The African Union Border Programme (AUBP) was adopted in 2007 under the theme ‘preventing conflicts and promoting integration’. One of its ambitious goals was ‘the delimitation and demarcation of African boundaries’ where this had not yet taken place by 2017. This deadline was extended to 2022 following a Programme review in 2016.
The AUBP was a response, among other things, to the need to ‘address transnational criminal activities’, and promote peace, security and stability in Africa.
At the time, it was estimated that ‘less than a quarter of African borders’ had been delimitated and demarcated. An African Union (AU) assessment in 2012 indicated that there were about 350 official border-crossing points. Some borders between neighbouring countries were found to lack access by road, rail or watercraft; and only 414 roads crossed international borders, 69 of which had no customs along their entire length. Further, only 20 cross-border railway and ferry routes effectively existed. These international borders divided 177 cultural and ethnic groups, whose needs were seldom taken into consideration.
More recently, it has been reported that only a third of Africa’s 83 000km of land borders are properly demarcated.
Africa inherited borders that in most instances were drawn by European and British colonisers. After the wave of independence across the continent, starting with Ghana in 1957, African leaders were increasingly concerned by the risk of interstate conflicts resulting from forced coexistence and irredentism.
Meeting in 1964, the 32 newly independent countries that had a year earlier formed the Organisation of African Unity (the predecessor of the AU), adopted the famous Cairo Declaration. In it, they committed to maintain the borders inherited from colonialism to safeguard unity through cooperation and integration.
While the Constitutive Act of the AU (2000) reiterated the principle of intangibility (Article 4b), the damages caused by colonisation seemed irreversible. Further, the presence of natural resources at buffer zones exacerbated the proliferation of transnational crime and territorial disputes across the continent.
Many border disputes were resolved through negotiations, such as between Liberia and Guinea over the Mount Nimba region (1958-1960), or the Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire claim over the Sanwi-inhabited area of Côte d’Ivoire (1959-1989). But others escalated into conflict or led to war, notably Ethiopia and Somalia over the Haud and Ogaden regions (1955-1989), or the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the border from Badme to Bure (1998-2000).
One of the most notable examples of the disastrous effects of poor border governance in Africa was seen in the Mano River Region (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire), which in early 1990 became engulfed in conflict leading to the uncontrolled movement of combatants and weapons, along with transnational trafficking of natural resources.
The AUBP was therefore adopted as an instrument for states and regional economic communities to cooperate on border management issues, including addressing these types of cross-border criminal activities.
Its implementation strategy is based on three pillars, namely cooperation and coordination (involving actors at all levels, taking into consideration obstacles to trade and traffic at border crossing and focusing on insecurity, crime and smuggling); capacity-building (institutional reforms, the acquisition and proper use of modern technology, and continuous training of personnel based on the needs and changing nature of African borders); and community involvement (the active inclusion of border communities in managing borders).
However, as the extension of the Programme deadline shows, it has failed to meet its 2017 objectives. There have been positive achievements, of course, such as the recent successful resolution of the Tanzania, Mozambique and Comoros shared maritime boundary dispute. But other countries are still spending large sums of money in international litigation to resolve border disputes, and states across the continent are facing new challenges. Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal, for instance, are seeing the revival of old secessionist claims just as Africa’s 55th country, South Sudan, was born in 2011 following the partition of Sudan.
More worrying for the AUBP is the current state of violent extremism on the continent and the increase of threats from organised international criminal gangs, all taking advantage of borders that are poorly policed and porous.
Associated cross-border crimes include illegal migration, interstate trafficking of endangered species of fauna and flora, contraband goods, maritime piracy and the transportation of stolen vehicles. In many instances, endemic corruption and the prevailing social, political and economic environments make border officials susceptible to compromising security.
When the African ministers in charge of border issues reviewed progress on the implementation of the AUBP in 2016, they discussed measures for its further consolidation.
They recommended the establishment of an annual review mechanism on African Border Day (June 7) to regularly assess progress made, and to identify and manage challenges that arise. They also reiterated the importance of the AU Convention on Border Cooperation (2014), which has received only two of the 15 ratifications (Niger and Burkina Faso) required for its entry into force.
As the creation of the AU Department of Trade and Industry shows, peace and security are an integral part of the AU’s regional integration and development strategy. The Department was set up ‘to support the AU in boosting intra-African trade, fast track the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area and ensure Africa’s competitiveness in the global economy’.
Addressing border issues on the continent is therefore not only good for peace and security, but also a necessity for economic and social development.
The AUBP could not, in 10 years, achieve its original goal of securing all African borders and making them vehicles of integration and development rather than conflict and organised crime. It needs to make the next five years count.
Agnes Ebo’o – ENACT Regional organised crime observatory coordinator – Central Africa, ISS