By - Tobi Idowu
One of the most heralded and celebrated milestones on the African continents happened in July, more than five decades after most African countries attained independence, and fifty-six years since the formation of the African Union (AU), used to be known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This milestone would have made the founding fathers of the OAU, such pan-Africanist like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, proud.
With the initially reluctant Nigeria finally signing on to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Africa seemed poised for proper and long needed economic integration. The agreement was projected for many gains for the African countries as it would mean unlike before they’d now be intra-African trading which would be facilitated by such sine qua non as free movement of people, and especially goods across African borders. However, recent happenings across the African borders portend a chastening, discouraging reality and future for the Treaty and hoped integration.
Shutting doors to fellow Africans
One of the growing trends on the continent presently is the unilateral closing borders by a country to its neighbours. Nigeria recently the latest nation to do this, following similar actions by Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan in recent months. This action, which clearly mocks the signed AfCFTA, is often carried in violation of existing regional economic or political associations agreement. Some of the various reasons adduced for this action include diplomatic disputes, security concerns, health precautions and economic considerations among others.
Nigeria Initial Reluctance to AfCFTA
Nigeria was not just one of the last nations to sign the agreement, but its reluctance was so obvious. This was because at 200 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. Its nominal GDP of US$376 billion, or around 17% of Africa’s GDP is top on the continent.
Because of such significance, it was almost a given that the Treaty would be regarded as lacking the real substance without Africa’s largest market and economy. This was underscored by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who commented, “The continent is waiting for Nigeria and South Africa. By trading among ourselves, we are able to retain more resources in the continent.” South Africa later signed the agreement. Eventually, almost a year after most other countries had signed on to the Treaty, Nigeria finally signed in July this year, with President Muhammadu Buhari saying his country had to consult properly before it could commit to the Treaty.
But Nigeria would close its border suddenly in August!
Without any given reasons, Nigeria decided to close its borders to its neighbouring countries, Benin, Niger, and Chad. After some weeks of guesses from commentators, Nigeria’s customs agency confirmed that it had closed its land borders indefinitely, barring all movement of goods, in order to curb smuggling.
“All goods for now are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders and that is to ensure we have total control over what comes in,” Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of the Nigerian Customs Service, told reporters in Abuja. “We are strategizing on how best the goods can be handled when we eventually get to the point where this operation will relax for the influx of goods,” he said.
Later, the Nigerian government would announce that all goods meant for its country should be routed through the sea. Notably, despite efforts by its neighbours to resolve the issue, Nigeria has kept to its solo move and unilateral pronouncements. Ali had warned that reopening the borders would depend on the actions of neighbouring states, and that as long as they and Nigeria were not in accord on what goods should be imported or exported overland, the frontier would remain shut.
The AfCFTA is the loser.
Sudan does same to Libya, CAR; Equatorial Guinea plans same for Cameroon.
In September, without much warning, Sudan would close its borders with Libya and the Central African Republic. It cited security reasons. The Sudanese authorities would say that vehicles had been illegally crossing the borders with the two nations, which have both been mired in violence. In August, authorities in Cameroon also raised concerns on the purported plans by Equatorial Guinea to build a wall along their shared border. According to some reports Equatorial Guinea accuses Cameroon of letting West Africans enter its territory illegally.
Meanwhile, Rwanda had closed a busy border crossing with Uganda in February, after it accused its neighbour of harassing its citizens and backing rebel groups against the Kigali government. Both countries would later agree to reopen the border.
Rwanda fears DR Congo’s Ebola
Despite Paul Kagame’s posturing as a modern and progressive pan-Africanist, his government could not care to watch its fellow Africans back. While many countries have praiseworthy heeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) call not to close borders in the wake of the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities in Rwanda closed their border for several hours.
All the foregoing, and those that are not captured in this piece, clear shows African countries lack of readiness to what they have signed up to in the AfCFTA. This is sadly unfortunate for if any continent needs more integration economically, it is Africa. It beats one’s imagination to see this turn of events after the fanfare that trailed the ratification of the Agreement. One might not be far from the truth to say the continent is quite unfortunate; yet this fate has been brought solely by the continent’s unrepentant inept leaders, who could think no further solution to normal inter-countries’ issues than to shut their borders on whims.
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