Xenophobia and border closure may kill AU/ECOWAS

Posted by News Express | 6 November 2019 | 616 times

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No doubt, two phenomena that have sprang up on the African continent - the persistent xenophobic violence of black South Africans against other black Africans living in South Africa, and the month-long closure of all land borders by Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari – constitute cogs in the wheel of any sort of progress for African integration. These two developments bring to the fore the larger question of whether African Union and ECOWAS are dead and buried.

On one hand, the cases of constant xenophobic violence targeting other black Africans by the indigenous black South Africans can be considered such an unfathomable evil like genocide, to an extent that both in substance and by the circumstances may not be equated to the political decision of Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari to close the nation’s land borders. But, looking at the import of the formation of the sub-regional bloc of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it would seem that the decision of Nigeria to shut the borders is a grave blow to the essence of setting up the sub-regional economic bloc. The persistence of both developments show that the internal crises resolution mechanisms of the African Union and ECOWAS are non-functional or even non-existent.

While reflecting on the incapability of the two organisations to resolve internal issues – such as the twin social evils of xenophobia and unilateral border closure – we are reminded of the core arguments of those who support the decision of Nigeria at this time to shut off the borders in which they pointed to the nexus between that decision and the concept of sovereignty of Nigeria. But looking at the bigger picture, we can as well conclude that the consistent criminal acts of xenophobia in South Africa has in a very big way questioned the essence, relevance and import of African Union, which purports to push for greater economic integration among Africans.

Incidentally, both South Africa which has become notorious because of the xenophobic violence and Nigeria - which is becoming increasingly cynical of brotherly sub-regional neighbours, leading to the shutting of the land borders – were big players in the evolution of both African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

South Africa was the venue of the conference that birthed the transformation of Organisation of African Unity to African Union.

Nigeria, on the other hand, was pivotal in the formation of ECOWAS in the 1970s, and is till date the home of the secretariat of this sub-regional bloc.

So, in a sense, an observer who sets out to examine the growing incidents of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the effects of the decision of Nigeria to shut her land borders, would be left with a straightforward conclusion that ECOWAS and AU have lost their bearings and would, therefore, require resetting and fine-tuning.

To be honest, the African Union did not just start losing relevance of recent, the body has become a laughing stock internationally for failing to institutionalise good governance on the continent, spread constitutional democracy as it were, and by so doing promote economic prosperity of member-nations, which would have prevented the larger scale irregular migration of African youth to the West.

It is not in doubt that African Union has faltered in not doing so much to stop the economic collapse of a lot of African nations and prevent outbreaks of wars and terrorists attacks that have created the new refugee crisis in Africa.

The credibility crisis tearing apart the fabrics of African Union only became more toxic with the constant outbreaks of xenophobic violence in South Africa.

What then are the objectives and relevance of both African Union and ECOWAS if such disturbing signals keep springing up and getting out of control?

Why, for instance, does neighbouring nations to Nigeria not adhere strictly to the laws governing law-based imports and why do they flood the Nigerian markets with substandard goods and refuse to be subjected to the extant rules on customs and excise?

It will also be right to ask where the so-called African unity is and the quest for greater economic integration in Africa for Africans when blacks in South Africa are subjected to the odium of constant xenophobic killing?

Recall that the African Union was officially launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, following a decision in September 1999 by its predecessor, the OAU to create a new continental organisation to build on its work.

It would be recalled that the decision to re-launch the pan-African organisation was officially the outcome of a consensus by African leaders. Their thinking was that in order to realise Africa’s potential, there was a need to refocus attention from the fight for decolonisation and ridding the continent of apartheid, which had been the focus of the OAU, towards increased cooperation and integration of African states to drive Africa’s growth and economic development.

Those who administer the website of African Union noted that AU is guided by its vision of “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

Also, the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the Protocol on Amendments to the Act lay out the aims of the AU which, among other progressive objectives are:

a. Achieve greater unity and solidarity between African countries and their the people

b. Defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States

c. Accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent.

Then, looking at the sub-regional body called ECOWAS, the aims and objectives are: To promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples; and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member states and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.

In order to achieve the aims set out in the paragraph above, and in accordance with the relevant provisions of this Treaty, the community shall, by stages, ensure the harmonisation and coordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities. Particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, legal matters;

harmonisation and coordination of policies for the protection of the environment;

promotion of the establishment of joint-production enterprises;

the establishment of a common market through: the liberalisation of trade by the abolition, among member states, of customs duties levied on imports and exports, and the abolition among member states, of non-tariff barriers in order to establish a free trade area at the community level.

These well outlined objectives are breached with reckless abandon by those who signed the treaty. For instance, smaller economies such as the Benin Republic has always been found wanting in the area of aiding and abetting massive smuggling of goods and services into the Nigerian economy for a long time. Benin is also the most attractive destination for smuggled premium motor spirits stolen from Nigeria. Benin is accused of flooding Nigeria with hundreds of thousands of agricultural products thereby stifling the local agro-allied industry in Nigeria. To that extent, an observer will apportion the greater blame for the weakening and erosion of the essence of ECOWAS treaty on the attitudes of these other smaller neighbouring nations to Nigeria. But, why is Nigerian border security too weak and why are the Immigration and Customs Services so corrupt? And, why is the Nigerian President not throwing away the corrupt and inefficient hierarchies of the two compromised bodies who also aid and abet smuggling? As we look into the border closure and the consequences it has brought to such other countries like Ghana, Niger and Benin Republic, we should be mindful of the retaliatory strikes against Nigerians doing legitimate businesses in those other nations bearing the brunt of the total land border closure by President Buhari. 

Now to the bigger issue of African Union vis-a-vis the xenophobic attacks, we must note that South Africa faced a spate of boycotts recently. 

The presidents of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi decided not to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa hosted by South Africa in the face of ongoing looting and burning of small businesses in that country owned largely by African immigrants, local media reported.

The chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has condemned the attacks, which have seen scores of people arrested in Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria. Reports said Zambia had also cancelled a friendly football match with South Africa's national men’s team Bafana Bafana, scheduled for March.

Nigerian President Buhari instructed his Foreign Affairs minister to summon South Africa's High Commissioner to Nigeria over the violence.

Some South Africans say they are retaliating against crime committed by foreigners and the sale of illicit goods by foreign shop-owners, but political analysts say African immigrants have become scapegoats for rising frustration over joblessness and general economic woes.

In a recent statement, the African Union Commission's Faki, through his spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo called for “immediate steps to protect the lives of people and their property, ensure that all perpetrators are brought to account for their acts, and that justice be done to those who suffered economic and other losses.

The chairperson reiterated the African Union Commission’s continued commitment to support the South African Government in addressing the root causes that led to these despicable acts, in order to promote peace and stability, within the framework of the African Union’s longstanding principles of continental solidarity.

There is, therefore, the urgent need to ensure that ECOWAS and AU do not die premature deaths due to these shortcomings and orchestrated violence of xenophobia in South Africa. Even with all the inherent weaknesses of these bodies, they still play some roles to present Africa as a people who are working to better their environment and make the world a happy place. There are more gains to be made keeping these bodies and consolidating them for greater roles to reposition Africa and West Africa than let them die now, due to our failings.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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