EU out, AU in: The politics of free movement

EVENT REVIEW by Genevieve Quartey
Why enter when we just left?
On 9th September, an assembly of African diasporas and those interested in the continent took place in Parliament. Speakers for the night were: Tom Lawal, an award winning Barrister, Naivasha Mwanji of  ‘HashtagCongo’ and Chima Ndibeka, a financial adjudicator. It was hosted by Benjamin Bennett, co-founder of Project 1957.  The debate was focused on the politics of free movement and the coincidental timing of Britain leaving the EU whilst the AU begins its plans for free movement.  The debate called into question many controversial topics such as identity, economic stability, trade, aid and much more.
What does Brexit mean for Africa
Was Brexit the best decision? “Are you never going to leave your mother’s house?” This was a statement made by speaker Chima Ndibeka in response to audience members who felt leaving the Europe Union was the completely wrong decision.  Amongst the African community a large amount of middle aged diasporas voted to leave the EU. When raised to the audience, Chima argued this was due to a wide belief that migrants from the EU didn’t work as hard as Commonwealth migrants, but still received the same benefits. The effect Brexit will have on aid to African countries were also debated, if Britain is no longer financially stable to provide the level of aid that is needed can we rely on the US and China to compensate for this?  A consensus response was that we should rely on ourselves.  ‘Nigerians are the most educated in the world’ argued an audience member, ‘therefore, we as a continent have the education and resources to take care of ourselves rather than rely on others’.
AU and the free movement
So why then if a significant amount of African diasporas opting out of a free movement agreement would the AU want such an arrangement in Africa? Easier trade and greater unity in the continent are the answers to this, as one audience member mentioned such movement has already been happening in West-Africa under ECOWAS.  For those who saw free movement leading to further problems in Africa, they argued the new biometric passports would need to rely on technology, which could cause difficulty as in many African countries electricity is not consistent.  In Ghana, citizens have nicknamed the inconsistency of power and light –  ‘Dumsor’ meaning off and on. There are also concerns that well off countries could also face an influx of migrants and according to the World Bank 37% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have legal identification making it difficult to apply for such passports. Naivasha had mentioned that in her home country of Congo, this could spell real problems in terms of security because of the ongoing Civil war there. Audience members also raised concerns about what type of people would be included in the free movement, which most felt it would be the well off in society. Tom Lawal however spoke about the positives, namely the importance of Africans working together more, with this being a step in the right direction.
A member of the audience raised a strong point which left other audience members asking themselves this question: ‘how do  Africans in the Diaspora identify themselves, as British or African and with which do your interests lie’.  Her point was that depending on your answer, we can then begin work to improve Africa.

The general passion amongst the audience showed the YPN team that there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the diaspora engage with what can be done at home. Whether or not you were born in Africa, young people in the diaspora have a connection in their hearts to their country of origin. The rich culture and sense of community across the continent of Africa evokes that sense of belonging. This event was a reminder of Kwame Nkrumah’s great quote – to paraphrase: “you are not an African because you were born in Africa. You are an African because Africa was born in you”.

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