Unity across the greater Horn of Africa has long been a cherished but elusive objective.
But with the recent opening of the Moyale One Stop Border Post, there is renewed impetus to establish closer economic and political ties among Horn of Africa countries.
Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Moyale chapter chairman Ali Muumin told Nation.Africa that the opening of the crossing is crucial for regional integration.
"We hope that the full operationalisation would mark the end of the previous bottlenecks that hindered trade and access," he said.
He cited bureaucratic delays, high taxes and tariffs as some of the main challenges that have for decades hampered closer ties, including enhanced trade between Kenya and countries such as Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Egypt.
Exports from southern Ethiopia and Djibouti, he said, often found their way to Djibouti warehouses before being redirected to each other's market shelves via Djibouti ports.
Harmonised and lower tariffs on goods from the region entering Kenyan markets will also stimulate trade among partners and make it more lucrative to export goods to these countries than to other African nations.
KNCCI Marsabit chapter chairman Hajji Adano Gure also reiterated the need to reform existing regional institutions to boost regional trade.
A major cause of the shortcomings in regional integration efforts, he said, was the failure of African leaders to consult citizens when designing integration strategies and programmes.
Small-scale manufacturers, he said, face difficulties when they try to get the required import or export licences.
Traders are routinely extorted at customs posts and travellers often have to pay bribes to get past police checkpoints.
He observed that for regional integration to succeed in the face of such problems, there is a need for balanced, equitable development so that all countries feel they are ultimately gaining something.
He was optimistic that the Moyale border post will stimulate coordinated initiatives, political engagements and high levels of intra-regional trade.
Speaking on June 7, Mengistu Tefera, Ethiopia's head of delegation and special adviser to the commissioner-general of the Customs Commission, said Ethiopians and Kenyans need to strengthen economic and social relations under the principle of mutual benefit.
The border post, he said, will improve cross-border trade and free movement of people.
When fully functional, the border post is expected to reduce crossing time by at least 30 per cent and allow faster movement of cargo and people.