The dream of a united Africa is alive, but xenophobia and lack of free trade remain a challenge

Press Releases 25 May 2023

25 May – Johannesburg, South Africa: Africa has more success in the international arena, with Africans elected to positions of significant power within international organisations. However, the continent still faces significant challenges when it comes to promoting continental integration through free trade, peace and security, infrastructure and cultural diplomacy. These are some of the findings from the recently launched literature review, One Africa: Pan-African dream or reality?, by narrative change organization Africa No Filter.

Africa No Filter examined literature on the structures, successes, challenges and potential of more than 20 African institutions, agreements and initiatives including the African Union (AU) and Regional Economic Communities, to investigate if the continent is integrated, and what is being done to promote the idea of ‘One Africa’.

The review found that the focus of the AU has typically been on economic integration. However, cultural diplomacy is not promoted. The review also found that even though there are nine Regional Economic Communities created to promote free continental trade and development, in many cases, economic integration is hindered by lack of infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure.

Additionally, while the AU recognises the link between migration and development, the AU Free Movement Protocol has not been implemented, and xenophobia remains a key barrier to regional integration.

Moky Makura, Executive Director at Africa No Filter, said: "As an organsiation focused on changing how the world sees Africa and how Africa sees itself, we understand the power of a united Africa that speaks with one voice.  It’s the reason we wanted to understand how the organisations working on integration are doing.  Much has been achieved and there is progress - especially with the introduction of the AfCFTA. But the gap we see is around the use of cultural diplomacy as a tool for integration. The ideas, values and culture; our art, music, film – these are the things that will ultimately unite us."

Here are key findings from the report:

1. Focus is on ‘hard power’: The Organization of Africa Unity, African Union and Regional Economic Communities agreements, policies and protocols to ensure continental integration typically focused on ‘hard power’, such as trade, peace and security, and governance and democracy.

2. Need to address ‘soft power’: Formal agreements have had limited efficacy. More attention should be given to cultural diplomacy and the free movement of people between countries, thus allowing the development of a shared understanding of histories and cultures and a reduction in nationalism and xenophobia.

3. Limited buy-in from countries: Countries do not show enough buy-in to the agreements. Few of the countries have signed, ratified and domesticated all the agreements, including even those covered by a specific REC. For example, in ECOWAS only Burkina Faso has ratified all 51 protocols and Guinea Bissau has not ratified any.

4. Limited buy-in from other actors:  States do not fully involve civic society in creating the agreements — sometimes to the extent of ignoring human rights — which results in lack of buy-in from citizens. For example, the African Continental Free Trade Area does not address labour rights and livelihoods, which could hamper human rights such as equality, security and human dignity.

5. Little follow through and lack of accountability: Even when African states sign agreements, there is little evidence that agreements are translated into practical plans and actions.

6. Lack of governance infrastructure to support rollout: Rolling out agreements requires setting up institutions to oversee implementation and resolve disputes, but these are costly and require many additional human resources.

7. AU not sufficiently resourced: A mammoth budget is needed to implement continental agreements and initiatives. The AU’s budget for its 55 member countries for 2020 was US$647.3 million, with many members falling behind in payments. By comparison, the EU’s 2020 budget was 168.7 € billion (US$200 billion) for its 27 members.

8. Limited infrastructure for transport systems, ICT and energy means fewer possibilities: Africa remains the least connected of all continents and needs major investment in the development of infrastructure and technical skills.

9.One size doesn’t fit all: The agreements typically do not acknowledge the inequalities and competition between states, and therefore do not incorporate guidelines for managing such conflicts of interest.

10. More success in the international arena: The AU has been able to consolidate Africa as a bloc to contest international agreements, and to nominate and elect Africans to positions of significant power within international organisations, for example, the African heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Health Organization (WHO).


About Africa No Filter:  Africa No Filter exists because many stories about Africa still lazily revolve around the single story of poor leadership, poverty, corruption, disease, and conflict. These stories fail to portray the other more progressive side of Africa and collectively perpetuate the narrative that Africa is broken, dependent and lacks agency. The result? Harmful stereotypes that continue to paint a rigidly negative picture of the continent, despite the massive strides we are making.  Our mission at Africa No Filter is to shift these stereotypes because they impact the way the world sees Africa and how Africa sees itself. Through research, grant-making, community building and advocacy, we support storytellers to help shift the stereotypical narratives about Africa one story at a time.  Our funders are Ford Foundation, Bloomberg, Mellon Foundation, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Comic Relief, the Hilton Foundation, and Hewlett Foundation.