Conde had distinguished himself by being proactive in diffusing tensions, including the Gambian cliff-hanger when the continent averted a civil war by a hairsbreadth. Ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s peaceful exit was a near-miracle. Conde also held the leaders together, got everyone involved and ensured the necessary interventions were done in timely fashion, especially when delay was dangerous. Indeed, Kagame in his acceptance speech paid Conde glowing tributes and commended “his big heart for Africa” and “his impeccable service to the continent.”
Kagame also announced that the “Free Movement for Africans” is achievable this year as part of the African Prosperity Agenda which entails the implementation of continent-wide visa-free travels, including the issuance of visas at ports of entry for Africans. He added that women and youth would play key roles in the scheme. Kagame is renowned world-wide for his gender-sensitive disposition and faith in the youth in the push for change. Africa, he said, must act quickly because “we are running out of time.” We support his proposals and his sentiments on this issue.
The issue of free movement of Africans on the continent has occupied African leaders for decades and it would be a positive step if the AU implements it. Many Africans think it has not come early enough, given that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the first continental organisation of post-independence Africa, and AU’s precursor, was founded more than 50 years ago. Before last week, many African countries had liberalised their visa requirements.
Indeed, in at least 16 African countries, all a Nigerian was required to do was show his or her passport to the immigration officer at the port of entry. The AU has in recent years advocated “a single African passport” and the “abolition of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018.”
We consider this a step in the right direction for Africa, and the AU should formally launch the scheme. The benefits of free movement on the continent are legion. They include a general increase in economic activity which would bring increased investments, industrial growth, and more jobs. It would also lead to greater integration of Africa and a boost to inter-regional trade and travel, access to quality education, greater competition and efficiency in the use of resources and the spread of information and ideas.
Yet, it will be foolhardy to underestimate the security demands of the scheme at a time several African countries are swarming with terrorists and jihadists from Libya, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and Egypt. Close security cooperation is, therefore, a sine qua non if the scheme is to work. This should include exchange of information, background checks and the maintenance of databases of criminals and arrest records across African countries.
Last week, the AU launched the “Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM)” which unites the continent through aviation. Many think the continent is not ready for free movement of people, and that it is illusory to try to emulate Europe when the most basic needs for mass movement are lacking. The plan for an East-West railway from Dakar to Djibouti runs through 10 countries, including Nigeria, covers 7,800 kilometres and is estimated to cost $13 billion. Each country is expected to bear the costs within its own borders. Only a hazy outline of this plan exists. Now, travelling that route takes five days by motor vehicle. The “Trans-Africa Highway,” which has been proposed for decades, is also non-existent.
President Kagame’s ambitious programme for the AU includes the fight against corruption, for which the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption unanimously adopted President Muhammadu Buhari last week to lead the effort. The AU also intends to develop a policy on migration, financial autonomy and the launching of a continental Free Trade Area. These are crucial issues deserving of support. We have no doubt President Kagame will receive the necessary support to accomplish them.