October 23, 2018

Is an integrated Africa an achievable ideal?

The recent changes in Zimbabwe could make an enormous impact on the number of international asylum seekers. This conclusion can be drawn from a seminar held at Parliament.

The seminar focused on African Union Vision 2063 as it relates to migration, regional integration and the Africa passport  It was held for the Committee on Home Affairs by the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) Law Clinic.

Participants were told by the Scalabrini’s Associate Director Sergio Carciotto that Zimbabwe had the highest number of asylum seekers amongst the world’s top ten asylum-seeking countries. Its 2015 figures showed that 17 785 Zimbabweans had applied for political asylum that year, almost twice as many as the next country on the list, which was Ethiopia, with 9 322 asylum-seekers.

Scalabrini’s presentation placed five Southern African Development Community countries at the top of its list of countries engaged in international migration, a pattern that has remained consistent from 2011 to 2016. Currently top of the list are Lesotho nationals and Zimbabweans. The seminar was held only a week before the momentous events in that country and the dramatic changes in Zimbabwe could significantly impact on these figures.

African Union Vision 2063 is committed to integration and free movement on the continent of people and goods.

The focus of the seminar was on African Union Vision 2063 and its commitment to integration and free movement on the continent of people and goods. As can be expected, the views expressed were diverse, even at odds with each other, as refugee-focused groups faced countries that experience the challenges that come with receiving asylum seekers and economic migrants.

The African Union Assembly mandated the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2015 to develop a Protocol on Free Movement on the continent by January 2018. The aim of the Protocol was to guarantee access of all African citizens to all African countries. This would mean visa-free travel, and a generic African passport.

The Protocol envisaged free trade and other arrangements to facilitate further integration. Its introduction would be gradual, starting by permitting travel without a visa for 90 days, but developing into recognition of the right to live and work in fellow African Union states. However, first a White Paper process would be needed to introduce means to manage cross-border movement of people, goods and conveyances.

Although not intended as an instrument for refugees, the AU Free Movement Protocol would provide rights to refugees in addition to the rights provided by international refugee law.

While welcoming the principle of a united Africa, the Home Affairs Committee members across all parties seemed unimpressed by the practicalities implied by an integrated Africa. In fact a number of them referred to the proposal as a “dream” that could not be easily achieved. Participating Committee members unanimously concluded that it would be unlikely to ever see this become a reality.

Speaking at the seminar the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Fatima Chohan, commented that the free movement of people across borders was of concern. She acknowledged that borders had been imposed by colonial powers, but said that did not mean they were unknown in pre-colonial times. Existing kingdoms had carved out their territories, she pointed out.

But the focus was not on borders and border controls, Chohan said. Her concern was the need to draw a distinction between citizens and non-citizens and she stated bluntly that a government’s concern was first and foremost about national security and its need to place the safety and wellbeing of its own citizens first.

Committee members agreed that the issue was not about protecting borders and state sovereignty. What was needed was effective national governance, development and above all peace in all countries in Africa, suggesting that the solution lay in ensuring Africa was stable and democratic.

The South African stance was not unexpected but participants from the various NGOs and refugee bodies taking part were at pains to remind the seminar that this AU protocol was accepted by all member states in 2015.

The Institute for Global Dialogue used the opportunity to repeat the founding principles of the African Union Agenda 2063, with its roots in Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance. To achieve such aspirations, said the Executive Director of the Institute, Dr Philani Mthembu, required a united and integrated continent.

In his presentation he repeated the call to action of the AU and referred to its ultimate objectives: “We aspire that by 2063, Africa shall be a united Africa [with] world class integrative infrastructure that criss-crosses the continent.” This would precipitate free movement of people, goods, services and capital and result in increases in trade and investment. He described a scenario where there would be strong links with Africans living in the diaspora.

He envisaged “accelerated integration and growth, technological transformation, trade and development. This will include high-speed railway networks, roads, shipping lines, sea and air transport, as well as a well-developed ICT and digital economy. A Pan African High Speed Train Network will connect all the major cities/capitals of the continent, with adjacent highways and pipelines for gas, oil, water, as well as ICT broadband cables and other infrastructure. This will be a catalyst for manufacturing, skills development, technology. Africa shall be an integrated, united, peaceful, sovereign, independent, confident and self-reliant continent,” he concluded in his presentation.

The idea of promoting free movement of people within an African Economic Community, with rights of residence and establishment, using a single or at least regional passports, as well as co-operation in education, training and skills development is not new.

Dr Emmanuel Sekyere of the Human Sciences Research Council referred to these proposals being mooted back in 1991 in the signing of the Abuja Treaty. Already then there was talk of the desire “To promote economic, social and cultural development and the integration of African economies, in order to increase economic self reliance and promote an endogenous and self-sustained development”. This was seen as way for Africa to compete in what was considered a non-receptive global environment.

What Agenda 2063 adds to the Abuja Treaty, he pointed out, was the call for visa free travel by all Africans within Africa by 2018. The concept of the African passport was launched in Kigali, Rwanda in July 2016 at the 27th Africa Union Summit, although it was more of a symbolic gesture. The passport in not in use, except perhaps by the president of Rwanda who was presented with a prototype at the launch.

Between these two extremes – an integrated Africa as a non-realisable idea or as a long-term ideal – were a disparate series of diverse issues, which in itself suggested that achieving unity in Africa was still a long way off.

Possibly the greatest concern was cross-border travels of criminals, and this matter became sensitive when South Africans at the meeting alluded to an increase of crime as a product of migration.

The broader issue of security, however, was seen as the driving force behind migration as citizens from conflict-driven states were forced to seek shelter and safety elsewhere.

Yann Bedzigui of the Institute for Security Studies warned of newly emerging areas of extremism and insurgency, which posed additional security problems, for example in the Sahel, Central Africa and Eastern Africa.

He made the point that neither the African Union nor regional bodies had stepped in effectively to try to bring resolution and peace.

He also spoke of new threats that were not directly security-related but that created the possibilities for conflict, like climate change and economic developments like the discovery of scarce resources in individual states.

There was also what he called the problem of “ungoverned spaces” where there was little state authority and weak or non-existent border controls. He identified a number of such areas, for example, between Uganda and Rwanda, Mali and Burkino Faso and eastern Central African Republic.

Cross-border movement would continue to depend on the state of security in countries and conflict and insecurity remained a push factor for migration. Post-independence Africa had see regional integration as a means to economic development, but so far this had not proved successful, largely due to security and political factors.

Bedzigui said despite the artificiality of colonial-imposed borders, Africa had continued to enforce them and where it was able to do so, cross-border movement was strictly regulated. There were many reasons for this ‑ administrative, political and security – but the main reason was security.

Moira Levy

The article was sourced from the Parliamentary Monitoring Group at www.pmg.co.za

Additional Info

  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 18:08

About Us

Notes from the House is an independent weekly email newsletter that tracks and monitors Parliament in its role of holding government to account and passing legislation to improve people’s lives. It aims to bring you the news from Parliament that you don’t get elsewhere. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

Latest Tweets

Parliament is broken. Can it be fixed? https://t.co/mJ6DTl15Gg
Is a staff #suicide at @ParliamentofRSA all about security failure or a management failure? This says a lot about… https://t.co/5Fuj2Z0Y3L
Follow Notes from the House on Twitter