The African Union (AU) recently launched an initiative that seeks to stimulate the economy and promote growth throughout the continent. An African Union passport allows for free flowing migration into and out of all African countries (1). For a few West African countries, however, migration policies have already been relaxed. Citizens of 125 countries can now freely visit Senegal, citizens of 25 countries, mostly West African, may visit Guinea, and 9 nearby states may visit Mauritania, all sans visa. While there are many concerns regarding the relaxation of border security, the most alarming reality may be the AU’s prioritization of economic growth over security, threatened by increased piracy and oil bunkering.
The introduction of visa-free entry into African countries comes in wake of the Brexit decision this past July, in which UK citizens voted to leave the European Union. The decision was partially fueled by desires for better control over their borders. However, the trend in Africa is reversed. For the AU, less travel restrictions means more migration, trade, and tourism, and thus economic growth. For multiple African countries, tourism is a vital part of the economy. In Senegal, for example, recent attention has been turned to fostering the tourism industry. Senegal has one of the least strict visa policies on the continent. 125 countries are visa-exempt as of May 2015 (2). According to the World Travel & Tourism Council , travel and tourism accounted for over 11% of Senegal’s 2014 GDP (3). The industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade.
Tourism is not the only benefit sought after with open borders. Migration has been shown to help boost economies by filling labor needs, adjusting wages, and accessing new markets. Migration has always fluctuated in Africa, switching between periods of outward and inward movements. The country of Mauritania is a prime example of this. Outward flowing migrations of the 1970s came in response to severe droughts, but the 1990s saw high immigration into the country as a result of neighboring civil conflicts (4). The lack of visa requirements in Mauritania amplifies these trends. Mauritania’s GDP reflects the benefits from immigration with the GDP: at only $92,900,00 USD in 1960, GDP spiked to $1.464 Billion USD in 1992, according to The World Bank. However, while tourism and migration may contribute to economic growth under open border policies, the biggest worry in the region concerns the growing trend of trafficking and illicit activities that may be assisted by the ease of border crossing.
Piracy in Western and Central African waters has been a rising problem along the coast. Oil is the main sought out good, reaching around 55 million barrels hijacked a year, or one tenth of oil production in the region (5). Nigeria serves as the center of illegal oil trade and relies on smuggling routes that run throughout the coastal countries. Countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea are all prime routes to bring illegal goods into and out of the region.
There are three ways the oil is illegitimately obtained. Hot tapping is when a branch is created out of an already existing pipeline, while cold tapping involves an explosion that allows the smugglers’ own pipes to be attached; both of these techniques are known as “oil bunkering” (5). The third way oil is stolen is by violent interception of vessels and vehicles transporting oil cargo. Despite its illegality, oil bunkering is kept legitimate and thriving as a result of bribed relationships between smugglers and government officials (6). Trafficking is complimented with increasing ease of travel due to relaxing visa policies. Smugglers are known to be common citizens, militants or government officials who can all use relaxed border security to their advantage.
The case for open borders is often overshadowed by fears of increased crime and migration. The AU’s goal to be completely visa free by 2018 is admirable, and there is significant evidence that suggests the idea will be beneficial for tourism and trade. However, corruption and weak control over border security allows criminals to benefit from the AU’s goals. A move towards a more integrated Africa should be accompanied by investments in technology that counters piracy and oil bunkering, both of which hurt African economies (5). It is evident that maritime forces cannot handle the current level of piracy, and it is affecting the economic growth and physical security of the impacted states.
Nonetheless, these are important strides for the continent to move towards integration, free trade, and inclusion in the international economy. As many of the AU’s structures, policies, and goals are modeled after the European Union, it is important for Africa’s northern neighbor to support these endeavors by providing guidance and aid. Europe, too, has much to gain by increasing access to African economies through open border policies.
(1) Mukredzi, Tonderayi. "The Pan African Passport Will Open up Continental Borders." New York Times, August 8, 2016.
(2) Segun-Amao, Bimbola. "Visiting Senegal Just Became Easier as Visa Is Now on Arrival for All Nationalities." CP Africa. April 30, 2015. http://www.cp-africa.com/2015/04/30/visiting-senegal-just-became-easier-as-visa-is-now-on-arrival-for-all-nationalities/.
(3) Turner, Rochelle. "Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2015 Senegal." World Travel & Tourism Council. 2015.
(4) "Migration Facts Mauritania." Migration Policy Center. April 2013. http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/docs/fact_sheets/Factsheet Mauritania.pdf.
(5) "Nigeria and Oil Smuggling." Africa Economic Development Institute. August 9, 2016. http://www.africaecon.org/index.php/africa_business_reports/read/73.
(6) Rinkle, Serge. "Piracy and Maritime Crime in the Gulf of Guinea: Experience-based Analyses of the Situation and Policy Recommendations." Institut Für Sicherheitspolitik. August 2015. https://www.ispk.uni-kiel.de/de/publikationen/arbeitspapiere/serge-rinkel-piracy-and-maritime-crime-in-the-gulf-of-guinea-experience-based-analyses-of-the-situation-and-policy-recommendations.
Image: © Attila Jandi | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-market-scene-nouakchott-mauritania-image15687210#res14972580">Market scene, Nouakchott, Mauritania</a>