“Is Africa a continent or a country?” Eki went to the streets of Brisbane, Australia, to ask. The international student from Ghana and his friends from other countries in the continent were surprised to find that most of the respondents thought Africa was a country. Whether ignorance or misinformation, this speaks volumes about what other people around the globe think about us. They see Africa as one market. Many times you will hear the international media talk about “Africa” while in fact they mean a particular country in the continent. Why then can’t we turn this negative African narrative into a beautiful story of oneness?
The Berlin Conference of 1885 brought together 13 nations from the European continent, the United States of America, and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Southeast Europe, and Western Asia), invited by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. One of the goals of the meeting was to share out Africa and all its resources among themselves. Of course, Africans were not invited to the meeting. Africa was divided into states according to mountains, longitudes, latitudes, and rivers. The old borders that had encouraged peace and love among the nations were ignored. They drew new boundaries to separate every tenth racial group.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party of South Africa have always contended that the country could not develop and become economically stable on its own. They realised that South Africa’s economic advancement depended on the whole African continent. One of the EFF’s campaign points during the recent elections was to make Africa borderless and establish one currency. The citizens were surprised at this proposed policy, but the party did not relent on its stand. Politically, this could have cost the party dearly as the people did not want to hear anything about it.
This rule has worked effectively in the European Union (EU), where more than 20 states, including Germany, Italy, and Belgium, have set up the Schengen Area – where all passport and other types of border control at mutual borders have been abolished. It functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes and has a common visa policy. These European countries are economically stable. Schengen is a stabilised large market for trading among member countries. The European Union negotiates the trading rules on behalf of individual countries. The rules protect local industries from exploitation and unfair business practices. Besides that, the European Union has invested in a convenient, sustainable public transport system that supports all trading activities in the region. People can easily move from one place to another and get access to goods and services. The bloc also utilises its resources to improve health systems. The EU promotes all these services in all the member nations, so one can obtain services anywhere.
In Africa, Zimbabwe is one of the leading nations in agriculture, with large tracts of land to produce tonnes of tobacco. Botswana has many quarries that can support mining activities. Angola can supply oil. South Africa and Mauritius can handle the bloc’s financial affairs and provide quality services. How about buying a car made in Kenya – the Mobius? Why import minerals when we have them in plenty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic? I don’t need maize from Mexico since we have plenty in Nigeria. Why not get a Mara phone from Rwanda? What if my olive oil comes from Morocco? How about my cup of coffee from Ethiopia? What if my next language class will be mellow and flowing Kiswahili from Tanzania? What about a holiday on the beaches of the Seychelles and Cape Verde…The cake is big.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) treaty, signed in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2018, by 44 of the African Union’s 55 members, aims to establish a single market with a single currency and free movement of people and goods. It aims to unite all the African nations and their 1.2 billion people and gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion under one market. AfCFTA is one of the largest markets in the world. Economic Commission for Africa statistics show that AfCFTA has the ability to improve intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent. This can be done by subsiding import duty and reducing non-tariff barriers.
African Development Bank data shows that 13 African states freely allow foreigners in without a visa. African Union passports will allow many people to get access to trading services in more than 40 countries because they can travel in the region without any restrictions. The African Union (AU) has allowed Africans to move across the continent to promote trading. The AU passport will enhance borderless Africa and promote unity. It is expected to replace individual countries’ travel documents from 2020.
One of the obstacles to travelling in Africa is cost. There are limited flights between African states. They are also expensive.
Political goodwill is critical to achieve this. The paradigm shift begins now. I believe in Africa. We are one. We will be borderless.
Rutinu Samuel, 28, is a Nairobi-based freelance content writer and digital marketer, author, and enthusiast of African conversations. [email protected]