The African Union (AU) laid the foundation for a borderless Africa when 33 Heads of State signed the Free Movement Protocol in 2018. Once ratified by 15 member states through their national processes, the protocol will remove the visa requirement for Africans travelling within the continent, and guarantee rights of stay and establishment. So far only four countries have signed the protocol.
Now a collective of Pan-African progressives wants to put African leaders’ feet to the fire. On February 20, Africans Rising started collecting signatures for its People’s Petition for a Borderless Africa. The group plans to present African leaders with 4 million signatures at the 60th anniversary of the African Union on May 25 to pressure them into signing the AU’s Free MovementProtocol.
Africans Rising Coordinator Hardi Yakubu (HY) explains the methods and motivations of the Borderless Africa campaign to This Is Africa journalist Onai Mushava (OM).
OM: In February this year, your organisation, Africans Rising, launched the Borderless Africa campaign to abolish the visa requirements for Africans traveling within the continent? What informs your position that borders are wrong for Africa?
HY: First of all, these borders were not created for us or because of us or to serve our interests. These borders were created by colonialists whose interest was to divide us and conquer us. And you notice, if you go to history, how Greek empires and kingdoms fell. You will see that divide-and-conquer is always the most effective tactic or strategy. So, from that historical perspective alone, the borders are completely not needed. They don’t need to be there. We don’t need them as Africans. Which then leads me to the next point.
We have talked about decolonisation for a very long time and by the end of the 1960s decade, we sort of understood that most of the continent had achieved political independence. In other words, had decolonised who governs the country. However, as we speak today, the idea of neo-colonialism still manifests itself in all the institutions of State across the African continent and we see that in how the police functions. How the financial institutions function and how our economies are hijacked and how our resources are being exploited for the benefit of others while we bear the environmental and ecological costs. The most typical or most concrete of the remaining vestiges of colonialism is the borders which are the physical restrictions that are still there against us and it is important that we continue decolonisation.
The most typical or most concrete of the remaining vestiges of colonialism is the borders
We are able to agree amongst ourselves to remove these borders and to allow Africans to travel around the African continent without restrictions, without the need for visas, without any border restrictions. This will not only encourage and promote trade amongst us. It will also ensure that we bond together culturally and and live more harmoniously amongst ourselves.
OM: The Borderless Africa campaign wants to achieve visa-free movement by bringing the AU Free Movement Protocol into effect. Can you explain this protocol and the conditions to be met before it becomes a reality?
HY: The AU Free Movement of Persons Protocol is a protocol that was adopted by the AU member states in 2018 at the same time that the Free Continental Trade Area Protocol was adopted. The Free Movement Protocol was meant to to ease movement of persons across the continent by the gradual removal of visas and border restrictions.
It has three elements. First, freedom of movement so that African people can move freely between African countries. Freedom or right of residence, whereby African people have the right to reside in other African countries. And then right of establishment whereby Africans have the right to establish enterprises in other African countries.
From the time AU tabled the Free Movement Protocol in 2018, only four countries, namely Mali, Niger, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe have gone on to ratify it
So the protocol requires that AU members states ratify it like any other protocol of the AU. It requires a minimum of 15 ratifications to come into force. So we have only four countries that have ratified it which means that we have work to do to convince the other African countries to ratify the protocol and implement it. Not only ratify it but implement it so that Africans can move across the continent to do business to study tor work without any hindrances.
OM: So, from the time AU tabled the Free Movement Protocol in 2018, only four countries, namely Mali, Niger, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe have gone on to ratify it, that is, to make it national law. Four countries out of 55, with 15 ratifications or accessions needed to bring the treaty into force at AU law? Why have other African countries not been keen to take up the Free Movement Protocol in their national processes?
HY: I think there has been a challenge with political will. From my engagement, a number of people or policymakers like to cite the issue of security. This is the question that always comes up, “What about security?” People are afraid that when you open the borders or allow free movement of persons, it will make it easy for conflict to spread across the continent.
I think it is not necessarily an unfounded fear but it is exaggerated. Why am I saying, “It is exaggerated”? We have to look at the way we tackle security issues in Africa and determine if we want to continue to do that. Currently, any country that is battling security issues is basically left on its own to do that. Even neighbouring countries are sometimes not ready to lend their support. And there are many countries across the continent struggling with this. The only way that we can adequately deal with security issues, is if we are coming together as one. That’s the only way that we can resolve the security threat that people usually raise.
We cannot do that if we block each other out and each African country perceives itself as some sort of enclave. To be honest with you, no African country is capable of maintaining its own security. The way the countries are organised now, no African country is single-handedly capable of maintaining its own security. And when destabilisation comes it will overwhelm each of them and the only way that we can deal with that is to come together, to band together. And this free movement, opening up of the borders gives us the incentive, pushes us to be able to work together on migration, border management and all of that, so that we can make sure that all these are happening in concert and not single-handedly or in isolation.
OM: On the contrary, 44 heads of states signed the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) at the same AU Summit in 2018 and 46 countries have since ratified the treaty. Why the notable preference of the free movement of goods over the free movement of people?
HY: Yeah; that’s the puzzle, you know. People are the ones who move goods so the only way that the Continental Free Trade Area can work is if it is accompanied by the movement of persons. Somehow, there seems to be some enthusiasm and momentum towards the movement of goods but not as much movement towards the movement of persons. And I think it’s an upside-down kind of progress.
We need to accelerate the progress towards the issue of free movement of persons. Some look at the movement of goods as a way to accelerate trade without necessarily thinking about how free movement of persons automatically brings about the movement of goods and services, labor and trade. So that is a curious thing that pushes a challenge to us to to leverage the interest in the Continental Free Trade Area to push for free movement of persons.
OM: What is the link between AU decision-making and the people’s voices, as expressed through civil society? Where do your intended five million signatures fit within the tradition of AU decision-making?
HY: I think the beauty of this Borderless Africa campaign and how we are approaching it is that we are bringing an AU instrument to the people. Mostly what you see is that the AU, government representatives sit at the top level and make decisions, which the people don’t even know have been made and most [of the decisions] are shelved. What we are doing is to mobilise African people and African voices and bring those voices to bear on a decision and on a Protocol that had come out of an AU process. This is a massive coordination between these bodies, intercontinental and inter-government unions and the people that it is supposed to represent.
So the collection of the signatures for the Borderless Africa petition is to bring the people to voice on this one [issue] so that we mobilise the necessary support and make sure that people are informed and entrusted with whatever decisions that are made at the AU level or government level, [which] affect the people on the ground. If you go to any border community you will see the practicality of what I am talking about.
OM: You have referred to the ease with which non-Africans are allowed through African borders compared to Africans who endure the most as to feel unwelcome. Would you say Africa serves the economic and cultural interests of non-Africans over that of Africans?
HY: Absolutely. I mean you just have to look at our economies. The backbone of many African economies is extractive. And as much as I will talk about how we need to concentrate on renewable and sustainable ways of doing this, there is need to highlight this. Because if you look at the gold, the oil and all of these things and you look at the companies that are benefitting from the exploitation of these minerals.
You would see very clearly how the international neo-colonial system is [configured and designed] to extract from Africa. And you know as I have mentioned, this is the way it is, financially, economically and all of those things. In terms of movement, you would see that countries outside of Africa are having more access to Africa than Africans themselves. And I have concrete examples from my own experience.
In terms of movement, you would see that countries outside of Africa are having more access to Africa than Africans themselves
Last year when we were doing an event in Arusha, we had a case whereby three people were coming from Senegal. We had to battle a lot with visa [authorities] and the struggle for visa was only for people who were coming with Senegalese passports. But out of these three people one had an American passport, Senegalese but had an American passport and, you know, the one with the American passport could easily get visa on arrival but the ones with Senegalese passport could not, so you can see how foreigners are having access to our continent and we ourselves are not.
In the next part of this two-feature interview we talk about 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.