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May 10, 2004
Proposal on Reforming the AU Border Regime

The Pan African Parliament should create an independent world class customs agency and assign its border inspectors to audit and investigate, from time to time, the conduct of interstate border guards and customs agents, to ensure that they are not taking bribes or intimidating travelers or holding up traffic.

The AU Customs officials should have the power to immediately reverse a state customs officer’s order or authorize remedial action on the spot. They should have their own bodyguards, vehicles, offices, and the power to audit, arrest, fine, fire and prosecute state customs officials. They should also be able to process and investigate public complaints about abuses or problems.

The AU Customs Agency would be prohibited from detaining civilians or travelers or in anyway trying to do the work of state agents if the states customs officers are doing their work properly. The AU agents would be required to prevent, intervene or prosecute human rights violations if they observe these in progress. The AU agents would ensure that states agents are not confiscating travelers’ possessions, demanding fees, or intimidating and abusing them.

AU state governments should keep border posts open to traffic and travelers 24 hours a day, including on holidays. In event of closures, the state should give at least 48 hours public notice, should notify all the other AU states, and should only close the border post in the event of a credible security or environmental disaster. Closing borders at night is a common practice across the African Union. It restricts trade, increases losses for time sensitive transactions, and causes traffic delays at busy crossings when everyone is trying to cross in the daytime.

Official customs posts should be clearly marked. It is not unusual to run past a border post and suddenly be flagged down for trying to enter a state illegally. If a border post looks like a bush, it should not exist. One way to mark the border crossing is to put up State and Union flags on poles and on top of the customs offices.

The AU states should standardize the fees levied at the customs posts, so that no matter at what border post you arrive at, you know exactly what you have to pay for, what papers are required, what items are not authorized, no surprise fees, no surprise prohibitions. Every border post should have a large sign with amounts written on clearly, as well as a statement to the effect that demanding or paying any fees or “taxes” over and above those listed on the board constitutes an offense against the Union, as well as a phone number you can call if you are treated unfairly.

States sharing borders should maintain a single shared border office at every interstate border customs post, so that a truck, traveler or papers are inspected only once, and at the same time, by customs officers of both states. This will save time and reduce the number of customs officials required to service border posts.

Africans traveling within the Union shouldn’t have to obtain visas or passports. Africans without luggage, or with little hand luggage, should not be prevented from crossing interstate borders, and they shouldn’t have to pay anything to cross if the are not in possession of a vehicle or duty free items. They should have an identification paper or document, or letter of reference, with photo, a stamp, seal or signature, from a recognized and easily accessible authority, such as a police station, or hospital, or school, recognized community leader, or municipal office.

The authorities that issue identification should be able to apply for recognition from state governments and from the AU Commission, and should be authorized on condition that they are easily accessible by authorities and can keep good records, in case authorities need to do an investigation. This arrangement will make ID papers accessible to many people, and allow better monitoring to help reduce such things as smuggling and child trafficking. If the facts of a person’s identity are in dispute, the customs authorities should be able to accommodate the person in comfort, and to make a phone call, or send a fax, an email, or letter, or have a police officer travel to investigate or confirm the information.

The AU states should agree to standardize visa requirements for foreigners across the entire AU. The visa process should simple, clear and consistent, so that travelers have a one stop access offices overseas, fill in a standard application form, and pay standard processing fees. The states can work out arrangements at annual conferences on how to share customs revenues, or how to address concerns that may arise during the course of the year over the visa processing issues.

Checkpoints and Roadblocks within the states, and near the border crossings, should only be manned by police officers, not by army or militia. The checkpoints should only be installed with the permission of elected civilian authorities, after appropriate public hearings.

The police should have a standard manual on how to conduct inspections. That manual should be available to civilians all across the Union. If the police, who should all be well-trained civilian peace and human rights officers, interested only in maintaining order and preventing crime, are not able to service a Checkpoint by themselves, they should have their state parliament declare a civil emergency, and then they can get AU peacekeepers to patrol their street.

The army and/or paramilitary groups should be prohibited from conducting searches on civilians or their property. No army person or officer should ever be allowed to question a civilian, or demand to see identification, unless they are in the middle of a peacekeeping operation authorized by the PAP.

Eventually, as the Union stabilizes and interstate trade and travel becomes easier for states to manage, border posts will become obsolete. In the meantime, we have to do our best to make travel in Africa and trade more productive and comfortable for the people.