While African countries are reinforcing their integration and forging a stronger union, European countries are struggling to hold the European Union (EU) together so as to avoid a backlash from Britain’s decision to leave the EU- Brexit – which now seems inevitable.
For so long, African countries have tried to emulate European democracies and development models. However, more than 60 years after independence, most African countries are still trapped in extreme poverty, conflicts and failed governance.
What is happening now in Europe with the rise of populist politics leaves many Africans to wonder if western democracies and their development models are really ideal and sustainable?
Currently, Europe is faced with increasing unemployment and declining living standards, which are either generating or exacerbating economic uncertainty, and igniting populist protests such as ‘Gilets jaunes’ in France or far-right’s angst in Italy, Germany, etc.
In the era of globalisation, where the world is shrinking with borders being dismantled by new technologies, Brexit is putting Europe in a reverse gear, while the rest of the world, especially China, Africa or India are heading in a different direction.
With the resignation of a second UK Prime Minister, Madam Theresa May, over Brexit issues, people following Brexit negotiations are in the mood of ‘wait and see’. But more importantly, the Brexit saga should be a lesson for African countries that see their future within an African Union.
This is because Africa could face the same difficulties in the process of integration as Europe. It is important to thoroughly examine the root causes of integration difficulties associated with Brexit. While this might be subject of debate, it is obvious that Europe is faced with an existential problem of identity and vision.
First, many citizens of European countries do not see themselves as Europeans. They are holding strongly to their national and community identities. Most British citizens have never wanted to feel or be recognised as Europeans.
They do take European Union as a bureaucratic agency in Brussels created to serve their countries’ interests individually. In this regard, the union is not a whole, but rather the sum of the different parts, without synergy and real unity.
Lacking the willingness by citizens and political leadership to embrace a single European identity and become one people, the European Union could slowly disintegrate.
Second, the European Union is designed as a project that lacks a clear shared vision for its citizens. A project is a time-limited endeavour designed to resolve short-term problems.
However, a vision is a lifetime venture that shapes the destiny of a people. Without a shared vision that charts a common destiny, member countries will continue to have difficulty in understanding each other and working together to build a strong and a sustainable union.
On the African continent, countries engaged in a journey of building their own union are likely to face the same problems with similar consequences that could make real integration impossible.
African countries are yet to embrace a common identity where their citizens should see themselves and be treated as African people. It is still easier for a European, American or Chinese citizen to enter an African country than for an African to enter another African country.
Ultimately, adopting a single African identity could be a solution to many other African problems such as tribalism that has thrown many countries into civil wars. This strategy could also facilitate the dismantling of the mind barriers which are sustaining physical borders, established by former colonizers for their divide and rule administrations.
Uprooting the physical borders will allow the free movement of people across African countries. Issuing an African passport to many citizens across all countries is a concrete step towards building an African identity and making integration real.
The vision of complete integration of African countries is defined under Agenda 2063 adopted by the African Union. However, to translate this vision into reality, the vision has to be owned, enforced and implemented by member states, communities and the citizens. A shared vision creates a common identity and destiny, which will bring Africans to work together as one people.
Fifty-six years after the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), replaced by the African Union in 2002, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) comes at the right time as a way forward towards realisation of the dream of African unity. Let ‘Africa Unite’ and make the 21st century a period for Africa Renaissance.
Juvenal Turatsinze is a Development Expert, and Author of The Formula for Accelerated Change.