In the West, the election of US President Donald Trump, Britain’s planned departure from the European Union and the electoral success of populist parties in Italy, Germany and much of eastern Europe signal the resurgence of nationalist politics. Protectionism and an affinity for hard borders are back. Other parts of the world, however, are adopting market-orientated initiatives appealing to the centre ground of politics, most notably Africa.
In March 2018, 44 African nations signed the Kigali Declaration in Rwanda that brings the region one step closer to deep and meaningful integration, complementing advances made in the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area. This has been made possible by Africa’s shift to technocracy. Abiy Ahmed and Nana Addo, the leaders, respectively, of Ethiopia and Ghana, among others, are setting a radically new and propitious tone for the future. Unlike their predecessors, they are keen to stave off dependence on state-owned enterprises and foreign aid, and are demonstrating a sincere commitment to regional integration and co-operation.
Cross-border regulatory alignment in the Economic Community of West African States has increased. Nigeria, for instance, as a member of the West African Monetary Zone will co-operate with Benin in the French-speaking West African Economic and Monetary Union on a $4.5bn border facility to increase trade flows. The Bank of Central African States, which serves as the central bank of six countries, now oversees the unified Douala Stock Exchange after Cameroon and Gabon came to an agreement over their competing securities bodies. The removal from power of Jacob Zuma in South Africa, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and José Eduardo Dos Santos in Angola signifies a shift in southern Africa away from the revolutionary comrades of yesteryear.
However, one overlooked aspect that requires further debate is that only 30 countries adopted the Free Movement Protocol, the third tenet intended to complement the Kigali Declaration and CFTA. The protocol, it is hoped, will lead eventually to the creation of a ‘borderless’ Africa.
Questions must be asked about the necessity of freedom of movement in the early stages of the CFTA and whether the ostensible benefits outweigh the obstacles that such a debate is likely to bring up. In the light of continuing conflicts in the region, mass migration, climate change, political uncertainty and rising refugee numbers, many countries are opposed to opening borders. Around 26% of the world’s refugees (around 18m people) are in sub-Saharan Africa, and this excludes the myriad economic migrants who would emerge as a result of a borderless continent.
Several relatively wealthy and stable nations –Botswana, the Seychelles, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Namibia and Zambia – did not adopt the Free Movement Protocol. In addition to those struggling under the pressure of the refugee crisis, namely Egypt and Maghreb countries, the situation across the continent has been exacerbated by recent military interventions.
The flow of refugees and migrants goes both ways. Safer southern countries, such as Zambia, have endeavoured to home around 76,000 Congolese refugees by the end of 2018. This is besides those already absorbed from Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the decades since Zambia became independent in 1964. In spite of the country’s efforts, the lack of public services and political mismanagement of resources has enabled antipathy towards foreigners to fester.
For a continent of 55 countries, many of which are contending with a spectrum of unrest, it is possible that uninhibited adoption of the CFTA and the opening of borders may give rise to the same nationalist groundswell that is threatening the US and Europe.
Max Roch is Research and Policy Analyst at OMFIF.