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Africans, tear down these walls

One held a British passport. The other held an African Union (AU) passport. Both sought entry into an African country for investment purposes. The former was admitted into the country. Surprisingly, the person with the British passport was granted entry, while the individual with the AU passport was denied access due to the lack of a visa. It is worth noting that the AU passport is issued to a select few prominent individuals in Africa.

Ironically, the person who was granted entry is merely a consultant to the rejected individual, who actually possesses the funds for investment in the country. The person facing refusal was none other than Aliko Dangote, the wealthiest man in Africa. Dangote revealed this incident during an interview at the AfreximBank 30th Anniversary event in Accra, Ghana.

Dangote’s experience sheds light on the daily challenges faced by ordinary Africans as they attempt to travel within the continent. Despite the existence of treaties facilitating the free movement of people and goods, such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Africans still encounter various forms of harassment and extortion by border officials.

Where there are treaties in place for the free movement of people and goods in the case of the SADC, COMESA, ECOWAS, and ECCAS, Africans are still subjected to all sorts of harassment and extortions by border officials.

In West Africa, where ECOWAS holds influence, one would expect a more mature system, considering it was the first regional bloc established in Africa. ECOWAS was founded on May 28, 1975, with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos, aiming to promote economic integration and cooperation among West African countries. However, borders such as Nigeria/Benin, Benin/Togo, Togo/Ghana, etc., have become breeding grounds for corruption. Border officials openly demand bribes before stamping travellers’ passports.

As Africans, it is crucial for us to reevaluate our priorities concerning poverty eradication and the empowerment of our young population. Erecting borders and implementing unnecessary checkpoints to impede legitimate travellers and traders will only lead to adverse consequences and exacerbate poverty for the majority of Africans.

Removing all barriers will unleash prosperity within the continent. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), intra-African exports accounted for a mere 20 percent of total African exports in 2022, significantly lower compared to other regional trade blocs such as the European Union or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

We must fully throw our weight behind the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The full implementation must start now. No delay. No dillydally. We don’t have the luxury of time. It is a crisis situation of significant proportions. Young Africans are losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea. In the words of Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, “Africa must unite or perish!”

Being united means that the borders must go down and free trade must take their place. The World Bank estimates that AfCFTA could raise incomes by nine percent by 2035 and lift 50 million people out of extreme poverty, if fully implemented.

To expedite the integration process and address any potential challenges arising from the free movement of people and goods, we must implement innovative security policies. AU member countries should collaborate and share intelligence. Border officials across the continent must undergo comprehensive training and retraining. They should be adequately compensated to discourage corruption. These officials should perceive themselves as partners in progress with entrepreneurs in the continent, rather than hindrances to job creation and progress.

Rwanda deserves commendation for its decision to open its borders to all Africans, allowing nationals from African countries to enter visa-free. This model of unrestricted entry should be embraced by other countries within the continent. We must embrace a future of unity, progress, and shared prosperity.

As we commemorate the African Integration Day on July 7, 2023; I want to summon the revolutionary spirit of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in Berlin on June 12, 1987, where he called for the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, I stand to implore African leaders: If you truly seek prosperity for Africa and its people, tear down these walls. Let the borders crumble and be replaced by centres for trade and research. Once again, I say, African leaders, tear down these walls.

Samuel O. Adeyemi is a global communication strategist who is deeply passionate about fostering African integration and driving positive change within the continent.

This article was originally published by The Cable Nigeria (www.thecable.ng). 

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