From 11-22 March 2018, I am enjoying the privilege of joining the caravan of the Borderless Alliance dedicated to “sensitization and capacity-building on trade and transport facilitation” along the length of Abidjan-Lagos Corridor (ALCo). The next series of posts presents some reflections on the experience during and after the roadshow.
The Abidjan-Lagos Corridor in Context
Within the larger project for regional integration, great hopes are pinned on the various transport corridors that are being rolled out across the continent. The one that is listed as the top priority by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – and is championed by the Presidential Infrastructure Champions Initiative as well as being financed by the World Bank – is the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor (ALCo). It is, however, an unusual corridor because whereas the others run from the coastal ports to the Sahel, and typically cover two countries only, the ALC is threaded through five coastal states: namely, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. It is also unusual in that HIV/AIDS prevention was part of its rationale from the start.
The official case for the ALC corridor is that it already accounts for some 70% of intra-regional trade and that, with a population of some 35 million people living along its 1,028 km of road, it represents a vast market waiting to be tapped. The first claim needs to be interrogated more closely. In 2016, Ghana exported $1.362 billion to other ECOWAS countries, of which Burkina Faso accounted for $318.0 million and Mali another $407.8 million. Nigeria accounted for a mere $166.0 million and Côte d’Ivoire a paltry $46.4 million of Ghana exports. Benin took a further $134.6 million and Togo $155.9 million. [http://www.ecowas.int/23749-2/]. On this evidence, the corridor has mattered rather little for Ghana’s export trade which faces rather more to the Sahel.
In 2016, Nigeria exported $3.7 bn to ECOWAS countries, of which Côte d’Ivoire accounted for a much as $1.8bn, whereas Ghana accounted for $673.4 million, Benin $82.4 bn and Togo $65.2 million. On this evidence, the corridor mattered rather more for Nigeria’s trade within the sub-region. Côte d’Ivoire itself exported $3.4bn, of which Ghana was the biggest recipient at $943 million, followed by Nigeria on $764.5 million. Benin received $70.6 million and Togo $210.6 million. The exports of Benin and Togo were, of course, too small to substantially change the larger picture. Clearly, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria have traded significantly between themselves, but the puzzle is that there is rather little evidence of this on the road itself. It seems likely therefore that much of the trade is actually being conducted by sea – in the same manner that the significant trade between both of these countries and Senegal is effected. That raises the question of whether the road corridor itself is genuinely carrying the bulk of the intra-regional trade. The slippage in official discourse is that the ports are treated as if they are part of the corridor, whereas in fact they may be considered as an alternative to it – and precisely because of the multiple problems of travelling by road between Abidjan and Lagos.
The second claim about demographic weight does, however, have greater mileage in it. The heavy concentration of population along the littoral serves to create a vast regional market. Nigeria ought to be well-placed to tap into it – as indeed should Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The question, therefore, is how far states along the ALCo have demonstrated a commitment to developing the corridor. This is partly about providing the necessary infrastructure. The ambitious plan is for the construction of a three-land highway along the corridor. This already exists in sections, but it is precisely the problem of high density of population that makes it impractical to drive a large motorway through closely inhabited areas. It is also a matter of harmonizing border procedures. Although One-Stop Border Posts have been constructed at the Akanu-Noepe (Ghana/Togo) and Kraké-Seme (Benin-Nigeria) border crossings, these have remained unopened. On the face of it, therefore, each country continues to implement its own procedures without reference to its neighbour. This raises a host of other questions about what changes would need to be affected, as well as the sequencing thereof, to produce a different set of outcomes. These are some of the issues that have been uppermost in my mind as have I set out to ride the corridor from one end to the other