Africa’s future is transnational and interconnected

Mehari Taddele Maru and Fabrizio Tassinari  

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Vaccine nationalism represents the most formidable challenge to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent address to G7 countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Germany and other wealthy countries may need to give some of their own stock to developing countries in addition to money, since only vaccinating the whole world will end the coronavirus pandemic.”

The main lesson? The world would be safer if countries would think not only about their own citizens, but also about those of other countries. This also holds true for the African continent and for more than just the coronavirus.

Too often, nationalism has been a leading factor that inhibited Africa from achieving its full potential.

Nationalism, entrenched in the old construal of sovereignty, has fragmented Africa into 55 jurisdictions, hampering its progress towards a dynamic, integrated economy with a strong voice in the global arena.

Though it has a potential market of more than one billion people, Africa’s global market share remains dismal, and its influence globally is muted.

Needless to say, there are sufficient reasons for states to control their borders.

National security and protection of sovereignty come to mind. Hence, cross-border cooperation, free movement of people, goods, services and finance could be considered by many political decision-makers to impinge on their sovereignty.

Transnational governance is one of those supranational sirens that entice national sovereignty-based protectionism including on trade, vaccines and other Pan African matters. But change towards a more integrated continent is on the way.

Pan African aspirations

In 2015 the African Union adopted the blueprint Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, whose vision is “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.

Similarly, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has gained momentum and entered into force in the past few years.

A demographically young and rapidly changing continent, Africa would be one of the world’s largest free trade areas with vast opportunities under AfCFTA.

Barriers to an integrated Africa

Nonetheless, long-standing challenges remain and are holding back progress towards Pan African governance.

More than 416 million Africans still live in extreme poverty and close to 640 million without electricity. Another 210 million live in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Other additional barriers to Pan African transnational governance include poor integrative infrastructure, political and policy constraints, historical factors, security threats, a trust deficit and the mindset of government officials.

Broadly speaking, they arise from a lack of political will and determination expressed in resource allocation and leadership.

Insofar as such initiatives’ success heavily rest only on national systems, the predisposition of the nation-state to control traffic through its borders hampers Pan African progress.

Many transnational political and economic initiatives such as Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA will continue to face complex challenges, due to lack of effective governance beyond national borders.

The success in AfCFTA and Agenda 2063 is unthinkable without the effective transnational governance at the continental level.

Beyond political determination, the implementation of Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA will require high-level policy and a supra-national institutional framework.

At the centre of all these challenges is lack of effective transnational governance and leadership challenges.

Governance beyond borders

But transnational governance is more than supra-nationalism. It spans multiple sectors and actors, from supra-national organisations to local authorities, via business, higher education, civil society actors and beyond.

This is particularly relevant to African countries, where new actors are rapidly emerging as powerful players in the continental and international arena.

The mobilisation of the private sector, banking and local manufacturing sectors, small and medium cross-border traders, academia, civil society groups, organised women’s groups, cooperative societies and the media across the continent will be crucial.

Visionary and capable leadership in all sectors of society is essential to accelerating Africa’s critically needed systemic change to ensure sustainable transformation.

To realise these monumental visions, African states and their public servants will need to undergo massive transformation to enable the continent to address challenges in cross-border and transboundary governance systems.

The starting point for such transformation is the development of critical mass of functionaries and thought leaders well equipped with up-to-date and contemporary thoughts of transnational governance, competence in management of transboundary projects and the state-of-the-art skills of analysis on cross-border initiatives.

Geopolitical Commission

The European Union engages with Africa using a new proposition. In a world marred by disorder and scarred by a pandemic, the European Commission, through its executive arm, has styled itself as a ‘Geopolitical Commission’ which aims to exert power and influence differently.

In doing so, it has elected Africa as a privileged partner, betting on its entrepreneurial, burgeoning potential.

Make no mistake: Europe comes to Africa with baggage. Its colonial heritage may no longer feature in everyday policy-making, but it remains beneath the surface, impairs trust-building and still undergirds the mechanics of cooperation.

Europe is also sometimes perceived as being slow-moving and overly bureaucratic. We live in a world where a myriad of actors, from states to corporations, measure their effectiveness on speed, agility and shrewdness, whether in penetrating markets or building critical infrastructure.

Benefits of exposure to other regions

The EU prided itself in a modus operandi of thorough, rule-based and shared decision-making. That is, unwittingly, part of the message that the Geopolitical Commission wants to convey: that genuine and deep cooperation is built over time.

It has to be based, not only on rigorous conditions, but also on building enduring bonds through partnership.

The reference to geopolitics might seem a contradiction when the European agenda intends equal partnership and co-development.

But, beneath the surface, it is about nurturing power and influence in Africa from the inside out. It is about encouraging transnational governance, not because it is a model of European norms and institutions, but because African stakeholders themselves will realise that it works.

Instead, exposure to the experience of other regions such as Europe and the EU institutions in the governance beyond a state offers perspectives and inspires new generations of leaders in Africa.

Knowledge is power

In this context, higher education and professional training plays an essential role. “Knowledge is power” says an overused aphorism attributed to Francis Bacon.

Europe has tried to live up to it, by fostering the emergence of a knowledge-based society that can uphold our fundamental values.

That knowledge now needs to be fit for purpose: it needs to adapt and reshape the way we organise our post-pandemic societies, education needs to guide our choices and, if necessary, counsel against our impulses.

In the process, it can act as a vehicle, a lingua franca, not for negotiating but for talking to each other and creating the bonds that open and free societies thrive on.

That is why the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy, is launching on behalf of the European Commission, the Young African Leaders Programme.

The programme will enable 20 mid-career, high potential practitioners from the world of civil service, civil society, higher education, business, or media to spend three months of intensive training on policy areas and issues pertaining to transnational governance.

We hope to attract representatives from all parts of Africa and all walks of life. We trust it will make a difference, and that it will matter.

For young experts navigating an ever-transforming governance landscape in Africa, the Young African Leaders Programme aims to equip participants with practical skill sets to manage transboundary policy issues.

Learning about this programme on a visit to Florence last year, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said: “I am pleased to learn about EUI’s initiatives to connect Europe and Africa and train a rising generation of leaders who are able to expertly navigate complex global problems and find solutions that benefit not just one nation or people, but many.”

That is exactly what we hope to achieve.

It is time to turn the page.