Break Down The Walls
In celebration of Africa Union Day, celebrated today, I have one question. How unified are we if it is easier to travel within the continent with an American passport than it is with and African one?
Statistically, countries are more likely to trade with each other if they are similar in terms of geographical location, resources, cultural similarity etc. So, if you were to look at a trade map of the world, trade flows are international and very much intra-continental.
You would expect that, a resource rich continent such as ours would then account for a large share of trade volumes (not necessarily values, because we know how that one goes), especially to each other. This is not the case. Trade with and within Africa only goes up to $334 billion compared to $5.8 trillion in the case of the EU.
There is so much that we can exchange with our neighbours to catalyze the development that we seek; minerals for the development of machinery, food so that a drought in Somalia would be unheard of, labour so that we can develop our human capital and stop racking up a foreign wage bill on western immigr- sorry, expatriates.
There is nothing special about the European Union that made it’s unification more successful than ours. Except, these countries decided that it had more to gain from allowing its own people to have uniform access to the different corners of the region than it did for doing same with people from any other region.
That is the basis of the problem for us. Free entry by everyone else is considered more valuable to our states and governments than free entry by fellow Africans. Why does my Ugandan sister need a visa to enter Ghana, when Katie can waltz in and talk her way into a visa on arrival? ECOWAS supposedly allows free entry into member states from member states, but the corruption encountered along the way is more taxing than a visit to an embassy for processing.
To travel to most countries, your passport needs to be 6 months away from expiry to be allowed entry. Why is this the case within Africa, where we are well aware of the pains of going through the process of getting a new passport? The implications for the African businessperson, who often have to travel at a minutes notice, is that they are often forced to cancel or postpone travel, bribe passport officials for emergency service or bribe airport officials for entry. All these options cost time and money. I’m no expert, but I can imagine these are two things that people engaged in business try very hard to preserve. There is very little incentive to for intra-Africa collaboration, when you can barely meet with each other.
Africa is a beautiful place with very heterogenous landscapes, cultures, resources and people. Many of us only know what we’ve read about in books written by non-Africans or documentaries shot by non-Africans. There is nothing better than experiencing our home firsthand. If we want to promote understanding, open-mindedness, unity and growth, we have to let Africans see Africa. The only way to do this is to free up the borders. States can preserve their sovereignty if they wish, but I should not have to fly to Addis Ababa in order to get to Nairobi. There is no reason why a flight from Accra to Niamey should go through Abidjan. A ticket to Atlanta should not cost less than a ticket to South Africa.
I think you get the gist.