By David Makwerere
The origins of the present day national and international borders on the African continent are directly attributable to the outcomes of the Berlin colonial conference of 1884-85. The colonial masters arbitrarily partitioned the continent as per their colonial ambitions and thus created ethnic dispersions. As a result, managing the borders on the African continent is a delicate balancing act in an increasingly globalizing world. Borders symbolize the sovereign distinctiveness of states in the international relations arena; define territorial geography, authority and power as well as national influence. They become markers of what is exclusive/inclusive within a particular space occupied by the state.
These modern frontiers, though not always, necessitate a fundamental requirement for states to provide effective governance in order to tackle the immense challenges that are associated with their existence. The Organization of African Union (OAU) Charter of 1963 acknowledged the sovereign equality of member states, non-interference in the internal affairs of States and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each state and for its inalienable right to independent existence (OAU, 1963). Borders are important in ensuring territorial integrity of states as well as facilitating the movement of goods and services to enhance economic development.
Border Management Perceptions
There appears to be some enduring tension among states when it comes to border management in Africa. Borders serve the primary function of demarcating country A from country B and country C from country B etc. This separation divides the ‘self’ from ‘other’, ‘here’ and ‘there’ but more importantly ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Thus they ‘retain an essential sense of sharp dislocation and separation’ (Newman, 2006, 148). These dislocations have implications for how states manage the borders. Nonetheless, borders can become instruments of state policy and so their importance to the state is that they are buffers against threats and they can also guard sovereignty. There is therefore a need to provide an effective border management policy regime at the African Union level as well as the regional level. Whilst there are many protocols on border management, it is the implementation part that has remained problematic over the years.
The changing nature of borders requires a well-thought-out method for streamlining the means by which regulations are given effect and strategies between border agencies are synchronized. And so it is imperative to institute border management strategies that will also be able to militate against challenges facing borders. Border management will presuppose the administration of borders narrowly conceived but broadly it will refer to ‘procedures applied to persons crossing the border to ensure they comply with laws’ (Zarnoweicki, 2011).
Factors shaping border management and law
There are various categories shaping border management strategies and I will focus on the following broad categories, the security dimension and the economic dimension.
Modern day security threats include human trafficking, terrorism (for example in the Horn of Africa), drug trafficking, smuggling of small arms, diseases such as Ebola and other communicable diseases. These all require effective and dynamic border management strategies. The importance of borders becoming barriers for all sorts of security problems is made difficult by the permeability of borders. States have a tendency to look at border management and security from a narrowed perspective. There is need to conceptualize security in broad terms and to capture both the state and human security dimensions. Border security in this instance then invokes a broadened agenda of security where human security will complement state security, enhances human rights and strengthens human development. The African Union (AU) Constitutive Act of 2002 underscored the importance of a balance between state security and human security.
As an economic consideration, borders should act as major drivers of economic growth and development. However ports of entry, especially by road are increasingly becoming very difficult to navigate. They are often crowded and understaffed. A case in point is the Beitbridge Border Post linking South Africa and Zimbabwe. On average one spends up to five or more hours to cross the border. McLinden (2011) noted that outdated and overly bureaucratic border clearance imposed by customs have posed barriers to trade. Added to that is also cumbersome systems and procedures coupled with poor infrastructure. Whilst the emphasis is largely on bureaucratic procedures, not much attention is being given to the ever growing phenomenon of corruption where border management is being hamstrung by endemic corruption leading to racketeering syndicates. Regional and continental bodies are yet to provide a robust legal and institutional framework to address this phenomenon.
It is my submission that border management must respond to the ever changing dynamics resulting from globalization and information technology developments. Borders in Africa have remained largely bureaucratic and creating a breeding ground for corruption and inefficiency and thus compromising the security function as well as the economic function of borders. As a parting shot I propose the developments of a more integrated approach to border management. The one-stop border concept that is already operational in some few parts of Africa must be prioritized in all regions of the continent if Africa is to realize its full economic potential as well as ensuring security of states.
David Makwerere is a PhD in Peacebuilding Candidate at Durban University of Technology and a lecturer in the Department of Peace and Governance at Bindura University in Zimbabwe. His research interests are in Peace, conflict, development and procedural and distributive justice at micro-levels