International borders have had a crucial meaning since the dawn of mankind. Armies have fought to determine where the border will cross, millions of people have died to defend borders (or break through them), and politicians are constantly talking about the need to maintain and protect them. But the simple truth is, that all borders in the world are nothing more than human-made fiction. And as such, a border can only create certain limitations. People and goods, for example, can be easily stopped. But there is no wall or fence that can stop environmental challenges.
Africa faces this reality as a daily challenge, as the continent’s 54 countries share a long list of challenges, needs and opportunities. The food crisis, the increasing effects of global warming, water shortage, and many more, do not stop at passport control; And with shared problems come shared opportunities and solutions that may affect not only lives but economies and governments throughout the region.
The need for extensive regional cooperation has been discussed many times before, with various initiatives that have made headlines over the years. But as the needs become more urgent and the potential for solution becomes more tangible (with unprecedented technological progress), so does the importance of cross-border cooperation, and the understanding that together, the entire region can march to a better future.
The challenges and opportunities skip cross-continent borders as well. Although the separation between the continents is completely natural (in addition to inter-political borders), many of the challenges mentioned above are shared by different countries beyond the borders of the African continent.
Across the globe, demand for solutions in the food, water and agriculture sectors dominate from the western tip of Africa to the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. The entire region faces similar environmental challenges, including limited amounts of rain and a hot climate that is exacerbated over time. Potential solutions through scalable technologies can have a huge impact.
So why not work together to advance those solutions and change hundreds of millions of lives? The problems, as always, start when politics enters the scene. Various African countries focus on border control at the expense of extensive regional cooperation. That and more, to create a wide geographical continuum between Africa and the Persian Gulf, the Middle East is essential.
The potential for extensive collaboration is far greater than the sum of its parts. The region includes some of the world’s leading technological innovation centers: In the East, the United Arab Emirates, a leading global technological hub, with many engineers, developers and a high level of innovation. In the Middle-East, Israel, the Start Up Nation, one of the most advanced and leading innovation centers in the world. And in the west, there are some growing innovation hubs across Africa (Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, etc.), which are on the right track to becoming global innovators.
But combining many problems with a high level of innovation is not enough: leading real change requires a lot of money, which is needed to fund a large number of groundbreaking projects. The UAE has already proven in recent years that it can invest large sums in solutions with significant impact potential, and cross-border collaborations are much more appealing to investors, thus providing the last piece needed for the puzzle, which can enable large-scale impact, prosperity and economic growth.
Give Collaboration a Chance
Just a few weeks ago, such a collaboration was a far-away, impossible dream. Over the years, politics has surpassed the need and potential, and many countries in the region had no official relations. Now, for the first time, the potential for change is visible. Since Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced the signing of a peace agreement a few weeks ago, more countries are realizing the inherent potential in extensive regional cooperation. Bahrain has already joined and signed a similar agreement, and Saudi Arabia has allowed Israeli planes to fly in its airspace for the first time.
If the trend continues, the dream of extensive regional cooperation from Africa to the Persian Gulf could become a reality, much sooner than expected. Such a move could combine some of the world’s leading technological innovation centers (Israel, the UAE), emerging innovation centers (Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and more), extensive funding sources, and hundreds of millions of people living in need of groundbreaking, innovative solutions.
The potential for positive change is so great, that thinking of politics and borders as a barrier looks somewhat absurd. This was described best by the UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al Marri, who said last week that “The only question is, why did we not do this earlier?”.