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PSC Interview: Transforming Africa's borders from barriers to bridges
22 November 2017

Following discussions around the African Union’s new border governance strategy, the PSC Report spoke to Ambassador Frederic Ngoga Gateretse, Head of Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division in the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Department.

The AU last month held a conference on the border governance strategy – what is it? What is the progress in implementing the framework so far?

Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about the draft AU Border Governance Strategy. The meeting, which was held in Addis Ababa from 6–8 November 2017, convened national experts to review and validate the draft strategy that we submitted earlier this year to our member states. The draft strategy is built on five pillars: development of capabilities for border governance; conflict prevention, border security and transnational threats; mobility, migration and trade facilitation; cooperative border management; and borderland development and community engagement. It is also in line with the priorities of AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat to ‘promote economic integration of the continent and help accelerate its development with a particular emphasis on increasing intra-African trade and free movement of people so that Africans finally cease to be foreigners in their own continent’.

We are working resolutely to transform African interstate borders from barriers to bridges
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Commissioner for Peace and Security Ambassador Smail Chergui, in his message on AU Border Day (7 June), also said that ‘we are working resolutely to transform African interstate borders from barriers to bridges and to turn border zones into spaces conducive to regional and continental integration’. So it is this vision that we are implementing. Now that the experts from our member states have validated the draft AU Border Governance Strategy, it will be submitted to AU decision makers for endorsement and adoption.

At which stage is the demarcation of African borders?

The delimitation and demarcation of borders is a long and costly process. The first step is an agreement between the two parties to set up bilateral joint commissions. It is usually followed by a series of meetings to decide on the legal, historical and geographical documents they will use for the delimitation and demarcation of their borders. Technical field missions are also organised to assess the status of pillars and determine the coordinates. The two parties then elaborate and sign a demarcation treaty, and carry out operations to implement the pillars. As we speak and within the framework of the AU Border Programme [AUBP], more than 20 member states are engaged in the processes of delimiting and demarcating their common boundaries, more than 3 000km have been demarcated and six boundary demarcation treaties have been signed. So we are making progress despite challenges, but as they say: difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.

More than 20 member states are engaged in the processes of demarcating their common boundaries
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The AU is supposed to adopt a protocol on free movement next year. As many border areas in Africa are ungoverned spaces, what measures will the AU take to mitigate the impact of free movement on peace and security?

The issue of finding a balance between free movement and securing borders is captured in some of the pillars of the strategy. It provides recommendations that will, if properly implemented, secure borders and facilitate the free movement of persons and goods, which is already a reality in some parts of our continent.

The last two years were characterised by multiple incidents between AU member states regarding borders. What is the response of the AU to these incidents?

There are indeed a number of border disputes on the continent. Some are active, others are frozen, while, as I mentioned, a number of them are in the process of being resolved. This year alone the AU through the AUBP facilitated dialogue in 23 situations. In fact, the AUBP was precisely established to prevent border disputes between member states, and as a mechanism to facilitate dialogue when there is an issue.

There are three key principles that guide our actions in this regard. First, the principle of respecting the borders existing at national independence. This is in line with the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on Border Disputes between African States, adopted by the 1st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, held in Cairo in July 1964. The same principle is captured in the AU Constitutive Act.

Second, the principle of negotiated settlement of border disputes. It is captured in a resolution adopted by the 44th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the OAU, held in Addis Ababa in July 1986, as well as in the relevant provisions of the protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU.

Third, the shared commitment to pursue the work of border delimitation and demarcation as factors for peace, security and economic development. This is contained in the Memorandum of Understanding on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, held in Durban in July 2002.

In some instances a border dispute is a symptom of other issues
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So the tools are there and they were adopted by our member states, but in some instances a border dispute is a symptom of other issues that must be addressed hand in hand with the actual border disputes. If there is trust between the parties it becomes very easy to address border issues.

Another hot issue is the frequency of dispute around maritime borders, especially in the presence of natural resources. How does the border governance strategy respond to these situations? What is the linkage with the African Charter on Maritime Security and Safety and Development in Africa?

The same principles for border disputes apply to maritime border disputes. In fact, they are underlined in Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy and in Article 13 of the African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa, known as the Lomé Charter.  

The link between maritime security and safety and development in Africa is clear. Let me give you some figures to illustrate the point. Of the 55 AU member states, 38 are coastal. The former executive secretary of the UNECA [United Nations Economic Commission on Africa], Carlos Lopes, wrote in 2016 that ‘70% of the continent’s GDP [gross domestic product] comes from Africa’s maritime economy, generating about three quarters of governments’ fiscal revenues’. At least 90% of Africa’s imports and exports are conducted at sea. According to the Maritime Security Review, almost all maritime trade between Europe and Asia, approximately US$700 billion annually, passes through the Red Sea. The amount is not even the combined GDP of IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] countries, which is about US$255 billion. Ensuring maritime security is crucial for the continent’s development. Consider this, Oceans Beyond Piracy reported that the cost of piracy off Somalia in 2016 was US$1.7 billion while in West Africa it was about US$793.7 million. So the nexus between maritime security and development in Africa is quite obvious.