most people don’t want to think about government, they just want to do their jobs, make legitimate money. That is the irony. One measure of whether a government is working may be the extent to which people carry on their daily activities without even thinking about government. Because the environment is conducive. One can say, personally I just want to live life as an independent person, working, making money, paying my taxes, doing what I’m supposed to do. I don’t need to know how electricity is generated. I don’t want to know the science. I don’t want to know how corrupt people are apprehended; only that they are. I don’t want to know all of this stuff. But what do I owe my society? I ought to support through loyalty understanding, and by paying my taxes.
Of course there is no magic bullet to these problems. We need to collectively work to have African solutions to African problems.