A BORDERLESS AFRICA?

In a critical first step toward what could become the ‘United States of Africa,’ a continent-wide free trade agreement is nearing completion.

Africa
COURTESY OF GOOGLE EARTH
The African Union is making a move to consolidate the continent into one large market for goods and services, making Africa economically competitive with China, Europe, and North America.

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This year, Black America and people of African descent throughout the world are recognizing the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first kidnapped Africans to North America, in what was to become the United States.

There’s another critical date that has continual worldwide impact, but is not as recognized as the year 1619 ‒ generally considered to be the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The year 1885 was the date of the infamous Berlin (Germany) Conference. Thirteen European states, the United States of America, and the then-Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Southeast Europe and Western Asia) attended at the invitation of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Their goal: to carve up Africa and its resources among themselves like a Butterball turkey, but “in accordance with international law.” Africans were not invited to the meeting.

Beginning of colonization

The result: Africa was divided into 55 separate countries. Longitude and latitude and rivers and mountain ranges were used as borders separating the colonies. Some borders were determined by placing a ruler on the wall-sized map and drawing a straight line.

Traditional boundaries mutually and peacefully developed over hundreds of years by different ethnic groups were ignored. Arbitrary borders were drawn through the territories of every tenth ethnic group.

Trade routes were terminated; commerce with people in other colonizer-designed African countries was forbidden, setting the stage for a “divide and conquer” strategy that kept European colonies in Africa weak and dependent on their European masters.

Millions dead

Many historians see the Berlin Conference as setting the historical stage for decades of African civil wars and other conflicts in which millions have died. Societies with ‘forced’ borders are far more likely to suffer from civil war or poverty, studies show.

According to the German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW), “In 2010 ‒ on the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, representatives from many African states in Berlin called for reparations for the colonial era. The arbitrary division of the continent among European powers, which ignored African laws, culture, sovereignty and institutions, was a crime against humanity, they said in a statement.

“They called for the funding of monuments at historic sites, the return of land and other resources which had been stolen, the restitution of cultural treasures and recognition that colonialism and the crimes committed under it were crimes against humanity.”

So far, nothing has come from the demand for reparations from Europe.

Their own organization

In the 1960s, African countries gained their independence and set up the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. According to the African Union’s website, one of the OAU’s main objectives was “to…rid the continent of colonisation and apartheid.”

The OAU could have changed the colonial borders almost 60 years ago. Thinking they would open up a Pandora’s box of border wars, Africa’s first generation of indigenous leadership didn’t. Now, the OAU’s successor organization, the African Union (AU), is taking incremental steps to redefine or eliminate borders within Africa.

Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, the African Union Ambassador to the United States, appeared last month at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Mid-Winter Training Conference in Orlando, where she gave Black newspaper owners details about the effort.

She explained that Africa was poised to become the world’s largest free trade area with the 55 countries merging into a single market of 1.2 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.5 trillion.

“African leaders are saying with one voice, one mind, and one heart that we are one continent,” Chihombori-Quao said. .

One gigantic market

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement  (AfCFTA)  is an agreement between AU member states with a stated goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single currency. It was first presented and signed at the AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018.

The accord seeks to progressively eliminate tariffs on intraAfrican trade, which prior to the agreement stood at an average of 6.1 percent across the continent, as well as removing other trade barriers.

While the agreement does not formally establish an  African Continental Free Trade Area, it will still function as an umbrella under which protocols and annexes will be added, according to Ventures Africa. Once all documents are concluded and ratified, the Free Trade Area will formally exist.

Latest country onboard

This week, Zambia became the latest country to sign the agreement when Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu signed in the presence of African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert M. Muchanga, who then counter-signed on behalf of the AU.

Speaking during a news conference at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Muchanga said he expected AfCFTA to formally launch operations in July during another AU summit to be held in Niamey, Niger.

“By March 21, 2019, the first anniversary of the launch of AfCFTA, we expect we will fill the quota of 21-member states needed for the free trade agreement to come into force,” Muchanga said, according to The New Times of Rwanda.

“With the expected start of operations of AfCFTA in July, the AU expects member states to start to liberalize trade relations with each other, reduce trade tariff among African countries and come up with mechanisms to monitor the application of nontariff barriers by some member states.”

The AfCFTA agreement previously received signatures from 44 out of the 55 AU members at a summit in Rwanda.

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Stacy M. Brown of the NNPA Newswire contributed to this report.

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