EVENT REPORT AND CALL FOR CHAPTERS: The State of African Borders Post Covid-19, 28 February 2023

Posted on March 22, 2023

On 28 February 2023, the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) in conjunction with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Addis Ababa University (AAU), hosted a webinar on "The State of African Borders Post Covid-19". The webinar included presentations by Professor Christopher Nshimbi (University of Pretoria), Dr Margaret Monyani (ISS), Dr Kiya Gezahegne (AAU), and Mr Kunle Adeyanju (a border enthusiasit), with Dr Samuel Okunade (CAS, Univeristy of Pretoria) moderraing the dicussion. 

This event is the start of an extended project focused on African borderlands in the aftermath of covid-19, and the changing dymanics at, and engagments with borderds on the contient. To contribute to a planned book on this topic, please see the call for book chapters here, or contact Dr Samuel Okuande


African borders continue to attract attention at the global level and on the continent. This is in light of the various border management strategies and migration control policies made by African states, the activities that go on along these borders, and the implementation of these policies on the ground. Furthermore, the COVID 19 pandemic witnessed globally saw the closure of borders across various continents thereby, giving new meanings to borders across the globe. We (scholars and practitioners) therefore gathered virtually to engage one another and stir up conversations on the state of African borders in a post COVID era. This was meant to critically appraise African borders in the light of COVID 19 in terms of changes that occurred during COVID-19 pandemic and what the practice is going forward vis-à-vis the implementation of various border, migration and trade policies on the continent such as the African Union of Free Movement and African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). In other words, we sought to find answers to the question of what changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the way African borders are viewed? What new meanings have been attributed to African borders in a post COVID-19 era?  

In our interactions with 3 scholars and 1 border enthusiast, 5 key areas were touched.

First, Professor Christopher Nshimbi started off by laying a solid background on what border means in general terms and the binary function it plays. From a traditional security point of view, border serves as markers of territories as it defines the territorial space of a nation state which in turn determines the sovereignty and legitimacy of a state. This explains why many states are state-centric in their views vis-à-vis formulation and implementation processed of border management and migration policies. He took us beyond the traditional meaning attributed to security by seeing border from a point of view of human security which elaborates the meaning of security to other factors that makes a system whole and performs optimally. He noted securitization theory refers to a situation where a state decides to turn issues of migration or health into security issues which pose a treat to a nation and endanger the lives of the people. Specifically speaking to the COVID-19 era, it was a period that witnessed border closure and restriction on human mobility though not totally on the African continent. He noted how the period was taken as an opportunity by some state actors to propagate their migration and border management policies. A case in point is South Africa, which say the COVID-19 period as a convenient time to implement its Border Management plan. Equally, some state institutions during the period were overarching in their approach by intruding on the privacy of citizens thus infringing on their fundamental human rights.

Second, is the fact that the implementation phase of the continental free trade agreement has witnessed more success than the free movement protocol. This reality negates the AU Agenda 2063 adopted in 2013 which aims to among others, achieve a politically united and integrated continent based on Pan Africanist paradigm. This comes with its implications on migrants, businesses and the economy. It is important to note that the free movement protocol predates the continental trade agreement and as a result, calls for in-depth research and analysis. Dr Monyani in her presentation highlighted 4 factors or perhaps reasons responsible for this. First, is the numbers. While 44 countries have ratified the continental free trade agreement, only 4 countries classified as low income countries have ratified. Of course, this is due to the fear entertained by some middle-income countries of mass movement of persons into their territories from low income countries, etc. She noted how the stiffening or restrictions of movement of persons has led various actors to devise clandestine means of crossing the borders most especially the cross-border traders who engage in Informal Cross-Border Trade (ICBT). An example of such as put forth by Professor Inocent Moyo is the packaging of goods and cash in coffins for easy movement across the border. 

Third, border communities were at the receiving end of the various border closures that occurred. Dr Kiya in her presentation made this point as her current study showed that border communities were denied their access to their sources of livelihood. Through a case study of the communities that straddle the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, she noted that it became difficult for many who cross into Sudan to make purchases of few items to sell and feed on could not do so.  This implies that the marginalisation of border communities across the globe cannot be overemphasized as they are always at the receiving end of policies made by states vis-à-vis border management and migration control.

Fourth, is the affirmation of the humanness of the African people. Mr Adeyanju in his presentation of his experience with African borders, the border communities and borderlanders, made bare the fact that Africans remain welcoming. This further corroborates the ubuntu spirit on the continent. He noted how he felt safe along the borders and in the border communities. He equally noted that the border officials were respectful and willing to do their jobs even when they lack the needed infrastructure to do so effectively. His presentation raised concerns as to how he had smooth passage all the way from North Africa down to West Africa. In his response, he averred that he holds dual citizenship. As such he was able to negotiate the use his Nigerian passport and British passport when and where necessary. Of course, more in-depth study need to be carried out so as to ascertain how free an African is and can move on the continent.

Finally, conversations on the openness of African borders, the securitization and militarization of African border and the demonization of migrants by some state and non-state actors on the continent were raised. A major concern remains the level of political will on the part of African states toward the implementation of the protocol on free movement and continental  free trade agreement.

Conclusively, to further address these concerns, we have decided to take this discussion further by compiling our findings and welcoming more study findings on same and related topics in the form of an edited volume. It is on this note, that we call for chapter contributions from border and migration scholars and practitioners on the continent.


You can watch the full webinar below: 

- Author Dr Samuel Okunade

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