Africa must break down travel, trade barriers to create a future for the youth

American writer, futurist and businessman Alvin Toffler once said the following words: “The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they — at some distant point in the future — will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely … because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”

As we celebrating youth month in South Africa, we cannot blindly turn out eyes away from the challenges that the youth are facing in their respective countries and subsequently on the continent.

Africa is currently facing high levels of unemployment, conflicts and high levels of poverty amongst many social ills. Despite the challenges the continent faces they are pertinent questions that need answers. The questions are:

A) Do young Africans have a role to play in ensuring a united and better Africa? and

B) What should our youthful generation place at the top of its agenda and push forward?

The answer to A is simple and straightforward. Young Africans have indeed a critical role to play in ensuring a united and better Africa. On the other hand, the answer to question B has no easy answers. In this piece, I argue that the youth of this continent should place the free movement of people and goods at the top of its agenda.

Free movement of people and free movement of goods

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote once lamented that he needed 38 visas to travel around the continent. It is surprising that most African countries have put up strict visa requirements for fellow Africans but has a more relaxed visa requirement for citizens from countries outside the continent.

I would be surprised if an African was allowed to move freely in Europe without being required to apply for a visa for those countries he/she wished to visit. The African Union has urged its member states to relax its visa requirement for African citizens but few countries have adhered to this call.

I find it bizarre that they are some who advocate for the free movement of goods but not free movement of people. The free movement of people is one of the central requirements for a successful single market. Plainly put, there can never be a successful single African market that enables free movement of goods in the continent without free movement of the African people. Young Africans need to prioritise the free movement of African people and goods. Arguments have been brought forward by so many people that Africa is not ready to experience free movement of its people but my question to them is when will we ever be ready if we do not start the initiative as soon as possible.

Free movement of African people on the continent will increase revenues for many countries in terms of their tourism sectors. Free movement of people will enable the youth of this continent to be able to visit other African countries and in turn see an opportunity to collaborate with other youths and create initiatives that will lead to the creation for jobs.

For a continent that is the least integrated, the free movement of the African people is an important ingredient for both economic growth and economic development. People against the idea of the free movement of African citizens cite security issues and state that Africa countries will be exposed to risk. This is false. The agreement of free movement of people does not entail a state to be negligent at their port of entries but even more to be cautious of whoever enters their boundaries.

Biometric passports make it easier to identify whoever enters ones boundaries. Therefore, the argument of security breach does not hold any water.

The African Development Bank noted the following: “African countries remain closed off to each other, making travel within the continent difficult. Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. This situation is even more restricted for Africans travelling within Africa, as compared to Europeans and North Americans. This is despite the fact that the number of arrivals to the continent’s destinations (and especially intra-African flights) has showed the highest growth globally over the years (IATA, 2010)… On average, African citizens require visas to visit 60% of African countries – ranging from a high of 84% for Somalia to a low of 41% for The Gambia.”

The ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is a significant development for the continent, the breaking of trade barriers among member states of the continent will lead to the creation of jobs on the continent for many youths who are currently experiencing a high unemployment rate. We as the youth should commit ourselves into making sure that our respective countries adhere to this agreement.

As Coretta Scott King an American author, activist, civil rights leader once bluntly stated: “The failure to invest in youth reflects a lack of compassion and a colossal failure of common sense.”

If Africa is to experience its renaissance, the youth should be given to a chance to lead from the front.

One cannot shy away from the fact that Africa is need of new energy, new vision, new strength and new solutions to take the continent forward and undoubtedly these can only be found within its youth.

• Patrick Kadima is currently pursuing a graduate LLB at Wits. He is the former secretary-general of the students for law and social justice (Wits chapter). He is an outgoing member of the law student council and chairperson of the Black Lawyers Association (Wits Student Chapter). He writes in his personal capacity.

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