Fuel ‘too dirty’ for Europe sold to Africa
September 16, 2016 | 0 Comments
Swiss firms have been criticised in a report for their links to the African trade in diesel with toxin levels that are illegal in Europe.
Campaign group Public Eye says retailers are exploiting weak regulatory standards.
Vitol, Trafigura, Addax & Oryx and Lynx Energy have been named because they are shareholders of the fuel retailers.
Trafigura and Vitol say the report is misconceived and retailers work within legal limits enforced in the countries.
Three of the distribution companies mentioned in the report have responded by saying that they meet the regulatory requirements of the market and have no vested interest in keeping sulphur levels higher than they need to be.
Although this is within the limits set by national governments, the sulphur contained in the fumes from the diesel fuel could increase respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis in affected countries, health experts say.
Why are regulations so lax?
The picture is changing but there are still several African countries which allow diesel to have a sulphur content of more than 2,000 parts per million (ppm), with some allowing more than 5,000ppm, whereas the European standard is less than 10ppm.
Rob de Jong from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) told the BBC that there was a lack of awareness among some policy makers about the significance of the sulphur content.
For a long time countries relied on colonial-era standards, which have only been revised in recent years.
Another issue is that in the countries where there are refineries, these are unable, for technical reasons, to reduce the sulphur levels to the standard acceptable in Europe. This means that the regulatory standard is kept at the level that the refineries can operate at.
Some governments are also worried that cleaner diesel would be more expensive, therefore pushing up the price of transport.
But Mr De Jong argued that the difference was minimal and oil price fluctuations were much more significant in determining the diesel price.
What’s so bad about sulphur?
The sulphur particles emitted by a diesel engine are considered to be a major contributor to air pollution, which the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks as one of the top global health risks.
It is associated with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems.
The WHO says that pollution is particularly bad in low and middle income countries.
Reducing the sulphur content in diesel would go some way to reducing the risk that air pollution poses.
What’s being done about it?
Unep is at the forefront of trying to persuade governments to tighten up the sulphur content regulations and is gradually making progress.
In 2015, the East African Community introduced new regulations for Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Diesel cannot now have more than 50ppm in those countries.
It is clear that the situation has improved since 2005.
Unep’s Jane Akumu is currently working with the West African regional grouping Ecowas and its Southern African counterpart Sadc to try and change the regulations there.
She told the BBC that she was optimistic that governments would bring down the legal sulphur limits as the arguments in favour are compelling.
Obama administration lifts sanctions on Ivory Coast
September 15, 2016 | 0 Comments
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is lifting sanctions on the Ivory Coast in recognition of its steps to strengthen democratic institutions.
President Barack Obama removed the sanctions in an executive order signed Wednesday. The order ends the declaration of a national emergency regarding the Ivory Coast.
White House spokesman Ned Price says the Ivory Coast has made “extraordinary progress” since its civil war ended in 2011. He’s pointing to a successful election and better handling of arms and illicit trafficking.
Price says challenges remain for the Ivory Coast, including land reform and economic growth. But he says the country has taken important steps to reconcile the differences that led to war.
The sanctions had been in place since 2006.
Kenya to host 6th African Green Revolution forum
August 27, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Wallace Mawire
African leaders are set to meet in Nairobi, Kenya at the African Green Revolution (AGRF) forum to be held on September 5 to 9 with an ambition of transforming agriculture into an engine for inclusive socio-economic growth and development.
According to a statement released by Waiganjo Njoroge, AGRA, Global Media Lead, the historic gathering will include hundreds of influential leaders and CEOs and is also expected to award the newly established Africa Food prize.
Njoroge adds that the sixth African Green Revolution forum or AGRF 2016 is Africa’s largest agricultural event.
“This year’s forum arrives at a time when an unprecedented number of leaders in both African and donor countries are signalling that agriculture development is essential to Africa’s long term economic growth,” Njoroge said.
It is also reported that the emergence of agriculture as the sector that will determine Africa’s future is reflected in the theme of the 2016 forum titled: Seize the moment: Africa rising through agricultural transformation.
Organisers say that the forum will feature a strong slate of influential leaders and CEOs from the public and private sector.
They add that a major highlight of the forum will be the inaugural award of the new Africa Food prize which was created to call attention to individuals and institutions that are inspiring and driving agriculture innovations that can be replicated throughout Africa.
Also the landmark annual African Agriculture Status Report, which this year will chronicle agricultural progress on the continent over the last decade and suggest strategies towards accelerated economic growth and development through agricultural transformation will also be launched.
Over 1000 leaders from politics, business and civil society from across Africa and beyond are expected to grace the event.
Some of the key speakers at the forum will include President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, Strive Masiyiwa, Chair and Founder of Econet Wireless who is also Board Chair of the AGRA, just to mention a few.
Obama’s Greatest Legacy Empowers Next Generation Of African Leaders
August 16, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Samuel Getachew*
As the Obama presidency is near its end and historians are set to reflect on the legacy of America’s first black president, I can’t help but look favourably on the impact he has had on the continent of Africa.
His legacy is not one founded on the principles of charity, but that of an ever-expanding citizenry that has empowered the next generation of African leadership by way of a White House fellowship program.
The Mandela Washington fellowship, named after the iconic South African leader upon his death in 2014, was started to help empower the next generation of African leadership by president Obama.
Upon its foundation, the president reflected on how the next generation of African leadership will “leave behind for the next generation — and the generation after that — an Africa that is strong and vibrant and prosperous, and is ascendant on the world stage.” Amen to that.
Every year, the program brings its participants to the United States and gives them the tools they need to succeed by way of exclusive leadership training and rich networking opportunities with accomplished leaders from many sectors. Open to those who have looked at the challenges of Africa from youthful and unique perspectives, it aims to change the perception of a continent the Economist magazine once dubbed “the dark continent.”
In 2015 — Marta Tsehay Sewasew, a now 28-year-old Ethiopian social activist and social entrepreneur was among the 500 participants.
She was an attractive candidate with a hefty resume to her credit. Involved in a slew of developmental programs on girls’ education, women and youth economic empowerment, youth leadership, empowerment of young people with disabilities, and adolescent youth reproductive health — she was a posterchild of exemplary citizenship.
For six weeks, she lived in Wagner College, in New York and gained valuable skills. For her, “The six-week leadership program enabled me to enhance my knowledge on civic leadership and civic engagements.” After the conclusion of the training, she was invited to attend a three-day presidential summit hosted by President Obama involving leaders from many sectors.
At the summit, she co-moderated a panel discussion on girls’ education in Africa.
Mandela Washington Fellowship recipient Marta Tsehay Sewasew. (Photo: Marta Tsehay Sewasew)
Currently serving as the Ethiopian National Project Coordinator with theInternational Labour Organization (ILO), she volunteers as a board member for Eastern Africa Regional Advisory Board (RAB) for Young African Leader Initiative Program, which plays an advisory role in providing inputs for USAID, IREX (the International Research & Exchange Board) and the U.S. Department of State.
I asked her what the legacy of the fellowship program has been for her. “As a young professional, the fellowship enhanced my knowledge, experience and created a networking opportunity with young, like-minded Africans engaged in developmental activities,” she replied, adding that “the fellowship created an opportunity to learn from the best practices of other Africa countries and U.S. in the area of education, health, environmental protection and civic engagement that can implemented in Africa.”
The formidable leader has initiated an intervention entitled “Mobile for Students Reproductive Health (M4RH).” The intervention provides monthly informative, confidential and youth-friendly text messages on reproductive health for Addis Ababa university students.
The PhD aspirant student in international relations wants to expand her initiative nationally, while looking at ways to create income generation and economic empowerment for young people in her country.
Last year at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, president Obama spokeof an ever-changing continent, where many envisioned a continent where trade, not aid, is the new approach, partnership instead of patrons is the new way and where liberty to choose one’s destiny instead of being dependent should be the future direction of their society.
That is why the Mandela Washington fellowship program is the roadmap to that vision and it may be one of president Obama’s greatest legacies from an international perspective.
Attieke – Ivory Coast’s answer to champagne
August 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
What is attieke?
Attieke (pronounced atchekay) is a traditional couscous made from ground cassava roots eaten by many Ivorians of all ages for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It originated from the coastal areas of Ivory Coast centuries ago.
But it has travelled far beyond the country’s borders to become one of the best known foods across French-speaking Africa and the diaspora in Europe and North America.
How do you cook it?
There’s also “attieke sauce tomate” – a tomato sauce cooked with fresh or dry fish.
A third is “attieke huile rouge”. In this case the couscous is mixed with palm oil, which turns its almond colour to orange, accompanied with a hot pepper soup.
It can also be eaten with grilled chicken or smoked fish.
How do you prepare it?
The cassava root is peeled, grated and mixed with a previously fermented cassava.
The pulp is then pressed to remove the starch and later processed manually and dried and then steamed.
It is then sold in local markets, in both individual portions and larger bags.
Why does the government want to protect it?
One of the main reasons the Ivorian government gave is that many people outside Ivory Coast – in Africa and even south-east Asia – claim to be making and selling attieke.
They use the Ivorian unique style name and brand to sell their product while “they are using only a part of the process”, government spokesman Bruno Kone said.
Trade unions and consumer organisations applauded Mr Ouattara and his decision received unanimous support in a country often divided by politics and with raw memories of two decades of crisis and the 2010-2011 post-election war.
A sign that attieke is one of few things that still unites Ivory Coast’s 20 million people from 62 ethnic backgrounds.
What difference will it make?
The Ivorian government is asking the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization to protect attieke.
But Aripo does not have a compliance policing unit so it is not clear how it would be enforced on the continent, let alone elsewhere.
Given that markets in Ivory Coast and elsewhere in West Africa are full of pirated music and DVDs, it is hard to see anyone going round to inspect bags of attieke and confiscate any that are not certified.
Governance, Corruption & Democratic Development Questions will guide Clinton’s African Policy-Snr Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan
July 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Hillary Clinton views Africa not just as a place with challenges to address but also opportunities says Jake Sullivan, Senior Policy Advisor for Hillary for America. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Center briefing center at the Democratic Convention, Sullivan said to Hillary Clinton, Africa is not just made up of countries which need development aid and assistance but also partners who can work with the USA in addressing a range of global issues.
Issues of governance, corruption, and democratic development have been central to Secretary Clinton’s policy towards Africa and will continue to be, said Jake Sullivan in response to a question from Ben Bangoura of Allo Conakry.com on what Africa should expect a Clinton Administration.
The policy will be in the mold of the work the democratic flag bearer did as first lady and later Secretary of State, Sullivan said. From her multiple trips to the continent, Hillary Clinton has shown commitment to pillars like fostering economic growth, peace keeping, security, human rights, and democratic development said Sullivan.
“She is fond of reminding us on her team many of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are African economies. How we think about where the future growth is going to come from in the world is bound up in how we approach our policy towards Africa,” Sullivan said.
In contrast to the recent Republican Convention in Ohio, the Democratic Convention seems to have more African faces present. Executive Women for Hillary ,a powerful coalition of executive, entrepreneur and professional women backing Mrs. Clinton has two African diaspora leaders Sarian Bouma and Angelle Kwemo of Believe in Africa as State Co-Chairs for the DMV area.
FIRST AFRICAN PASSPORTS GO TO PRESIDENTS OF RWANDA AND CHAD
July 18, 2016 | 0 Comments
The African Union wants to roll out the continental passport to millions of Africans.
11,000 Ivorian refugees in Ghana still afraid to go home
July 12, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Sophie Bouillon*
Egyeikrom (Ghana) (AFP) – Five years after the return of peace to Ivory Coast, 11,000 Ivorian refugees living in Ghana are still afraid to go home despite an upbeat economic climate in the world’s top cocoa producer.
While the international community deems it safe for those involved in a decade of trouble to return, Ange-Pelagie Baya told AFP: “We would prefer to die of hunger rather than go back.”
On Tuesday, a UN refugee agency-brokered meeting opens in Abidjan to prepare for the return of all the Ivorians who fled the bloody post-electoral violence that erupted in 2010-11.
Ivory Coast’s social cohesion minister Mariatou Kone has pledged that “no-one would be arrested on their return” and indicated a possible amnesty for those opposed at the time to current President Alassane Ouattara.
But of the 11,000 Ivorian refugees in Ghana, only four have officially returned since Kone visited Accra in May.
Ouattara won a second mandate in October on pledges of restoring longtime stability following the troubled 2010 elections which saw him compete against former strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo now is behind bars on trial in The Hague following the deaths of some 3,000 in post-election violence in 2010-2011.
In Ghana’s Central Region, the 2,200 refugees at the Egyeikrom camp, all of them Gbagbo supporters, are adamant they cannot return.
“We can’t go back as long as the (Ouattara) regime remains,” said Baya.
– Budget cuts –
Baya doesn’t recognise Ouattara’s legitimacy as president, labelling him a “rebel” and a “foreigner”.
Yet she admits life as a refugee is harsh. “We don’t have anything here, just a bit of work in the fields during harvest time.”
Food distribution to the refugees was stopped in November and only three percent of the aid promised by donors to the UNHCR has been allocated since the start of the year.
“The donors would rather invest in the country, given that the situation in Ivory Coast is stabilising,” said the UNHCR spokesman in Ghana, Nii Ako Sowa.
With growth at eight percent last year, Ivory Coast, Ghana’s neighbour to the west, is no longer a priority for aid.
But for the groups representing the Ivorian diaspora, the budget cuts have been brutal and are seen as a way of forcing the poorest refugees to return home.
Leon-Emmanuel Monnet, a former member of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in exile in Accra, said the promises of reconciliation were a smokescreen and Kone’s visit “a publicity stunt”.
According to the UNHCR, more than two-thirds of the 300,000 Ivorians who fled in 2010 to Ghana, Guinea or Liberia are no longer registered.
Yet last year there were only 10 official returns from Ghana. Diaspora groups say many have gone to north Africa or Europe.
– Reprisal fears –
In reality, no-one really knows where they are. Besides some risk being considered as traitors if they return home.
“Refugees leave the country unofficially and this is a problem, since we don’t have any record of their return and don’t know how they reintegrate,” said Ghana Refugee Board (GRB) regional coordinator Charles Yorke.
“We’ve organised ‘go-and-see, come-and-tell’ missions. But when they come back and say things are going OK, they (the refugees) don’t believe them.”
Monnet for instance said the fact that Simone Gbagbo, the former president’s wife, was on trial in Abidjan, was proof they could not expect to go home and stay out of trouble.
“There is no process of reconciliation or justice — unless you’re talking about victors’ justice,” he said.
In Egyeikrom, near the town of Elmina, Jean-Louis Zougbo has lived in dire poverty in a UNHCR tent for five years.
In Ivory Coast he was a pastor from the FPI stronghold of Guiberoua some 300 kilometres (190 miles) northwest of Abidjan and headed a civilian militia.
He played a small part in the conflict but fears reprisal attacks if one day he has to go back to his home region. “I’m a nobody. If I disappear, if I go home and am killed, no-one will know.”
“Only one side is being targeted and everyone else is considered blameless, which isn’t right, isn’t just,” he said.
Ivory Coast plans to boost pig production
July 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Wallace Mawire recently in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast’s ministry of Livestock and Fishery Resources has embarked on a project to boost pig production through a genetic improvement initiative following a huge loss which devastated the country’s pig population in 1996.
According to Dr Camille Doua, a veterinary specialist at Azaguire, a rural centre being run by the livestock ministry, 64% of the country’s pig population was wiped under the country’s 2001 civil strife and disease.
The on-going initiative by the ministry to boost pig production through artificial insemination is reported to have begun in February 2012 and is reportedly bearing positive results to benefit the country’s farmers and livestock keepers.
The pig farm is aiming to increase the number of pig breeders and to create breeding stock for the country which depends on agriculture for most of its foreign exchange earnings.
According to Doua, some of the positive results of the project include the pigs which have doubled piglet production.
“Before the project, our pigs used to produce about eight piglets per pig, but as of now, one pig is now producing about 14 piglets on average. These are the results of the interventions being carried out at this
Centre,” Doua said.
Other noteable achievements scored at the centre include boosting pig meat production. Doua said that previously it took about 12 months to produce 80kgs of pig meat, but now due to the interventions
it is now taking about seven months to produce 100kgs of pig meat.
The pig genetic improvement farm now boasts of a total of 36 pigs, 30 of which are female and six male. This breeding stock is expected to help boost pig production in the country. Offspring will be passed on to breeders to boost pig production in the country.
Other initiatives being carried out include deworming and vaccination exercises to contain disease spread amongst the animals.
Journalists from the especially ECOWAS region recently toured agriculture projects in Ivory Coast including a few from southern Africa. The programme also included visiting livestock centres like the pig production farm.
The programme to strengthen reporting and coverage of agriculture and food sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa was sponsored by the World Bank Africa region and World Bank Agriculture Global Practice.
The First Ivorian Civil War was a conflict in the Ivory Coast (also known as Côte d’Ivoire) that began in 2002. Although most of the fighting ended by late 2004, the country remained split in two, with a rebel-held Muslim north and a government-held Christian south.
GHANA ALLOWS VISA-FREE TRAVEL FOR AFRICANS IN STEP TOWARDS CONTINENTAL PASSPORT
July 5, 2016 | 0 Comments
Ghana has begun offering visas upon arrival to all African nationals, a step towards creating a continent-wide zone of free movement.
The West African country rolled out the policy on Friday, allowing citizens of African Union (AU) member states to get visas for up to 30 days upon arriving in the country. Fifty-four African countries are members of the AU—the only country not in the bloc is Morocco, which resigned its membership in 1984 due to a row over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Ghana already allows visa-free travel for citizens of countries belonging to member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—a regional economic bloc consisting of 15 countries including Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy. ECOWAS citizens will not be affected by the new policy.
It marks a step towards the vision outlined by the AU in its Agenda 2063 policy document, which includes the abolition of visa requirements for all African citizens in all the continent’s countries by 2018. The AU is also introducing an African passport at a summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali in July, which will initially be available only to heads of state, government ministers and permanent representatives of member countries at the AU. The AU eventually wants to roll the passport out among all African citizens.
Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama announced the policy in his state of the nation address in February, saying that the measure would “stimulate air trade, investment and tourism.” The decision was commended by AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who said that she was convinced “many other African countries will follow suit, in the interest of achieving an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.”
But while welcoming the measure as potentially leading to increased air traffic into Ghana, airline operator Gloria Wilkinson warned that the country would have to ensure its security measures were tight to prevent possible abuse of the system. Wilkinson, the country manager of South African Airways, told Ghana’s Citi Business News that she was “confident that [the] government has considered the security aspect of such an initiative.” A leaked memo from Ghana’s Immigration Service suggested that Ghana and Togo were the next targets for militants following attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast since November 2015.
Is AFRICOM all that bad?
July 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Laura Seay*
Founded in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has a public relations problem. Before 2007, the U.S. military had interests and involvement in Africa, but these occurred under three separate regional commands which each had responsibility for different parts of the continent. AFRICOM ended that rather arbitrary distinction, bringing all of Africa’s 54 independent states under the same umbrella. But the largely bureaucratic move, which was meant to better centralize and coordinate American security activities on the continent, produced at best suspicious reactions, and, at worst, elaborate conspiracy theories bearing no relationship to fact that, nonetheless, can have a profound impact on the way African militaries and individuals perceive and interact with American military personnel and policy makers.
It’s not hard to see why. The history of United States policy in Africa is largely its Cold War history, and for Africans in particular, memories of those engagements are not often happy ones. Whether propping up dictators in the name of containment or turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by anti-communist forces, the United States earned a reputation for meddling and causing problems for Africa and its people throughout the Cold War. For many observers, it is hard to see how AFRICOM could be anything other than simply the latest iteration of neo-imperialist engagement by yet another bunch of shady, secretive white men sporting khakis, polo shirts, and crew cuts.
The world has changed, though, and the environment in which AFRICOM and other U.S. security engagement occurs in Africa is vastly different from the one America’s Cold Warriors imagined. The global War on Terror has driven American involvement in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, while advocates successfully lobbied for and got the placement of 100 American special operations forces in the Central African Republic, where they advise Ugandan troops searching for Lord’s Resistance Army warlord Joseph Kony. The American military also engaged in perhaps its most purely humanitarian effort in Liberia in 2014 in an effort to halt the Ebola epidemic. This approach to Africa is far more diverse and complex than that the United States faced in the Cold War.
It’s into this environment that the 12 academic and practitioner authors featured in an engaging new volume, “The US Military in Africa: Enhancing Security and Development?,” step. Edited by Jessica Piombo, a civilian, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, the volume aptly shows that simplistic, conspiracy-minded ideas about what AFRICOM is “really” up to ignore the very real purposes of U.S. engagement in Africa as well as the complicated nature of that engagement. “The US Military in Africa” shows that the relationship between U.S. security assistance to the continent and other American foreign policy goals are sometimes poorly coordinated and do not always fit traditional conceptions of the ways that security and development assistance ought to interact.
As Piombo notes, the volume operates under the assumption that “security, governance, and development are inextricably linked,” in U.S. Africa policy. Poorly governed — and thus poorly developed — states are ripe for insecurity. “Given this,” she writes, “the US military has attempted to create new programs that involve a range of government and nongovernment actors in new security programs that focus on more than just training and equipping African militaries.” This approach constitutes a new approach to security in Africa, one that requires a higher level of integration between civil servants, military personnel on the ground, and interagency communication.
As the authors detail in a wide variety of case studies, this isn’t easy. Bureaucrats in the State Department and at USAID may not want to work with military actors given the need to ensure that aid workers and diplomats are not equated with military actors in the eyes of local civilians. Moreover, as Andrea Talentino argues, AFRICOM’s tendency to focus on formulaic benchmarks as signs of “successful democratization” or other forms of development rather than the slow process of building the institutions of democracy that takes time and considerably more effort is problematic. Clarence Bouchet’s chapter shows that American military engagement as it currently exists in Africa is too shallow and piecemeal to actually achieve American security goals in the region.
Why? G. William Anderson points out that U.S. Africa policy still focuses more on response to crisis than preventing those crises in the first place. Teresa Crawford and Trina Zwicker show that military coordination with nongovernmental organizations and other civil society organizations in crisis situations is a complicated matter, even when the intentions of all involved are to help serve humanitarian needs. Fundamentally, military and humanitarian actors have different modes of operation, ideas about hierarchies, and bases of knowledge. Even if they share the same goal, working together can be nearly impossible as a result of these differing norms.
In short, it’s complicated. Determining what should and should not be U.S. policy aims in Africa and what the relationship between security and development actors should look like (if it should exist at all) is no easy task. The authors do not gloss over these challenges, nor do they offer an unquestioning defense of American Africa policy. Those looking to explore these questions — and to debunk myths about AFRICOM’s capabilities and aims in Africa — would do well to read “The US Military in Africa” and to keep its critical reflections in mind.
The opposite of Brexit: African Union launches an all-Africa passport
July 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Anne Frugé*
On June 13, two weeks before the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the African Union announced a new “single African passport.” The lead-up discussion was much like the original debate on the European Economic Community, the E.U.’s predecessor. African passport proponents say it will boost the continent’s socioeconomic development because it will reduce trade barriers and allow people, ideas, goods, services and capital to flow more freely across borders.
But now the A.U. faces the challenge of making sure the “e-Passport” lives up to its potential – and doesn’t fulfill detractors’ fears of heightened terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration.
The African e-Passport is part of a long-term plan for the continent
The e-Passport is an electronic document that permits any A.U. passport holder to enter any of the 54 A.U. member states, without requiring a visa. It will be unveiled this month during the next A.U. Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. Initially, the e-Passport will only be available to A.U. heads of state, foreign ministers and permanent representatives based in the A.U.’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, . The plan is to roll it out to all A.U. citizens by 2018.
The electronic passport initiative grows out of the A.U.’s Agenda 2063, a plan to mobilize Africa’s vast resources to strengthen the region’s self-reliance, global economic power and solidarity.
Why is the single African passport important?
The e-Passport is a step toward eliminating borders on the continent, aiming to enable deeper integration, increased trade and further development. Just as important, the passport is a powerful symbol of unity across Africa – and simultaneously a step toward connecting African countries economically and politically.
An A.U. passport represents the latest effort to create a common market spanning the continent, much like that in the E.U. Such efforts date back to 1963 with the creation of the Organization of African Unity. Pan-Africanistscelebrating the demise of the colonial state and hailing a United States of Africadesigned the O.A.U. to unite Africans and dissolve the borders between them.
Essentially, the O.A.U. sought to raise living standards by supporting leaders of anti-colonial struggles in their roles as heads of new states. In its quest to make the transition to independence as smooth as possible, the organization at times defended national sovereignty to a fault. For example, the decision to respect arbitrary colonial borders had far-reaching consequences, including numerous identity-based conflicts.
Over time, other entities arose to coordinate economic activity across national lines: the East African Community (1967), the Economic Community of West African States (1975), the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa (1980) and the Southern African Development Community (1992), just to name a few.
In 2002, the A.U. replaced the O.A.U.
Moving away from the O.A.U.’s state-centric approach, the A.U. attempts to balance “the principle of sovereignty with the need to accelerate political rights and socio-economic growth and cooperation,” according to Matebe Chisiza, visiting scholar at the South African Institute of International Affairs. For example, the A.U. suspended 12 member states after “unconstitutional changes in government,” including Libya, Central African Republic, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
None of Africa’s regional organizations have yet been able to create a common market. This vivid dream has endured despite the enormous political and logistical challenges it would entail. Deeper economic integration is seen by many, including the World Bank, as the road to prosperity and stability. In fact, the A.U. is guided by this premise.
What might be the downsides of the e-Passport?
Opponents of the passport are concerned about a range of security risks. Detractors argue that visa-free travel would make it easier for terrorists to move within and between countries. Human traffickers and drug smugglers could take advantage of the new system. Disease and other public health crises could spread more rapidly in a borderless Africa. As has happened in Europe, an e-Passport may intensify competition for jobs and public services, leading to more xenophobic political rhetoric and attacks. Migration is already a contentious issue, as shown by deadly anti-immigrant riots in South Africa and Zambia and heated debates over refugees in Kenya.
Many elites favor the unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services. But if the effort is mishandled, such free travel may simply reproduce social inequalities — helping the well-off become richer and leaving behind the poor. We can see that already in the fact that only certain individuals will have the passport at first, which creates a hierarchy of citizens, only some of whom can travel freely.
Moreover, Bronwen Manby’s report for the Open Society Foundations describes how passports can become tools for repressive regimes to silence their critics. In 2007 alone Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe denied or confiscated passports for a variety of opponents, including “from individual trade unionists, human rights activists, opposition politicians, or minority religious groups.” Fortunately, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia have taken steps to put into law the principle that every individual has a right to a passport — even if the principle is upheld irregularly in practice.
The African Union can learn from the E.U.’s example
The E.U. offers a model that the A.U. can use to study both the progress and pitfalls of regional integration: managing a common currency, balancing economies of vastly different sizes and structures, and building solidarity within and across culturally diverse nations.
Brexit is a reminder of the challenges inherent in a shared political and economic space. The debates over debt, immigration and national identity that led to Brexit would only be magnified in Africa under the weight of industrializing economies, significant barriers to access in education and health care and ongoing conflicts over resources and identity.
An African passport is an exciting development that can spur growth and improve living standards. To capitalize on this potential, the A.U. needs to plan two steps ahead. Crafting thoughtful regulations will be essential to ensuring the e-Passport’s economic promise is genuinely available to everyone and not subject to abuse.
For example, integration needs to benefit the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, with both productivity and industrial capacity increasing in tandem. When some countries deindustrialize at the same time that others expand their markets, the stragglers strain the common pool and fall into crisis.
Further, governments need to fight against a race to the bottom in which commerce follows the path of least restrictions. This point is especially important considering that demos-centered Pan-Africanism underpins the A.U.’s mission.
And implementation plans must address practical obstacles that prevent many Africans from obtaining basic identity documentation, such as weak civil registration systems, slow and costly bureaucratic procedures, and corruption. According to the World Bank, 37 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have legal identification, a prerequisite for obtaining a passport.
In short, the path forward is to ensure fairness in integration. When the system rewards the few on the backs of the many, solidarity wanes and the unification project suffers.
*Washington Post.Anne Frugé is a PhD candidate in the department of government and politics at the University of Maryland.