Monday, 8 May 2017

Africans Traveling In Africa: Eliminating The Difficulties And Advancing Integration By Akhator Joel ODIGIE

No doubt, most of the observations and views contained in this piece as they relate to movement within Africa by Africans are not new. In fact, they are so stale to the point that they are considered “normal” given their relentless persistence and occurrence, and more so because we seem helpless. The decision to bring them to your attention is to reject the last opinion about helplessness, and to rather argue that we must strive in our little contributions to ensure that Africa works for Africans, at least on the issues of integration and migration.

Within the spate of 7 years into the new millennia, two xenophobia attacks took place in South Africa. The nature of the attacks, especially the targets of the attacks made many observers to conclude that they were actually afrophobic hate crimes driven by discrimination beyond just being foreigners, but Africans. No reports have indicated that non-Africans were victims of these attacks. The third attack in February 2017 was yet again unleashed on Africans. This third attack tells many stories, especially in relation to efforts of African governments towards integration, mobility, migration and their developmental benefits. This piece is a brief attempt at “viewing” the efforts to improve mobility and integration in Africa as well as point to the “state of play” so far. In essence, how do we make movement by Africans in Africa easy, safe, productive and beneficial to Africans and Africa?
First, during the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government, this took place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 14-15 June 2015, the Assembly discussing under the theme “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 adopted a very progressive declaration (Assembly/AU/Decl.6/XXV) on migration?? The declaration affirmed the previous commitments of members aimed at accelerating mobility and integration on the continent. Thrusts of the declaration are mainly in three parts: (a) Work towards access for visa on arrival for ALL Africans by 2018; (b) Harmonise skills, competences and education qualification so as to boost employment for Africans in Africa, and; (c) Ensure a common African position for the Malta 2016 Migration summit with their European counterpart. The Malta, Valletta Summit has since come and gone with a very bad deal for Africa, or one should say Europe dealt Africa a bad coin – Analyses on this will be provided in a follow-up article to this. And for this article, focus will dwell [mainly] on the first thrust of the AU Johannesburg 2015 Declaration.
It is important to note that the African Union June 2015 Declaration on Migration was moved by South Africa as part of the country’s response to the 2015 xenophobia/Afrophobia attack. But the impressive thing was that Rwanda became the champion of this declaration. This declaration recognised that it was indeed needlessly hard, painful and expensive for Africans to move within Africa – a continent that was partitioned into territories by invading Europeans without dialogue with and consent of the African people. Sadly, it is the same Africans that continue to zealously lock the territories against their kith and kin whilst the invaders of yore now return as tourists and so-called investors to Africa who only need to purchase visa at the port of entry to enjoy a safari experience and to cart away profit from minimal investment! No, the tone here is not meant as indignation and loathing of the invading slave and colonial masters, but rather an expression of disbelief at how Africans have adopted and stuck to the divisive partitioning of Africa. Rather, it is meant as a wake-up call to African leaders on the need to be broadminded, imaginative and prompt. To buttress these frustrations, some examples at a later stage of this article of one’s personal experiences in the course of traveling within Africa will be relayed.
Still on the AU Declaration, it also recognised that Africa’s young persons want to enjoy the benefit of easy access to the continent so they can move in their quest to deploy their skills, talents and energies to efforts that will improve their wellbeing, assist their families and contribute to community and nation building. By the way, an endemic and growing unemployment and underemployment crises in Sub-Saharan Africa has since established a survival of the fittest inclination especially amongst the youth who constitute the bulk of the unemployed. Thus the relentless attempts at the desperate and often fatal journeys across the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert in spite of the news of recorded deaths notwithstanding are informed by the depth of youth despondency and palpable hopelessness.  
To have a standardized comparability of education and skills qualification is and was rightly recognised by the AU as one of the ways of improving mobility and migration within Africa by Africans. By the way, when the discussion is about migration, the fact should never be lost that most Sub-Saharan African migrants are actually moving within the region. In essence, we have more Africans moving within African than Africans moving to Europe, the Pacific and North America. Thus one is a bit uncomfortable and at sea with this notion that African migrants are suffocating Europe, which is how one perceives it given how the EU is currently driving the Valletta migration outcomes.
Nevertheless, easy and stress-free movement in Africa, especially by Africans still remains a mirage. Yes, very few efforts have been made to actualize the 2018 deadline for the implementation of the actions contained in the 2015 AU Declaration. It should not be taken for granted that member states of Regional Economic Blocs (RECs) in Africa have immigration arrangements between and amongst themselves, which are advance and commendable. The AU 2015 Johannesburg Declaration was supposed to help improve on these current arrangements, which has not gone far enough in terms of advancing Africa’s integration aspiration. Some examples in terms of stages of compliance especially on visa on arrival for Africans will suffice here.
Rwanda has continued to stand out as the most committed to the genuine and easy integration and mobility of Africans in Africa. Rwanda remains the only African country that persons bearing African passports can travel to and get visa on arrival without hassle for as little as 30 USD. It is even considering eliminating visa for Africans and it is hard not to see it come through on this. Thus, when one thinks of organising events in Africa, Rwanda is easily and always a first consideration on the list because of the no hassles with entry visa, facilities availability as well as the inspiring development one sees happening there. It is so relieving, reassuring and inspiring when there!
It was pointed out earlier that South Africa sponsored this declaration. And as part of her commitment to it the country since January 2017 eliminated transit visa for Africans transiting through her borders to Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola. Short to say that it was hard to believe that Africans for a long time had to endure this transit visa regime to get to Africa through [South] Africa! Nevertheless, expectations remain high for South Africa to deliver on her pledge to make visa on arrival for ALL Africans Happen in 2018.
Africa’s most populous and largest economy, Nigeria is another country steep in immigration reciprocity practice that is yet to move on the actualisation of the visa on arrival declaration. A country with a recession-dazed economy, facilitating easy access for African tourists and visitors would do her a lot of good. Ghana has since started to operate the visa on arrival policy for Africans. The visa-on-arrival fee in Ghana at $100 will benefit from a downward review.
Swaziland, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Botswana and Burundi will allow for visa on arrival when a national or an organisation domiciled in these countries writes and obtained visa on arrival permission from the Interior Ministry. But the real hassles begin when the visitor arrive the country. Swaziland stands out here. As against conventional practice where visa is obtained at the port of entrance, for Swaziland, the visitor enters the country (say at the King Mswati III Airport) and has to go to the Interior Ministry in Mbabane where the actual visa is processed, and then return again to the airport to have the passport stamped for official entrance record! You can only imagine the waste of time, energy (very tiring because of the over 100 kilometers to be covered) and money (very expensive compared to the actual visa cost that is an equivalence of $8 for a 90 days single entry visa).
Uganda has improved on her visa regime arrangement for Africans. Potential visitors to the country can get visa on arrival notice after making an online application. Response is usually fast within three days or less. It has reduced visa fee for single entry from$100 to $50. Similar online arrangement is being used by Zimbabwe and Zambia and they charge $20 and $50 respectively payable upon arrival at the port of entry. Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire also have similar online arrangement, but insist on online payment. These arrangements though commendable and good step forward, they however come with their difficulties. For instance, beside the fact that someone, hypothetically, without computer and internet knowledge will require assistance to make online application, and then make payment with a Debit of Credit Card as is the case for the Kenyan and Cote d’Ivoire online application. This is no doubt daunting especially for the unbanked Africans who are in the majority.
Perhaps there are many other African countries that are already offering visa on arrival to Africans, but have been poor in communicating and publicizing it. This is the case for Mozambique, Tanzania, Togo, others. One of the problems with under publicity can be observed in the experiences air travelers go through in the hands of airlines’ ground staff who insist on appropriate authorization letter stipulating permission for visa on arrival as pre-condition for final check-in and boarding.
The benefits of pursuing and achieving a visa on arrival for Africans in Africa are enormous for Africans and their economies. Some of the benefits include: saved time/man-hour on embassy visa application processing; cultural mix and dynamism that can be gained through facilitated integration; economic boost through finance, labour and skill mobility; increased tourism and its related cascading gains; job creation as migrants have been documented to create collar-wide jobs as against the myths that they take jobs and cause security crises; elimination of the shame an African feels and faces when at a point of entry into an African country as one is stopped and harassed for visa but an European/Australian/American just stroll into Africa only needing to purchase a visa. 
Of course, the availability of a visa on arrival policy for persons bearing African passports does not per se solve or eliminate the difficulties Africans go through in their quest to move within the continent. There are others, which have been stated briefly here: for poor Africans, especially women and traders traveling through and conducting their businesses through the land borders, their immigration and other security handling experiences are never palatable – try going through Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire by road and you get the (ugly) picture. Travelers are extorted, forced to pay “toll-fees for immigration and health certificate clearance”. Even when the pillar of integration and mobility in Africa is erroneously hinged on security, one is amazed that security operatives at the borders will focus on extortion rather than looking out for the territorial integrity of the borders.
Low development of the African aviation industry and the attendant high cost of traveling ticket and tedious traveling routes and hours are other challenges to mobility and integration of Africans and Africa. African governments will need to work more on these. It is commendable to note that Ethiopian, Kenya and South African airways have good route coverage in Africa. It is also impressive to see that Asky airline with some recognition and support from the Togolese government and ECOWAS is also pushing steadily to bridge the African route coverage gap.
It from the above that the October 2016 Maritime Security and Safety Charter signed in Lome, Togo should be seen as a good complimentary means to facilitating mobility of Africans in Africa. Specifically, one of the interesting provisions of the Charter is the creation of a Maritime Security and Safety Fund to promote, in a spirit of solidarity and co-responsibility, the free movement of people and goods by sea. No doubt, this charter would help deepen and expand the gains that could be tapped from the Blue (sea) Economy as well as helping to advance and actualize Africa’s development and environment sustainability aspirations. The Blue Economy can help accelerate Africa’s integration by bringing down cost of travels and adding to route options. Travel by the water ways is still however less developed and exploited in Africa, at least for human movement. Yes, this charter will need to be publicized and analyzed more in details – maritime experts, players and enthusiasts should dig in!
Finally, Africa must find a continent-grown closure to the distortions colonialism exerted. It is inspiring that the AU continues to remain faithful and steadfast to achieve effective integration of the continent. Nevertheless, her governments must put their feet on the pedal and wear new hats as pace and imaginations continue to be in high demand! Yes, effective integration coupled with profound public education and enlightenment on the essence of the Ubuntu spirit as well as conscious efforts to roll out public service delivery can contribute to the defeat of xenophobia.  
 

Akhator Joel ODIGIE is the Coordinator for Human and Trade Union Rights at the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa: www.ituc-africa.org) and he can be reached at joel.odigie@ituc-africa.org

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