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Falling Customs Revenue Worries African Countries

FILE - A Congolese policewoman and customs officials secure the gate barriers at their border crossing point with Rwanda in Goma town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 29, 2013.
Officials from Francophone Africa say plummeting customs revenue could lead to severe financial difficulties and slow development. Cross-border trade and the usual taxes it generates have taken a serious hit because of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Boko Haram activities in Nigeria,and the persistent crisis in the Central African Republic.

The drop in customs revenue, caused by conflict, piracy and terrorism, is a growing problem for governments across West and Central Africa.

At a meeting this week in Yaounde, organized by the Global Forum on Transparency, officials said the Central African Republic has lost nearly all of the $6 million is usually receives from customs dues.

They said other countries in the region, such as Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Chad, and Sudan, have lost up to 40 percent of their customs revenue.

Some of the loss stems from an increase in illegal or undocumented trade; some of it comes from a loss in trade across borders, as violence makes travel dangerous or difficult.

Epeh Nkongho, who works in surveillance for Cameroon's customs agency, says governments need to take action or face the loss in revenue and a failure to meet development goals.

"You will hear of threats coming from terrorists acts [groups] like Boko Haram. We know of the maritime pirates. We must make sure that we control our borders to make sure that all this illicit trade does not happen," said Nkongho.

He says customs officers need to be empowered to be able to face their new challenges.

"It is really not a matter of arms, it is a matter of intelligence. We need to carry on cooperation with the other forces of defense to have information on how they [terrorists] operate. Even though we have the arms, that is not the tactic or the strategy to counter some of this crimes," he said.

Cameroon Finance Minister Alamine Ousman Mey says customs departments in Africa should work together to stop terrorist movements from harming their economies.

He says it is important to improve surveillance, strategic information sharing and transparency and track down those who decide to disrespect laws and adds that it should be done in a transparent manner.

The most serious problem raised during this week's meeting in Yaounde is the rise of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Data from the International Maritime Bureau shows about 1,000 seafarers and fishermen were attacked by pirates armed with guns or knives in the gulf last year.