True or False - part of mainland Africa is in the EU?

700 words

This week we learned that South Africa will contribute an extra R2.2bn annually to the African Union under a new funding model. That’s lot of money, but then the AU has important objectives to create greater unity, prosperity and stability across the whole of the continent…Or so I thought. Morocco withdrew from the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity [“OAU”] 32 years ago over the organisation’s decision to recognise Western Sahara. Much more interestingly though, there are 30.8 square kilometres and 160,852 people in Africa that are actually part of the EU.  

The answer then is “True”. Ceuta and Melilla are two tiny enclaves on Morocco’s Mediterranean coastline that are autonomous Spanish cities. The cities are centuries old and have a colourful history of conquest and capture involving Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Vandals, Berbers and pirates. They are homes to Christians, Muslims, Sephardic Jews and Sindhi Hindus. The cities remained part of Spain following Morocco’s independence in 1956. Not surprisingly, Morocco claims both territories.


So what…

Twenty years ago, I enrolled in a short lecture series on the origins of conflict in the Middle East. The lecturer emphasised that the foundations of post-colonial conflict often lay in the arbitrarily drawn colonial boundaries because what was convenient for Britain and France usually took no notice of ethnic and geographic realities. The Kurds, for example, are one of the largest population groups in the Middle East but they are a minority in four different countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria) despite occupying a more or less contiguous area. Africa, like the Middle East, is one of the principal victims of colonialism and has been plagued by post-colonial conflict.

The objective of the OAU was to liberate Africa from colonialism, but the scars of our colonial history nevertheless remain in the form of our national boundaries. According to Oxford historian and author, Martin Meredith, there are an estimated 10,000 separate polities that have been arbitrarily merged into Africa’s 55 countries. I am certainly not advocating redrawing national boundaries or embarking on a massive program of balkanisation. Africa already has too many small, impoverished and landlocked countries. However, since national boundaries are largely colonial in nature and therefore less “natural” we should be open to making them less relevant. I would therefore like to emphasise the critical role of the AU in reducing the importance of national borders by building a continent that fosters economic growth through the free movement of goods, services and people. Significant progress has already been made and inter-regional trade in sub-Saharan Africa has almost doubled over the past 20 years. Unfortunately this has come off a very low base of just 2% of GDP (read more on trade here).  

The good news is that free movement is a key aspiration of the AU’s “Agenda 2063” and according to the IMF, brining tariffs to the average global level could increase trade by 14%. The AU has just taken an important step by issuing the first continental passports that allow visa-free travel with the AU. Although these are initially only available to politicians and diplomats, the AU has an objective of allowing visa free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020. Thankfully we seem to be moving in the opposite direction to the EU and Brexit.

I’ll tie things together by concluding that Ceuta and Melilla reminded me that there is still a lot of work to overcome the effects of colonialism and because the European connection means there is a lot the AU can learn from that other union. That seems stage when you consider that the Greek crisis, the European sovereign debt crisis, the Syrian refugee crisis and the Italian banking rooted in the structural flaws of the EU and the euro. The EU has nevertheless resulted in enormous economic benefits and according to EU Commission statistics, EU GDP was nearly 2% higher and households nearly €5,700 richer in 2003 as a result of the single market. That sort of growth would go down well in Africa.

Dr Andrew Louw CFA

(Sources: Business Day, Wikipedia, BBC News, Financial Times, The Economist, Martin Meredith, African Union website, Quartz, Chatham House)