Borderless Africa way to go

PRESIDENT Hakainde Hichilema took up the mantle of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) chair during the 22nd Heads of State and Government Summit in Lusaka yesterday. Mr Hichilema, who succeeded Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-sisi, accentuated the need to create a borderless continent as this will undoubtedly ease intra-Africa trade. “I have argued before that we should not be proud of one-stop border posts. There is nothing to be proud about that. With technology, a single window will watch everything. “Let’s have non-stop borders to reduce the cost of doing business, idle time along the way, and that also means our individual countries must reduce on internal roadblocks,” he told the delegates in his acceptance speech. “With technology, we can fight human trafficking, track trafficking…those will not be compromised even when we have non-stop borders, technological advancement must be utilised.” Mr Hichilema was spot on because the physical boundaries between African countries breed numerous challenges which slow down trade among nations on the continent.
The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in January 2018 and ongoing ratifications by countries, are important milestones for Africa as this has made continental economic integration to start progressing well. It took Africa close to 30 years since the signing of the Abuja Treaty in 1991 to reach the stage of AfCFTA, but now Africa cannot afford to wait for another 30 years to translate the AfCFTA and its potential into reality. With the AfCFTA in place, the World Bank estimates that Africa’s income will increase by US$450 billion by 2035, and raise intra-Africa exports by more than 81 percent.
And according to United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the single market trade agreement will enable the African economy to hit the US$29 trillion mark by 2050. However, despite the AfCFTA promising fortunes for Africa, trade among countries on the continent has been growing at snail’s pace chiefly due to physical borders which require a lot of procedures to be followed for one nation to trade with another. Therefore, the call by President Hichilema as new COMESA chairperson for a borderless continent is timely, and African governments need to collaborate so that the idea of creating a borderless Africa becomes a reality. The call is also in conformity with former United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi’s view on a borderless continent. Dr Kituyi once stated that Africa’s airspaces were going borderless, with significant progress on the African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market initiative launched in 2018. The initiative also makes it easier for Africans to travel across the continent. These initiatives help address barriers to achieving a borderless Africa, driving the continent’s growth and regional integration. This wider scope of a borderless Africa can also go further in countering the false narrative around African migrants. With deeper regional integration and cooperation, African countries must improve their migration management. This can be done by developing tools and capabilities to more effectively measure migration, including immigration into the continent from abroad, and diaspora engagement through trade. While President Hichilema’s focus as COMESA chair will be on ensuring that the bloc’s objectives, particularly economic integration, are met, it is hoped that COMESA leaders will be collaborating with other regional economic communities on the continent to actualise the creation of a borderless Africa.