Africa borders

Why Are African Nations Closing Their Borders?

Nigeria has closed its borders, following the examples of Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Eritrea.

On March 21 2018, the African Continental Free Trade Movement was signed. The agreement was designed to strengthen the continent from the inside, without Africa’s previous trade reliance on the West. A continental body consisting of Africa’s fifty-five states, the AU “is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future.”

It “aims to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development and is a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, freedom, progress and collective prosperity pursued under Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.”

Under the AU, African nations have “free movement of business persons and investments.” Nearly two years later, this dream to “expedite the regional and continental integration processes within Africa” is failing. In April this year, Eritrea closed all its borders with neighbour, Ethiopia, hardly a year after reopening it. Despite the trade boom this brought, alongside reuniting families separated by the Eritrean-Somalian war since 1998, the Eritrean government gave no explanation for this closure.

In West Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)”, is working to establish a single currency, Eco, by 2020. Yet, it is facing similar diplomatic, political and economic problems as the European Union. In a recent study, the IMF claimed that net benefits from a single currency, Eco, would accrue to Nigeria. Last month, Nigeria closed its border with Benin, citing smuggling from the Benin border as the reason.

As Brexit negotiations continue in the EU, an economic and political powerhouse is emerging among ECOWAS nations: Nigeria.

“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 the capital city, Abuja.

“This is not a political matter. The problem is broader: we are facing a giant who does what he wants. At a time when the sub-region is working to establish a single currency, this is rather worrying,” a source close to Beninese president, Patrice Talon, said.

To strengthen its political and economic power, Benin complains, Nigeria is exploiting Benin’s economic dependence on the giant of Africa.

“A number of Nigerian business leaders have been complaining about Cotonou’s attitude. They claim their trucks going to Benin are overtaxed at the border,” says a Beninese businessman with links in Nigeria. “In addition, businessman Aliko Dangote, who bought the Nigerian government’s shares in the Lafarge group, wants to sell his cement in Benin, which Talon is prohibiting.”

“Our cement factories are already at over-capacity, and we are doing a lot to fight smuggling,” retorts one of Talon’s government colleagues. “How can a member of the ECOWAS group, which is governed by free movement, decide overnight and without consultation to close its border with its neighbour? It’s not acceptable!”

Across many countries in the African Union, borders are being closed for economic, political, nationalistic, security and health reasons. In August this year, the Cameroonian army accused Equatorial Guinea of planning to build a wall on the border between both countries. As in the US-Mexico border wall, the creation of this wall is to stem illegal migration, as the Equatorial Guinea accuses Cameroon of letting West Africans enter its territory illegally.

By 2063, the African Union aims for a “prosperous and peaceful Africa”. To do this, it declares that “Africa needs to revise and adapt its development agenda due to ongoing structural transformations; increased peace and reduction in the number of conflicts; renewed economic growth and social progress; the need for people centered development, gender equality and youth empowerment.”

Africa is currently disintegrated. The dream of a prosperous Africa is dependent on the Pan African community succeeding. At a time when the AU aims to stabilise and prosper the continent, renewed nationalistic sentiments are prompting leaders to close their borders.

The political instinct to protect and horde; to prosper sans unification, is a current global climate. As the world’s richest horde their wealth, nations are closing their borders to protect the remnants they have.

The dream of unification cannot work alongside a global scarcity mindset. Only two years into its 50-year plan, the African Union is already on its road to failure.