Wednesday August 8, 2018
By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
The Somali distribution networks have certain crucial elements. The most definitive have been the Somali courier and cargo services out of the Middle East and, more recently, China. FOTOSEARCH
Only 16 per cent of the recommendations from the 5th EAC Secretary General’s Forum in 2017 have been implemented, The EastAfrican reported a few days ago in a story appropriately headlined “EAC organs dragging feet on integration.”
quoted Lilian Awinja, executive director of the East African Business
Council, who said in what must have been the understatement of the week,
“These figures are worrisome.”
It raised an old
question; how did a regional bloc that has a hopeless record of official
action on integration, come to be held up as a model in Africa? To
which there are two equally old answers.
First, small steps by governments on integration in East Africa go a long way.
Second, the “invisible hand of East Africans” has been a big driver of regional integration.
Recently I made that point at a forum, and got e-mails asking me “to shed more light upon” my argument.
particular interest, apparently, was my view that if one is looking for
one thing East Africa has that other regional blocs don’t have to the
same level, it has to be the “Somali distribution networks.”
networks have certain crucial elements. There is the older transport
network, primarily trucks taking goods from Mombasa to the rest of East
Africa, Central Africa and North Africa (the Sudans). Later it went into
This network introduced a common transport and pricing logic in East Africa.
But, as demonstrated in the case of Gateway Bus, it also rewrote the rules of regional routes.
the collapse of EAC I, cross-border services like Akamba, went from
Kenya to Kampala, dropping passengers at the main towns along its path.
changed that, making it possible to ticket from Mombasa or Nairobi,
then to Mbale in eastern Uganda and up towards South Sudan – or beyond
Kampala to Rwanda.
This brought about far reaching changes in how people travelled in East Africa and how they thought about the region.
there was the money transfer, evidenced by the exploits of Dahabshiil,
which sent money to places where there was no Western Union or bank,
years before mobile money was invented in East Africa.
But perhaps most definitive have been the Somali courier and cargo services out of the Middle East and, more recently, China.
These are delivering goods to the region at speeds and prices the rest of Africa would kill for.
can be a business with outlets in Nairobi, Kampala, Dar es Salaam and
Kinshasa, and you buy goods in Shenzhen in China, give the receipt to a
Somali courier to deliver to each of your doorsteps within a week, and
they will do it.
From Somalia, they have also
modernised the smuggling operations for products like sugar. The thing
with smuggling markets, is that they are like currencies and criminals.
has been remarked that one of the reasons the US dollar is so dominant
is because it is the favourite currency of global criminal networks, and
until the euro and Chinese yuan achieve similar status, they won’t oust
If a market is attractive enough for smugglers to
invest their infrastructure in, then there is money there for legit
businesses too. That smuggling infrastructure waters the roots of the
formal EAC regional market.