Africans Rising Coordinator Hardi Yakubu (HY) explains the methods and motivations of the Borderless Africa campaign to This Is Africa journalist Onai Mushava (OM).
This second part of the two-feature interview focuses on xenophobia, Afrophobia, intra-African trade and the Pan-Africanist ideals of Nkrumah’s generation as they all relate to the Free movement of African people and the Borderless Africa campaign.
OM: What’s to be said about xenophobia, the elephant in the room? Politically and culturally, how ready are we to live, work and love with the Other, particularly the African Other?
HY: Yeah, thank you. This is something I like to talk about a lot because if you look at the historical understanding of how we are have related to one, you will see that part of the effects of these borders is the creation of Otherness within Africa. So you have these dividing lines that make it look like you are this and this other African is also that, so it hampers our coming together, it hampers our common understanding of our oneness.
And that has been the challenge, and that is what has fuelled what people call xenophobia. Others will call it Afrophobia because in most cases in South Africa and, you know, you will see that they are targeted at fellow Africans, they are not targeted at everybody who is deemed a foreigner so it’s really very much Afrophobia and that is something that is contemptible. But if we were to look at it holistically, we have to look at how the creation of these borders have had effects on our conception of who is our kith and kin, who is us and who is them. So we can live together, we can work and love, if we can accept… and this is why it’s necessary for civil society movements for these kinds of initiatives because those are the only ones that speak to us directly as Africans that whatever is happening to a Kenyan affects a Ghanian and a South African and a Senegalese so you do not have to look at Somebody and say this one is an Other. We are all one and people have to see that is only in our unity that we can be strong.
OM: The logic of borders as the foundation of the colonial economy seems to be just as functional locally. In Harare, for example, informal markets and public transport are restricted safely downtown or out of the city centre. The latest punitive fine for commuting beyond old colonial designations was only gazetted this year and council raids on vendors and commuters are a daily sight. The city is the place where office work and non-African foods and products are designed to flourish, building on colonial restrictions on African presence and African movement in the city. How do we abolish class borders in addition to national borders?
HY: Thank you for bringing this up. I think it’s a very crucial issue. Classicism is, you know, it’s one of the things that block our prosperity. That is you know, one of the things that blocks our prosperity and it’s something that we have to consider in our discussions, you know, when we talk about a Pan-African future this is one of the issues that we have to deal with, creating a system by which African people can trade amongst themselves freely and it doesn’t really matter what ethic groups they belong to, what social classes they belong to, so long as they are Africans, they can mingle, they can collaborate, they can trade amongst themselves and this is the only way that we can build our own continent and build our prosperity.
OM: Cde Yakubu, you are a millennial Nkrumaist and economic freedom fighter, among other things. Sixty years after the formation of the OAU, do you feel that commitment to the Pan-Africanist ideals of Nkrumah’s generation still runs in your generation?
HY: I am afraid not. I think we have really been let down and I think we have to be courageous enough to say this without mincing words because the only way that we can make amends is if we are able to confront our truths. And I say that we have been let down by the middle generation and this generation is the generation of those who took over from the generation of the independence-era leaders. They have not advanced us towards the Pan-Africanist ideals of the Nkrumahs and the Nyereres, that generation.
And you just have to look at the landscape of discourse and see the other lukewarm representation of Pan-Africanism and be able to say where we are now. And you know all these things are passed on so the lack of interest by that generation has been passed on to the new generation. I am always ashamed if something happens say in Somalia or Sudan or Ethiopia or somewhere and the first people to respond are Europeans. It’s not the best.
I am always ashamed if something happens say in Somalia or Sudan or Ethiopia or somewhere and the first people to respond are Europeans
We need to have that Pan-Africanist fellow feeling that makes us able to see that anything that affects anyone on the continent affects all of us. But that zeal, I mean we are 60 years into the formation of the [Organisation of African Unity] OAU, we should be seeing some more movement on the ideals of the OAU but as I said it is a challenge that we have to accept and rise up to so that we can recreate that Pan-African Ubuntu spirit and move forward to build the Africa we want.
OM: Africans Rising notes a generational disconnect, a sceptical detachment by millenials and generation Z from traditional political structures, NGO influences and local civil society. In your drive to collect 5 million signatures for the Borderless Africa petition, how are you doing things different from other NGOs so you can effectively engage the youths?
HY: So, the way we are approaching this, we are approaching it from a movement perspective. Africans Rising is a movement, a people’s movement. The whole campaign was actually adopted at a movement gathering, the whole All African Movements Assembly in Arusha last year in August 2022. So it’s created and owned by movements across the continent. Now what this means is that the movement approach is based on the ground organiser so we have done a number of things.
First of all we launched a petition and that petition has been online, people are signing but because not everybody is really online we have movements that are on the ground, activists and volunteers on the ground. We have deployed people on the ground to collect signatures on hard copy, print the things, collect signatures from the shops, from markets, from homes and all that. Right we have about 200 volunteers in about 30 countries across the continent. We are hoping to cover the entire continent before the end of the first half of the year.
I mean you should see the images that are being sent of volunteers who are collecting signatures. People are signing on the floor, people are putting the paper on cars to sign people are, you know, even bending for others to put the paper on their back to sign. These are the kinds of things that give you hope that all is not lost and that Africa will rebound with passion and zeal but that’s just one aspect of it, the other aspect of it is that we are organising massive on ground, different levels of action, artistic action, peaceful matches and demonstrations, poster campaigns, community townhalls across the entire continent, you know, to mark the 25 May mobilisation.
As you know, 25 May 1963 was when the OAU was founded and every year Africans Rising does this Continental mobilisation that brings people together in the various communities to take an action in solidarity with one another and this year the overarching theme is immersed. So look out for demonstrations in at least 50 countries in Africa coming this May 25.
There are also activities along the borders. Football matches for instance there is going to be a football match at the Ghana Togo border between the people on either side of the border, the same people that have been divided by that artificial border. Activities like this are being planned across the continent and it’s exciting because you know it’s bring out the activities of the young people about how we want to move around the continent.
OM: You note in an op-ed which This is Africa published that intra-African trade is lowest among all regions, 15 percent as opposed to 60 percent in Europe and 45 percent in Asia. How would Free movement of African people help unlock bigger traded volume?
HY: I think it’s very clear. People move goods. People are the ones who trade. People are the ones who own companies. People are the ones who own skills, labor, expertise and so on and all of those. So if you allow people to move, you are allowing them to move around with their skills, with their expertise, with their goods. Especially, I mean, when you look at what people call, you know, this so-called informal cross-border trade. Researchers show that the so-called informal sector of primarily women who are crossing the borders with items on their back to go back from one country to another market to go and sell stuff. The volumes, the number of people, is massive and the number of people is just remarkable.
However, on a daily basis, these scores of women face serious harassments at the border and a lot of them have to pay this have to pay that have to follow all manner of protocols and all manner of restrictions at the borders. Imagine that for instance the border between DRC and Rwanda. It is estimated that about an estimated 35,000 people cross that border on a daily basis just to trade, to sell things, going in either direction. Just imagine how much of that trade could be enabled if all these restrictions when not on the continent. You can imagine.
You know I was watching a video of [Aliko] Dangote who has a cement factory in Nigeria and he was narrating how difficult it is to move his cement from Nigeria to Benin which is just across the border, it’s not far. He could reduce costs and probably the size of his items would be probably much lower if was able to move from his factory directly into Benin which is just across the border but no. He is not allowed to move like that. He has to take the goods. Go to so many other countries before he can now get the cement in and this is him narrating it himself, the challenges that he is facing and just imagine a business man of that magnitude, that calibre, facing these kinds of challenges and multiply those challenges by 10 or 100. Those are the challenges that a small business or an unregistered informal business is going to be facing to cross borders.
It’s completely unacceptable that we are not seen to be trading much with one another. We are trading more with Europe than with our fellow Africans
And this is why we are not seen to be trading much with one another. We are trading more with Europe than with our fellow Africans. This is completely unacceptable. Meanwhile, if you look at it, Benin would rather prefer to import cement from Europe rather than allow Dangote to just bring his cement from Nigeria which is just next door you know. So allowing free trade is a huge catalyst and this is not hearsay, this has been proven by research, it’s been proven by numerous studies by UNDP, by UNCTDN, and all of these agencies have independently come to the same conclusion that the FCTA follows is not going to cut it. You need to free movement of people in order to unlock the economic potential of the continent.
OM: Thank you for these insights and best wishes with the campaign!