Sixty years after the idea of a united Africa defined by free trade, cultural exchange, peace, and security was born with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), a baton that was passed to the African Union (AU) in 2002, a newly released report has stated that the dream of a united Africa, though alive, is restrained by the challenge of xenophobia and lack of free movement.
Examining the report on the structures, successes, problems, and potentials of more than 20 institutions, agreements, and initiatives to explore existing academic research on African continental integration, and the narratives that emerge about the possibility of achieving ‘One Africa’, Africa No Filter, a body that promotes a shift in stereotypical stories about Africa, in its review found that the focus of the AU has typically been on economic integration. However, cultural diplomacy is not promoted.
The literature review, published in a document titled One Africa: Pan-African Dream or Reality, also found that even though there are nine Regional Economic Communities (RECs) created to promote free continental trade and development, in many cases, economic integration is hindered by lack of infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure.
The review also found that while the AU recognises the link between migration and development, the AU Free Movement Protocol has not been implemented, and xenophobia remains a key barrier to regional integration.
On a more positive note, the AU has been able to consolidate Africa as a bloc to contest international agreements.
Some key findings from the review are: Focus is on ‘hard power’: The OAU, AU and REC agreements, policies, and protocols to ensure continental integration typically focused on ‘hard power’, such as trade, peace and security, and governance and democracy.
Need to address ‘soft power’: Formal agreements have had limited efficacy. More attention should be given to cultural diplomacy and the free movement of people between countries, thus allowing the development of a shared understanding of histories and cultures and a reduction in nationalism and xenophobia.
Limited buy-in from countries: Countries do not show enough buy-in to the agreements. Few of the countries have signed, ratified, and domesticated all the agreements, including even those covered by a specific REC. For example, in ECOWAS only Burkina Faso has ratified all 51 protocols and Guinea Bissau has not ratified any.
Limited buy-in from other actors: States do not fully involve civic society in creating the agreements — sometimes to the extent of ignoring human rights — which results in lack of buy-in from citizens. For example, the African Continental Free Trade Area does not address labour rights and livelihoods, which could hamper human rights such as equality, security, and human dignity.
Little follow through and lack of accountability: Even when African states sign agreements, there is little evidence that agreements are translated into practical plans and actions.
Lack of governance infrastructure to support rollout: Rolling out agreements requires setting up institutions to oversee implementation and resolve disputes, but these are costly and require many additional human resources.
AU not sufficiently resourced: A mammoth budget is needed to implement continental agreements and initiatives. The AU’s budget for its 55 member countries for 2020 was $647.3 million, with many members falling behind in payments. By comparison, the EU’s 2020 budget was €168.7 billion ($200 billion) for its 27 members.
Limited infrastructure for transport systems, ICT and energy means fewer possibilities: Africa remains the least connected of all continents and needs major investment in the development of infrastructure and technical skills.
One size doesn’t fit all: The agreements typically do not acknowledge the inequalities and competition between states, and therefore do not incorporate guidelines for managing such conflicts of interest.
More success in the international arena: The AU has been able to consolidate Africa as a bloc to contest international agreements, and to nominate and elect Africans to positions of significant power within international organisations, for example, the African heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Health Organisation (WHO).