By Patrick Kadima
In 1999 two teenage Africans from Guinea were found in the landing gear of an Airbus operated by the now defunct Belgian airline known as Sabena. What captured the attention of the public was not only the fact that the bodies were found four days later but the letter that the teenagers wrote.
The letter said the following: “Excellencies, Messrs. members and officials of Europe, We have the honourable pleasure and the great confidence in you to write this letter to speak to you about the objective of our journey and the suffering of us, the children and young people of Africa… In terms of problems, we have war, disease, malnutrition, etc….” Fast-forward to January 2020. A 10-year-old’s body was found at a Paris airport in the undercarriage of an Air France plane that arrived from the Ivory Coast.
On the other hand, there are recorded deaths of African migrants who have perished at sea trying to reach Europe for a better life. These tragic events should not have happened. They should not be happening for a simple reason, Africa is blessed with abundant resources which in turn should be a recipe for a better life for all.
Every year, we have become accustomed to celebrating May as Africa Month. In celebrating our African heritage, we ought to create some space for introspection as to what needs to be done for Africa to experience a renaissance.
In 1963 the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was created and this year we mark 57 years since it was founded. The main aim of the organisation was to ensure that political and economic integration of the region was achieved.
In 2002 the African Union (AU), the offspring of the OAU was launched. Its aims were to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent; advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in particular in science and technology; and promote sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies.
A conflict-free Africa is vital
We have learnt that the brain is arguably the most important organ in the human body. Without it the body cannot function at all.
In the same vein a conflict-free region is very crucial to the development of Africa.
Africa’s economic growth and development will not grow if conflict continues to plague the region. The type of conflicts African countries are now facing are not between states but conflicts that occur within national boundaries.
Many African citizens in relatively peaceful countries are of the belief that because their respective states are not experiencing conflict the conflicts in other African states do not affect them.
Conflicts exacerbates regional instability. One cannot expect to have a stable region if the cycle of conflict is ever present. Conflicts will lead to loss of investment and trade.
The AU needs to pull its weight in terms of solving the conflicts in the continent. Over the years it has come under severe criticism of its non-interference approach in the internal affairs of member states and respecting territorial integrity.
Indeed, territorial integrity should be supported but not at the expense of a member state that is experiencing conflict.
Territorial integrity should be understood in terms of the context of changing value systems in the global landscape. The prime responsibility of any state is to protect its citizens and if it fails to achieve that responsibility, it ipso facto allows for intervention by regional bodies in various ways not excluding military intervention.
One such example is when the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) decided to intervene in the Gambia because the then President Yahya Jammeh refused to step down. The president eventually went into exile after the initial military incursion. The AU peace keeping missions continue to face challenges such as poorly trained soldiers as well as lack of finances to support peace keeping projects, these issues need to be addressed if its peace keeping missions are to be a success.
Education, Science, and Technology
Quality and decolonised education is imperative for the region. The access to quality education remains a challenge in Africa.
States need to invest heavily in the education sector as this will help fight poverty and empower people to live healthier lives. States need to invest in technology as this is important for development. For example, development of various health technology can help augment the heath infrastructure of states in Africa during the pandemic. The creation of state of the art laboratories are important as they enable researchers to do their work in a suitable environment.
Free trade and the free movement of people
Migration is a hotly contested topic globally. The free movement of people is one of the aims that the AU seeks to achieve.
But this does not sit well with some Africans who have insisted that such a move will lead to uncontrolled levels of migration.
This is false and such sceptics do not have a shred of evidence to back it.
The free movement of people in Africa is not premised upon the breaking down of physical borders.
No country wants to be without borders in a complex society with issues such as terrorism on the rise. Instead it is premised on the fact that the movement of African people in the region should not be an obstacle. Currently Africans need visas to travel to 49% of other African countries (down from 55% in 2016).
This is a shame. It is easier for certain European nationals to move around the continent without requiring a visa at all, but this has not been the case for Africans.
Some African states have begun implementing visa on arrivals for African citizens and this is a positive move that African countries should implement. Free movement of people is important for various reasons such as facilitating labour mobility, intra-Africa knowledge and skills transfer.
Free movement of persons is a conditio sine qua non for free trade. The ushering in of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will surely lead to job creation on the continent and is vital component for economic growth and development for all African states. As we commemorate Africa day it is important that our leaders don’t reverse the small gains they have made in fostering a united continent.
The journey will surely not be easy but at the same time it will determine our destination. War, disease and malnutrition need to be things of the past so that we do not have our own dying at sea and in landing gears of planes in search of a better life in Europe. The reality currently is that no state in Africa can survive on its own without regional cooperation and it is vital that chauvinistic behaviour is left behind for the sake of a better Africa for all.
This article first appeared in City Press.
Kadima holds a BA degree and LLB degree from Stellenbosch University and Wits University respectively. He is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary master’s degree at Wits university with the Public Affairs Research Institute. Kadima also served as a student leader at both institutions.