I have never been able to understand why it is so difficult, draining and expensive to do business or travel within Africa. Visa and immigration stress, high airfares, high import and export rates, expensive phone call charges, non-availability of direct flights, etc. I always ask myself why nothing is being done by our leaders in this regard.
I had the opportunity to school in the Hexagon for about two years. France is a founding member of the European Union. Even as a foreign student, I benefited from some of the privileges European citizens enjoyed. After obtaining my Titre de sejours, I was free to visit any of the Schengen countries. I remember how I grabbed my bag and jumped on the train to Amsterdam when school was on break. I don’t remember being approached by any immigration officer for questioning. I wish this was the case in my very own continent where I had to argue with an immigration officer at the Ghana-Togo border because I refused to pay a bribe to enter Togo.
You might be wondering why I am talking about the European Union when today is African Union day.
Let me explain to you what it means to be an EU citizen; your fundamental human rights are guaranteed and it,s a priority for your leaders, you are free to enter and leave any of the 28 member states at all times, live and work in any state, you pay local rates for your mobile phone and health facilities are accessible to all. How I wish! The last thing you will want to do when you travel within Africa is to make a phone call to your family back at home.
The EU which has grown to become the biggest Union in the world has the largest economy and serves over 508 million European citizens. I normally tell my friends that the EU didn’t just get here overnight. It took the conscious efforts, commitments and determination of the leaders and citizens to get to where it is today.
The Union has become stronger than before. Members tend to support each other in times of need. Their approach towards resolving the Eurocrisis is worth emulating. Joint efforts have been put in place towards overcoming the economic and social crisis that hit Europe as a result of banking and real estate speculation and poor management. Greece though debatable was not left alone in its struggle. The TROIKA which was set up to resolve the crisis saved Ireland from crashing. Though painful, the big powers of the Union supported the weak nations to bounce back again because they believed that "one person’s pain is their shared pain and their success is theirs."
Leaders of the EU continue to put its citizens first and involving them in decision-making processes. This is so because they recognise the powerful role citizens have to play to ensure the growth of the Union.
Undoubtedly, the Union is faced with challenges but no matter the challenges there is this admirable spirit of togetherness and commitment among its members.
As we commemorate African Union(AU) day today, I will like to remind our leaders that we need an AU of the people, one that resonates with the needs and concerns of its people; an Africa where I am free to move around, speak freely, have access to improved health care, good living standard etc.
Until this sense of usefulness of the AU is felt among Africans, we can never have an AU of the people. African leaders must tackle the root causes of why the AU is not growing any stronger since its birth. How can we even be talking of having a united Africa when xenophobic attacks are on the high, when member states continue to compete among themselves for business opportunities from the West, when other African leaders remain silent when citizens’ rights are being violated, when poverty and inequality continue to spread like wild fires due to bribery and corruption and misappropriation of funds? African leaders need to remember that the EU recognised right from the beginning the powerful role the people had to play in making the EU strong.
I will like to end this article with a quote from the former president of South Africa, late Nelson Mandela “I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.”
I believe Africa is able one day but what I am not sure about is if we will ever get there without a conscious effort.