A stone’s throw from Asigamé lies Lomé’s beachfront, the epicenter of its social life.
From early morning to night, city residents come to the maquis, open-air restaurants lined up one after the other on the beach. Sitting at plastic tables, people dine on braised tilapia, attieké (a fine semolina of fermented cassava), rice, fried plantain, downed with cold beer.
As dusk settles, Ghanaian fishermen examine the day’s catch before bundling their nets for the night. Day traders make their way home across the Aflao border. The lights of container ships waiting to berth at the port twinkle in the distance.
At night, the beachside roars into festive activity. The maquis blast Nigerian Afropop and Congolese rumba. A woman dances on 5-feet stilts to entertain a family. Young men hawk belts, phone chargers, cigarettes. A man even lugs a two-seater couch on top of his head, trying to attract the attention of diners.
A Beninese woman, Aisha, approaches maquis patrons, offering to do manicures and pedicures. Though her family is in Benin, she explains she has traveled as far as Congo Brazzaville for work.
At a nearby table, a young Nigerian man, Jonah, and a friend drink beer and fiddle with their mobile phones. Jonah lives in Lomé, where he plays professional football. He used to play in South Sudan. Jonah is now waiting to travel to Macedonia, where he will join the national team.
In Lomé, everyone is welcome at the beach, whether they are doing business or relaxing after a day’s work.
At the beach, Asigamé market, or the fishing harbor, quotidien life in Lomé is proof of pan-African integration, driven by the mixing of people from over West Africa.
With the AfCFTA, the aspiration of integration could, at last, be a reality. The free trade zone will reimagine borders. It might finally eliminate the gap between the rigid borders of sovereign states — the border posts, currencies, and passports — and the daily life of Africans that go beyond borders.
In the digital age, mobile money, the “bank” for a growing number of Africans, also cuts across borders.
We know now that money should follow people and goods across borders. The invisible borders created by regulation or patchy digital infrastructure - or both - can be changed. And we know now that change is imminent.
Borders are malleable. Not only is that a lesson of Togo, a country not limited by its size, but it's the mission that drives us at MFS Africa.
If people can flow across borders, shouldn’t their money too?