French Customs seizes massive 136 kilos of ivory

Illicit IvoryFrench customs officials said they had intercepted 136 kilos of ivory shipped from the Democratic Republic of Congo en route to Vietnam — the biggest haul in nearly a decade.

Officials at Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport found a dozen elephant tusks chopped into 37 pieces hidden in cases under aluminium plates, possibly to confuse scanners.

The haul is the biggest seized by French customs officials since December 2006, when 600 kilos of “white gold” was uncovered.

“This is a sadly typical case,” said airport customs official Sebastien Tiran. There’s one thing that never goes out of fashion and that’s ivory,” he told AFP.

There were “several criteria” that alerted officials to the possibility of smuggling, he explained. “The route, what is declared, documents linked to the declaration.”

Ivory ornaments are coveted in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China, and activists say Africa’s wild elephants are being pushed to extinction by the trade. Source: Customs Today

DRC – Tale of woe as Customs System brings Trade to a Halt!

Kasumbalesa1Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) border post with Zambia, one of Africa’s busiest land frontiers, went high-tech, with a web-based customs system that was meant to improve efficiency and eradicate corruption. It’s not quite working to plan. As officials struggle to get to grips with the new system and DRC’s decrepit phone network groans under the weight of data, the Kasumbalesa border post 300 km (200 miles) north of Lusaka has almost ground to a halt, according to drivers and freight operators. The result is a tailback of trucks stretching at least 20 km into Zambia and a spike in prices in Lubumbashi, impoverished DRC’s second city, which has lost its one proper road link to the outside. The bottleneck is bad even by African standards but it throws into stark relief the problems governments face as they try to remove the numerous bureaucratic and physical barriers to intra-regional trade across the poorest continent.

The Kasumbalesa blockage is being felt 100 km away in Lubumbashi, a bustling mining city of several million who rely on the 450 trucks a day that normally pass through the border laden with everything from biscuits to cement to paraffin. Shop owners are stockpiling and prices of staples such as casava powder – known locally as fufu – have gone up 50 percent in three weeks. “This has already had a big effect. It is causing lots of problems for the population,” Lubumbashi resident Charles Pitchou said.

Kasumbalesa – at the heart of the relatively prosperous and developed Copperbelt – was meant to be an example of how to do it properly, a frontier handed over to a private firm to make customs run like clockwork.

In one of the first public-private partnerships on African borders, an Israeli-run firm called Baran Trade and Investments won a 20-year concession in 2009 to build a “one-stop” customs post and operate it for 20 years. (Makes one wonder why the countries have a Customs authority in the first place?) With $5 million of Baran’s own money and a $20 million loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Zambia Border Crossing Company (ZBCC), as the subsidiary was known, had a streamlined Kasumbalesa up and running in 2011. Local media reports suggested much-reduced crossing times. However, Lusaka canceled ZBCC’s contract in late 2011 when President Rupiah Banda lost an election and his successor, Michael Sata, ordered investigations into a slew of state deals struck by his predecessor. TheBaran deal never went out to public tender and the fees charged to trucks – $19 per axle – were too high. It also said giving control of the border to an outside concessionaire was a threat to national security and that the reduction in waiting times was not as dramatic as the firm said. Baran’s chief executive, contacted via ZBCC’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.

With Baran gone, the state-run border posts muddled through until September, when DRC upgraded its systems from ‘Sydonia++’, a set-up widely used in the 1990s, to a web-based successor called ‘Sydonia World’, freight operators and regional trade experts said. Although UNCTAD was pushing use of ‘Sydonia World’ as far back as 2002, the data burden was too much for DRC’s computer networks, which crashed.

“The system is very good but if you don’t have a decent Internet connection, it doesn’t work,” said Mike Fitzmaurice, a South African logistics consultant and editor of online trade journal Freight Into Africa. National government spokesman Lambert Mende said a vice finance minister had been despatched from Kinshasa, 1,500 km away, to resolve the problem.

Zambia too is pulling out the stops to get the border moving again in a region important to its economy. “We need to have a normal flow of goods and services because this affects the entire region,” deputy trade minister Miles Sampa told Reuters. One stop-gap solution has been to scan documents in low-resolution black-and-white, rather than full color, to ease the data burden. But even if the two sides iron out the immediate snafu, the fiasco has provided another example of the dream of a seamless, integrated African border crossing falling short of reality.

Zimbabwe and Zambia upgraded their Chirundu border to a one-stop frontier in 2009 but crossing times have only dropped from 38 hours before to 35 now, according to Fitzmaurice, who compiles weekly records on delays. By contrast, customs clearance within the 114-year-old Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland – can be as little as 30 minutes. “Once you go north of SACU, into Zimbabwe, Zambia, wherever, there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ border post,” Fitzmaurice said. “The concept behind all these systems is good but the implementation just falls down every time.” Source: Lusaka Voice

Beira – Zimbabwe road to be rebuilt by China

A truck leaves the border post at Machipanda to drive down the Beira Corridor, which links the port of Beira to Zimbabwe. This has always been a strategically crucial route for trade in Southern Africa. (The Guardian)

The Mozambican government intends to invest $400 million in the full rehabilitation of the road from the port of Beira to Machipanda, on the border with Zimbabwe.

Minister of Public Works, Cadmiel Muthemba, announced the rehabilitation of the road, which is about 300 kilometres long, will begin in February 2014. The finance is a loan from the Chinese export-import bank (Exim Bank).

Muthemba said that the road will be substantially widened. Along its entire length the road will be at least a four-lane highway, and in places, such as the approaches to Beira, it will have six lanes.

“The road will have roundabouts at particularly busy areas, such as the Inchope crossroads (where the road meets Mozambique’s main north-south highway), Chimoio city, and the towns of Gondola and Manica”, said the Minister.

Along some stretches the road will be elevated, notably along the Pungue flats. This is where the current road runs alongside the Pungue River. When the Pungue bursts its banks, which happens frequently during Mozambican rainy seasons, the road is swamped, and sometimes the flooding is serious enough to interrupt traffic to and from Zimbabwe.

Raising the road above the level of the river will be expensive, but will ensure that traffic flows in all weathers.

The Beira-Zimbabwe road will be farmed out for maintenance to a private company, which will charge motorists through toll gates.

So far, the only major road in the country with toll gates is the Maputo-South Africa motorway, operated by the South African company Trans-Africa Concessions (TRAC).

At the moment, the Beira-Zimbabwe road is in a poor and dangerous condition. In order to avoid gaping potholes, motorists frequently cross into the opposite lane, risking collisions with vehicles gong in the other direction. Emergency repairs between Beira and Inchope, which should have been finished in mid-April, are months behind schedule, and the Sofala provincial government is considering cancelling the contracts with the companies concerned.

The road is of key importance to the trade, not only of Zimbabwe, but of other landlocked southern African countries, including Zambia, Malawi and even parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The road that branches off the Beira-Zimbabwe highway at Tica and leads to the district of Buzi, will be tarred, Muthemba announced. This is budgeted at $150 million, and the money will come from the Indian Eximbank. Work on the Tica-Buzi road will begin this year.

But Muthemba lamented that there was no money available to rehabilitate the road from Inchope to Caia, on the south bank of the Zambezi. This is a key part of the north-south highway, and it needs thorough rehabilitation.

“We aren’t sitting back with arms crossed”, said Muthemba. “With the few financial resources we have, we are working on the most critical sections, until we find the money for a complete rehabilitation”.

However, a complete rehabilitation of this road was carried out less than a decade ago. Indeed, in May 2007, the then Minister of Industry and Trade, Antonio Fernando, boasted in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, that the Inchope-Caia road, “used to be a nightmare”, but had been rebuilt to such a high standard that it resembled a racing track. Source: Mozambique News Agency

 

SA Trade Policy Goes Against Integration Tide

South African Trade & Industry Minister Rob Davies

South African Trade & Industry Minister Rob Davies

South Africa has adopted a new trade policy approach aimed at looking at its own interest first, despite a drive for more regional integration to sustain Africa’s trade growth with the rest of the world. Importers of several products have been experiencing dramatic increases in tariffs from South Africa, as well as an increase in anti dumping and safeguard measures aimed at protecting South African industries.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies this week approved the increase of tariffs on frozen poultry following an application by the local poultry industry. George Geringer, a senior manager at PwC, said regional trade relations had been put on the back burner in favour of measures to protect South African manufacturing industries against cheaper imports.

“Government realised that manufacturing as a percentage of gross domestic product has declined from about 40% to about 12% in the past 20 years,” Mr Geringer said at the 16th Africa Tax and Business Symposium hosted by PwC in Mauritius.

Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by more than 200% in the past 13 years, with optimism from the World Bank that Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, similar to that of China and India two decades ago.

A key element for Africa to sustain the trade growth is regional integration to build economies of scale and size, in order to compete with other emerging markets – but limited resources, internal conflict and the lack of a mechanism to monitor the integration process is blocking it, says trade analyst from PwC.

South Africa has been regarded as the “champion” of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc). Sadc member countries eliminate tariffs, quotas and preferences on most goods and services traded between them. The member countries include Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The assistant manager at PwC’s international trade division, Marijke Smit, said less than 10% of African nations’ trade was with each other, compared with 70% between member states of the European Union. Benefits of regional integration include increased trade flows, reduced transaction costs, and a regulatory environment for cross-border networks to flourish. Ms Smit said an unsupportive business environment and cumbersome regulatory framework, weak productive capacity, inadequate regional infrastructure, poor institutional and human capacity, and countries’ prioritising their own interests stood in the way of integration.

Mr Geringer referred to the new action plan endorsed by leaders from the African Union in January last year. The plan will see the creation of a continental free-trade area by 2017. The enlarged free-trade area will include Sadc, the East Africa Community and the Common Market for South and East Africa (Comesa). The trade bloc will include 26 nations in three sub-regions. Source: BDLive.com

Mozambique – Huge Heroin Seizure with South African Connection

00013ee0-314The Mozambican police claims that it has seized almost 600 kilos of heroin, at Namoto, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, on the border with Tanzania.

The drugs were found on Sunday in the possession of two citizens of Guinea-Conakry, who are now under detention in the Cabo Delgado, provincial capital, Pemba. The drugs are being stored in the warehouses of the provincial attorney’s office.

According to Malva Brito, the spokesperson of the provincial police command, cited in Wednesday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”, the final destination of the heroin was South Africa.

Brito said the drug was concealed in an otherwise empty seven tonne pick-up truck. The Guineans had improvised a type of hold within the truck’s bodywork. But alerted by a strange smell and the odd size of the stowage area, the police searched the truck, and found the heroin in 118 plastic bags of about five kilos each (which is a total of 590 kilos).

When the heroin was found, the Guineans first claimed that it was fertilizer that they were taking to South Africa. When that didn’t work, they tried to bribe the frontier guards, offering them 60,000 US dollars. The bribe was not accepted.

The Guineans had started their journey in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, last Friday, and crossed Tanzania before entering Mozambique. The Toyota pick-up bore a number plate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and supposedly belongs to a Congolese named Sidiki Sano, who is resident in Mozambique. The owner of the heroin is believed to live in Johannesburg.

If the police figures are accurate, this is an enormous drugs bust. According to the United Nations, heroin was selling in South Africa in 2012 for 35 dollars a gram. So 590 kilos would sell in Johannesburg for 20.65 million dollars. Source: Mozambique News Agency (Agência de Informação de Moçambique).

Zambia – government to crack whip on crossborder smuggling

New Kasumbalesa border post facility - time to jack up cross-border security

New Kasumbalesa border post facility – time to jack up cross-border security

Copperbelt Permanent Secretary Stanfold Msichili says Government will enhance security measures to curb rampant illegal activities at Kasumbalesa Border Post which threaten public security. Mr Msichili has also directed Chililabombwe acting District Commissioner, Frank Siatwinda, to establish how Congolese managed to set up a booming trading place on the Zambian soil where assorted wares were being sold.

He said the Government would find a lasting solution to combat rampant illegal activities which threatens public security and that there were plans to engage concerned parties from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Open Market has been built on our land because of its proximity to the trading area. It will not be easy to control the situation but Government is committed to finding a long-term solution.

Mr Msichili was saddened that scrap metal from DRC, which was banned for export in that country, was being smuggled into Zambia and reloaded for onward transportation to South Africa. He’s adamant that these issues should be addressed by the police, customs and immigration because we are allowing scrap metal to pass through the country. Earlier, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Kasumbalesa Border station manager Levy Simatimbe told Mr Msichili’s delegation that illegal activities were rampant at the border with some Congolese traders at the controversial Open Market on the Zambian side selling the banned alcohol, ‘Tujilijili’.

During the tour, Kasumbalesa police assistant superintendant Anthony Mphanza said the existence of the Bilanga Township, a few metres from the Zambian side where the population of foreigners was swelling posed a security threat. The Bilanga Township may encroach the Zambian side because its population of foreigners was concentrating along the areas where there was potential for trading in essential basic commodities, like maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, timber, household items, among other items. Illegal trade in cement was becoming a huge public concern at the border. It is estimated that about five tonnes of cement was illegally sold to DRC everyday. Congolese freely come to Comesa Market at Kasumbalesa Border to sell and buy different items. They carry about 10 bags of 25 kilogrammes on a bicycle. Source: The Times (Zambia)

Rwanda-DRC Border trade feels pinch from political stand-off

Spare a thought for the informal traders in this region. The terminology is also somewhat humorous, if not ‘offensive’ to an overly liberal mind – democratic South Africans in particular.

Trade along the Rwanda-DRC border is still going strong, although with some difficulty, despite the ongoing political tensions between the two neighbors.The Rwanda Focus visited Gisenyi, from where it has been reported that several Rwandan civilians who have attempted to cross into DRC for business have allegedly been arrested and tortured.

“You can’t go in there but if you insist, then be ready to die or to be tortured by the authorities in Congo,” said Safina Mukankusi, a cross-border trader. According to locals here, anyone with links to Rwanda in form of passport, looks or language is a target for the Congolese authorities. The irony is Gisenyi is full of Congolese civilians loaded with all sorts of merchandise bought from Rwandan markets which they then carry to the DRC.

It’s also here that massive petty smuggling takes place. “There are so many ‘fat’ women around here,” said a Rwandan customs official, explaining they are stuffed with several garments in which they then hide commodities such as alcohol and sell them on the Rwandan side at a profit. “Some make more than 20 trips per da,y often smuggling a single commodity per journey… but these are poor people who are looking for a meal from their petty deals,” the official revealed. From the proceeds from smuggled goods, the Congolese then buy food and all sorts of stuff which they take back home to sell.

With the current instability however, there’s a new development. “Many Congo-men are coming to sleep here at night and go back home during day for fear of attacks,” said Fidel, a resident of Gisenyi. He says most of them sleep on the streets while others have rented some cheap houses in which they spend the night, often in groups.

Looking at the people here, it’s quite hard to imagine that their country is home to some of the world’s most valuable minerals such as gold and diamonds. Bribes and other corrupt dealings are the quickest ways to get a service done according to Rwandan traders. “Once they know you have money, they will detain you until you part with some of it, it’s mostly those that don’t have anything who are tortured,” explained Laurent Makubu, who claims he has been detained but bribed the Congolese police with $15 to secure his freedom.

While the Congolese who cross to Rwanda report no harassment, it remains a mystery why their Rwandan counterparts are the target of mistreatment on the other side. As a result, most Rwandan traders say they have resorted to using Congolese middlemen to get goods from the DRC side but at a much higher cost as the middlemen charge for their service. Source: Rwanda Focus (Kigali)