Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Improving Border Efficiency in sub-Saharan Africa: The Need to Look at ‘Beyond the Border’ Operations


Improving Border Efficiency in sub-Saharan Africa: The Need to Look at ‘Beyond the Border’ Operations

Improving Border Efficiency in sub-Saharan Africa: The Need to Look at ‘Beyond the Border’ Operations

Border posts are one of the most important nodes whose performance has a significant bearing on corridor performance, efficiency of supply chains and trade competitiveness. In sub-Saharan Africa, border posts are associated with multiplicity of government departments and agencies on either side of the border, responsible for processing exports and imports, safety, security and collection of revenues. Examples include customs, immigration, agriculture, health and security authorities who are present at almost every commercial border post. Often, there are also multiple structures (customs and clearing agents, infrastructure, security cluster and border operations oversight), inter-border committees and task teams created to coordinate operations and to facilitate resolution of bottlenecks and other efficiency constraints from time to time, when the need arises.

Border operations are affected by a plethora of challenges which in turn affect cross-border transport movements and trade flow:

  • high number of stakeholders operating at border posts which lead to significant levels of bureaucracy and duplications which contribute to border inefficiencies for example at Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe; there are departments and agencies responsible for customs, immigration, agriculture, port health, police, army, intelligence, trade and environmental affairs

  • lack of computerised and integrated customs managements systems and unharmonised customs procedures

  • inadequate capacity regarding staff compliment particularly with respect to customs and immigration

  • both vehicle and cargo inspections are conducted in silos with very little sharing of information regarding risks, if any at all.

  • inspections are mostly conducted physically due to lack of modern technology for inspections, document checking and information processing

  • infrastructure such as border approach roads, traffic lanes and parking is inadequate largely due to inherent inefficiencies which result in vehicles and cargo spending more time at border posts than necessary which increases pressure on the infrastructure.

The border challenges result in congestion, procedural delays, long transit times, lack of predictability and high logistics costs. Addressing border challenges and untangling border operations from bottlenecks has always been seen as the ultimate panacea to improving corridor performance, trade facilitation and trade competitiveness. Thus, in sub-Saharan Africa, improving border efficiency is largely focused on ‘what happens at the border’, specifically:

  • domestic and international coordinated border management aimed at improving border efficiency by border control stakeholders through improved communication, sharing of information and coordination of operations in line with World Customs Organisation (WCO) guidelines

  • WCO SMART (Secure, Measurable, Automated, Risk Management-based and Technology-driven) borders concept, aimed at facilitating legitimate trade through improve performance and utilisation of technology to improve border operations

  • WCO Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade anchored on improving customs to customs networks and customs to business partnerships

  • border management redesign and infrastructure improvement which includes implementation of One Stop Border Posts and single window systems, expansion of parking facilities and redesigning traffic circulation

  • harmonising customs procedures, modernisation of customs systems and information systems to enable data exchange

  • pre-clearance of cargo aimed at facilitating trade and reducing the release time of cargo through advance clearing of cargo before arriving at the border

  • coordination of inspections and enforcement effort by stakeholders focusing on improving information sharing regarding risks

  • introducing information technology to improve monitoring, safety and security within the border environments.

Focusing on addressing NTBs at the border is definitely important as it leads to improvement of the immediate border environment and operations at the border. However, despite significant effort aimed at improving the performance of key border posts in the region, this has not had a significant impact regarding the efficiency of corridors and trade flow as yet due to a number of possible reasons:

  • a piecemeal approach to improving border posts. This has resulted in improvements to some border posts and not all border posts in a corridor which result in shifting of bottlenecks down or up the corridor

  • inadequate implementation of interventions at border posts often due to uncoordinated planning and implementation of solutions by countries sharing a border; which could be addressed by tasking corridor management institutions to coordinate the design and implementation of corridor interventions

  • focusing on the border alone without addressing the ‘beyond the border’ issues is probably not going to yield any significant improvements to border efficiency.

The overall performance of the border is influenced by what happens at the border and before border. Focus should therefore be directed also towards beyond customs reform, improving customs systems, harmonisation of customs procedures and border infrastructure improvements. Thus, border efficiency could be significantly improved by addressing beyond the border bottlenecks which have a bearing on border performance

There are many stakeholders operating in corridors and what they do or don’t do to border-bound traffic ultimately affect border arrival times, rate of traffic flowing into the border and risks associated with what flows into the border amongst others:

  • transport regulatory authorities often determine the routes which are used by carriers and the operating times depending on the nature of cargo being transported for instance, abnormal cargo and hazardous cargo. In some countries, commercial passenger operations are guided by time tables, managed by the transport regulatory authorities; and vehicles arriving outside the time allocated are penalised. The passenger vehicles tend to arrive at the border at very close times

  • traffic and transport law enforcement in different jurisdictions stop cross border-bound vehicles at various weighbridges and corridor checkpoints to inspect vehicles, vehicle weight, check driver licenses and validity of market access authorisations. Often, they are conducted in silos and this result in significant delays to carriers. Vehicles end up arriving at order posts either when the border or customs or clearing agents have closed for the day leading to traffic accumulation at the border

  • national police and other security departments stop vehicles enroute to check for any criminal activities such as transportation of contraband and human trafficking which contributes to late arrivals at the border

  • due to bribery, corruption and underhand payments in corridors, risks which could be eliminated before vehicles arrive at border posts are unfortunately not addressed. This result in delays and congestion in the border environment once the risks are picked-up and the vehicle cannot proceed on its journey

  • road infrastructure authorities do not always maintain the network and as a result it is not always in good operating condition which again affects travel time and safety of both the vehicle and cargo; and vehicles arrive late when border is closed leading traffic pile-up

  • authorities responsible for power supply to border posts in some countries struggle to do so which affects border operations. By the time power comes back, there is already congestion at the border.

These behind the border operations and issues have a huge effect on border operations and border efficiency. It is therefore imperative to address the beyond the border issues if significant gains regarding border efficiency are to be achieved as they have bearing on traffic flow, border capacity and risk management. Improvements can be made to a number of priority intervention areas to address the issues:

  • network maintenance to predictability regarding travel time, safety and security of vehicles and cargo in transit. This will improve operational planning

  • improving regulatory aspects:

    • regarding route assignment and time tables to ensure that border arrival times are spread out

    • all vehicles used for cross-border undertakings must be fitted with tracking devices for ease of monitoring by regulatory authorities and sharing of information with border stakeholders which will improve operational planning

    • aligning information flow between regulatory authorities and the physical movement of both vehicles and cargo in corridors

  • transport regulatory risk management systems administered by regulatory authorities in collaboration with road traffic law enforcement to reduce risks associated with carriers and to ensure focused management of risks where and when they occur

  • trade risk management systems which enable advance data submission by traders or their agents to customs whilst cargo is still far from the border

  • coordinated and joint corridor law enforcement operations with a view to reduce checkpoints and road blocks whilst improving risks detection and enforcement efficiency

  • integration of weighbridges along corridors leading to the border posts to enable information sharing reading vehicles already weighed and therefore no need for weighing the vehicle again

  • eliminating bribery, corruption and illegal payments to ensure vehicles getting to border are carrying legitimate cargo

  • building robust information communication technology for traffic control, corridor visibility and monitoring to reduce need for physical interruption of traffic flow

  • Improving the business environment between transport regulatory authorities and border stakeholders targeted at integration of systems for sharing data

  • reliable and affordable power to avoid power blackouts.

The interventions will improve efficiency of various stakeholders operating outside the border environment is so far as what they do has a bearing on performance of the border. This will not only improve their effectiveness but also lead to border efficiency manifested by improved trade flows, productivity and trade competitiveness coupled with significant decline on delays, congestion and logistics costs. Improving coordination and cooperation between border stakeholders and other corridor stakeholders will be important. Thus, it is important for the agencies involved in border operations to address border inefficiencies and at the same time lobby and coordinate other stakeholders to address the beyond the border issues concurrently in order to improve border efficiency and fully reap trade facilitation benefits.


Sakyi, D and Afesorgbor, K. S. (2019) The Effects of Trade Facilitation on Trade Performance in Africa

Improving Border Management United Nations (2012) Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide, UNECE

WCO (2018) WCO Safe Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, WCO, Brussels

WCO (2008) Customs in the 21st Century: Enhancing Growth and Development through Trade Facilitation and Border Security, WCO, Brussels

About the Author(s)

Etiyel Chibira

Etiyel Chibira has over 18 years’ experience on cross-border road transport policy and regulation, regional transport systems and trade facilitation. He serves on many technical committees and working groups focusing on transport and trade facilitation in Southern Africa. Etiyel’s research has focused on corridor performance, regional transport systems, challenges affecting cross-border road transport, road safety and trade facilitation in Southern Africa. His qualifications include a BSc Honours Degree in transport studies from the University of Zimbabwe and an MSc in Project Management. Etiyel has worked in both government and private sectors and has deep understanding of the regional transport environment. He is currently working for the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency.

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