I remember the first time I ever saw a border between two countries. I was visiting the Danakil depression and we were driving and there were nothing but land. No buildings, no signs, just land. And the driver and guide pointed in a certain direction and said “That’s Eritrea”. There was nothing, just more land. And all I could think was, “that’s it”. So borders are imaginary lines after all?
That’s not the case in some places, so borders are more imaginary than others. In the US, a presidential candidate is running on building a big wall between the US and Mexico. “We’re going to do a wall; we’re going to have a big, fat beautiful door on the wall; we’re going to have people come in, but they’re going to come in legally,” Donald Trump said. This has attracted a lot of criticism from within and without the US with some calling it ridiculous. As the world is becoming a virtual global village, why build real life blockades? Whatever your thoughts on this topic, one this is certain, you have heard about the great American wall Donald Trump plans to build. But let me tell you today about a few that you may not have heard of but that are being built right here on our continent.
Let me start by the Kenyan-Somali border. The Kenyan government has resumed the building of a 700-kilometer long fence along the border. The reason behind its construction is so as to bar “unwanted” people from entering Kenya. The government stated that after attacks by Al-Shabaab in Nairobi and other parts of the country including the Garissa University attacks that killed students, it decided to make the border between these countries less porous.
By the same token the government argues that this fence will not be an obstacle for nomad, pastoralist communities or those who will trade between the two countries. However there are controversies and not all clans that live in between these borders are fully convinced that the fences will not affect their movement. The government is hosting clan leaders and discussing the matter with them as takes steps to build the fence.
The second example is the Namibian-Botswana border. The Namibian government recently announced that it has finished electrifying the border fences. It anticipates doing the same on its border with Angola as well after it relocates its livestock that rely on grazing in Angola. Why was it built? Because it wants to limit cross-border disease proliferation such as foot and mouth disease and lung sickness. The government stated that it has allocated 2.3 billion in local currency for the year 2016/2017. It has allocated funds to boost veterinary clinics and staff across the borders to better provide better services.
As technology helps break virtual communication boundaries, physical ones are coming up. Interesting how this world works. It seems that our response to any danger is closing our doors and locking people out. That is a system that can work, but I’m not sure how long it will be efficient. Perhaps it is because we do not realize our interdependence? Our borders have to be open because cross border trading, grazing, or simple movement in search of water is part of the way of life across the continent. It highly undermines projects that have been built with strengthening freedom of movement for nomad communities in all regions of Africa. Although there is talk of increasing intra-Africa trade, African governments seem to be focusing on closing borders to other Africans. And as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.