Civil society Borderless advocacy leading to lower transport costs

Sunday, March 6 2011

By Kwasi Osei Kusi

About six months ago, tomato traders in Togo bitterly lamented paying almost $200 in bribes as trucks hauled the produce from the north of the country to Lome, the capital. Bribes have not disappeared, but the traders are crediting the Borderless advocacy campaign implemented by civil society in the country for making serious inroads on the problem.

Civil society in Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Togo are partners to Borderless.
Civil society in Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Togo are partners to Borderless.

“We used to pay (about $200) in bribes to get tomatoes from Dapaong (northern Togo) to Lome, but now we’re only paying about $60,” said the head of women’s tomato traders syndicate in Togo. 

For the traders, this means lower costs and fewer delays to convey goods from farm to market. They can buy more tomatoes as a result, meaning more income for farmers. And they lose significantly less produce to spoilage as the trucks travel south.
 

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“We spend less time negotiating because the amounts involved in illegal payment demand are less than before,” the trader explained.
 
These are the fruits of the Borderless campaign led in Togo by MECAP, a civil society organization that received a grant from the USAID Trade Hub to implement activities.
 
Borderless events continue to raise awareness across West Africa. A complete calendar is available here.
 
According to stakeholders, two major factors contributed to the campaign’s success: political will and stakeholders’ increasing demand for training in legal trucking (legal trucks are much less likely to be harassed for bribes). 
 
MECAP met twice with a parliamentary committee that oversees Economic and National Development (the committee is made up of five national parliamentarians and two ECOWAS parliamentarians) also in charge of transport issues. The committee invited MECAP to present on road governance status in Togo at a plenary session of parliament. Following various meetings, the parliamentarians committed to implement legislation facilitating efficient road transport. 
 
Togo parliamentarians’ case is a typical example of political will at a high level, a crucial step for driving change. Under the campaign, the desire for change is real—not only with parliamentarians. Over 200 female members of the two major vegetable importers’ unions are also now demanding changes in road governance. 
 
MECAP’s efforts are part of a regional advocacy strategy to make transporting goods in West Africa more efficient and to remove barriers to trade. 
 
“Civil society has an important role to play in the governance debates occurring across West Africa,” explained USAID Transport Director Niels Rasmussen. “They are informed participants in every country, with important contributions to make on the road governance issues affecting trade and investment.” 
 
MECAP is one of four civil society organizations that received USAID Trade Hub grants to support advocacy campaigns in Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Togo. 
• In Senegal, two CSOs are working at the grassroots level to build alliances capable of putting pressure on authorities to improve road governance, and training journalists to better understand road harassment issues and how to combat them. 
• In Ghana, a CSO, consisting of a team of lawyers, is following up with customs and the Bureau of National Investigation on corruption cases. 
• In Mali, a CSO is working with transport administration and private sector stakeholders to remove checkpoints. 
 
The advocacy campaign is gaining traction and building momentum. 
 
“Togolese authorities are more receptive to advocacy efforts to improve road governance than they were in the first campaign,” said Celestino Amouzo, MECAP’s program manager. “Before, it was difficult to meet authorities; now they will meet us within a week’s notice.” 
 
At a strategy session in Lomé to evaluate the advocacy campaign and to discuss the future of transport advocacy in Togo, the Ministry of Commerce, NGOs, parliamentarians, media, truckers and traders’ syndicates said they were better informed of road harassment issues. Livestock traders’ union, inspired by the testimonies of the onion and tomato traders, asked, “why isn’t MECAP training livestock traders?” 
 
Traders now have some degree of recourse, which they did not have before. In one instance, a tomato trader was asked by the local government and the Dapaong mayor to pay “tax.” Knowing that she had all the documents she needed, and the “tax” was illicit, she called MECAP at midnight. After MECAP spoke with the officials, they let her go without paying any sum. In all, MECAP trained 825 transport actors and 145 traders. 
 
Though MECAP has made significant inroads in the transport sector, “the gains are not sustainable without continued and sustained advocacy to put pressure on lawmakers to enforce legislation,” said Mathias Hlomodor of the Drivers Union Alliance in Togo, USYCORT (Union de Syndicat de Conducteurs Routiers du Togo). 
 
MECAP plans to establish a corridor monitoring project to keep customs, gendarmerie and police accountable. Stakeholders are willing to partner with MECAP in this process through a transport advocacy network. The stakeholders are taking the lead, and they want to form an alliance that will ensure that MECAP’s gains do not erode, but are sustained so that a truly Borderless West Africa can be achieved.
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