Borderless Africa: A Myth or Reality- Nelly Kiarie

Hail! United States of Africa-free!
Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
State in perfect sisterhood united,
-Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be-

Marcus Garvey


Imagine living in a continent where you are free to cross over to the next country with no restriction, establish a business, and take in the beauty that it has to offer with no fear of being bundled into the next plane out because you are there illegally. That’s ideal and has long been a dream of so many children of our beautiful Africa.  Unity is a key pillar in Pan-Africanism and while this has remained an almost unachievable goal, some leaders and countries have tried taking steps towards this end.

The late Col. Muammar Gadaffi, the former President of Libya, had long advocated for the unity of all African Countries, to be renamed the United States of Africa in 1999. His idea was for a united Africa, politically and economically with one President. He believed that with the vast resources the continent has, it would have a better bargaining power against any Western power if brought together under a single government instead of dealing as single states. While this seemed like a noble idea, one wonders with all the leaders clinging on to power, which one would want to see their autonomy taken away from them. This was rejected by many leaders claiming that the idea was a mere fantasy taking into account the diversity within our borders culturally, politically and economically.

However, he was not the first leader to suggest the move towards a united Africa, the founding fathers of pan-Africanism in Africa; like the late Ghanian president Kwame Nkrumah and the late Mwlaimu Julius Nyerere who was the first president of Tanzania had long pushed for the unification of the continent. It had been proposed during the fifth pan- African congress in 1945 but only materialized in 1963 with the formation of the Organization of African Union (OAU)  which is now known as the African Union (AU) as from the year 2001. They amplified this by joining hands with pan-Africans living in the diaspora like the late W.E.B. Du Bois.  With time and Africa becoming more divided along political social and economic lines the dream of a united people died with them. The organization has faced and continues to face numerous challenges especially not being able handle most of the continent’s intra-state conflicts that have been witnessed despite efforts to mediate in them.

One would question how the idea of a united Africa would be achievable when its citizens cannot move freely within its borders.  Although there would be the fear of having cross border criminals get a free lee way to teach their brothers on the other side their trade. Majority of African countries require visas in advance to gain entry into other countries and only fourteen are open to other Africans without visas or are required acquire them on arrival. This is in contrast to the fact that Americans can travel to twenty African countries without visas or they can get them on arrival while vice versa no African citizen is allowed into the United States of America without a visa. According to a report by the African Development Bank, easing entrance requirements would lead to better economic growth in nations. This saw the rise of Rwanda’s GDP rise and a boost in tourism revenues after lifting visa restrictions since 2013.

Towards this, the African Union in its 2063 agenda pushed for the issuance of an electronic passport for African citizens and to abolish visa requirements for all citizens in the continent by 2018. It was implemented in 2016 and it inspired new hope towards a continent with open borders. During its launch, the former chair of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was stated as saying that the goal of the African Union Passport was to help turn Africa into a continent with seamless borders modeled after the European Union’s Schengen Area. However, only AU heads of state and government, ministers of foreign affairs, and other AU officials can apply for the passport. It is recognized in all 54 countries belonging to the organization and plans are underway to have every citizen acquire it. This will definitely cure the headache of many travelers in Africa and boost intra-Africa tourism. It will also reduce the crisis of having Africans endure long dangerous journeys both on road and sea to gain entry into Europe seeking for better economic opportunities. The option of having to seek better livelihoods with the exchange of labor holds a better prospective for us.

Some African leaders are continuing to warm to this idea and it came as no surprise when the 4th President of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his inauguration speech announced that all Africans wishing to visit Kenya can receive a visa on arrival. He underpinned this by adding that this would not be done on the basis of reciprocity. He further added that traveling freely and living with one another will make us more integrated and appreciative of our diversity. To take this notch higher, East African Community nationals would be free to work in Kenya without work permits and all that they would require are their national identity cards and even own property provided they follow stipulated laws. He even joked that there would be no restrictions if they wanted to marry and settle in the country, but this is very welcome.

Great ideas have to come from a place of great willingness to implement them and needless to say, political goodwill is the most important. Policies have been formulated and shared among African countries to move towards a common goal but the obstacle has been the unwillingness of our governments to work together. More so, how can a pan-African idea be undertaken by a leader who does not believe in the movement? It is always interesting to see that the time they remember there exists such a movement is when their interests have been threatened, united in defense of one of their own. One case that comes to mind is the call by the heads of state to revoke their membership in the International Criminal Court because two of their own were facing charges of crimes against humanity, a lot of resources were directed towards this cause and if they were channeling the same energy towards unity on more beneficial causes much would have been achieved. Their charges were eventually dropped and they went back to their nationalistic cocoons.

Having a continent led by a single president will probably not be achievable in this or the next century but what can be achieved is to have our people have the ability to move freely as this will lead to better tolerance and understanding of our diversity and open up trade opportunities within.

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