Moving Ahead Differently (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: July 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

According to a recent news report, Botswana’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, expressed her country’s reservation to the African Union proposal on free movement of persons. She noted that “it is a good initiative but has a lot of implications because for some nations it can be a gateway to exploit the gains of other countries such as ours”. She further remarked that “we are yet to consult the nation on matters of security with regards to the free movement of goods and people, so that Botswana does not become a trespassing route for criminal activities.”

The minister’s statement raises a number of key questions, chief of which is the extent to which African states are prepared to sacrifice for greater and common good. The idea of free movement of persons and goods across African boundaries remain a thorny issue and the lack of an implementable framework continues to defy all rational understanding. Africa is the continent with the highest use of visas, with African citizens requiring visas to visit 60% of African countries. In a speech delivered at the opening of one of his cement plants in Ethiopia, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, lamented the negative impact of restrictive visa policies on trade and investment. He noted that “only 14 out of our 54 African countries (Seychelles, Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Mauritania, Rwanda, Burundi, Comoros, Madagascar, Somalia and Senegal) offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to citizens of all African countries”.

The road to achieving Agenda 2063 goal of “abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens by all African countries by 2018” is not looking too promising considering the continued attachment to the restrictive and “Afrophobic” immigration policies of many African states. In assessing Botswana’s position, the question that comes to mind is whether or not such stance is good or bad for African integration. Beyond the moral assessment of such position, I think it is more beneficial to adopt a more pragmatic lens of analysis.

What this implies is the need to understand that express or implied reservations to integration policies are not necessarily indicative of the separation between “saints and sinners”. They are in essence “blessings in disguise” as they afford us the opportunity of considering other alternatives. One alternative that is at the heart of this piece is the idea of “moving ahead differently”.

By adopting a pragmatic prism of understanding, we will come to the realisation that not all 54 AU member states are willing and able to move at the same pace or at the same time. The social, political, and economic situation of each country will determine how and when it should adopt and/or implement integrative goals and agendas. For example, one will only be engaging in whimsical thoughts if a country embroiled in civil conflict is also expected to effectively implement regional instruments on trade, democratic governance or immigration. In the same vein, to expect Zimbabwe or Equatorial Guinea or Ethiopia to comply with regional standards on democracy and good governance will be akin to preparing for snowfall in Lagos. The same countries may, however, be in a better position to implement regional instruments on trade and investment.

It is, therefore, fundamental that we start to experiment with policies and praxes that prioritise readiness and willingness of each or group of member state(s). This is by no means a call for the fragmentation of the goal of African unity. The salient ideal of uniting the peoples and countries of Africa remain a priority but we must also understand that the road towards it may not always be a single lane. As the Yoruba saying goes, ona kan o wo oja (no one road leads to the market), the same applies to achieving integrative goals. This understanding is imperative as it gives us the opportunity to press ahead without wasting valuable time on waiting for others to make up their minds. The ones that are willing but not able to move ahead must be given genuine and quality assistance to catch up. As we move towards concretising African integration, or to put it in the language of the moment “achieving Agenda 2063”, we must open our minds to creative and innovative ideas. Moving ahead differently is one such.

You can follow the writer on twitter @babsfagbayibo or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/babs.fagbayibo

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