Africa takes bold steps towards free movement of persons
By Danai Majaha
Southern African News Features – Imagine being able to travel from Malawi or Zambia to Morocco, through the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Niger and Algeria, without needing to produce visas all the way to the destination country. Or travelling by road from Angola to Ethiopia via the DRC and Uganda without needing a visa.
That may seem impossible right now, but could soon become a reality if plans by African Union (AU) member states to do away with generally restrictive national laws and policies on free movement of persons are realised.
At present, many countries on the continent continue to have restrictive visa policies that make it difficult for citizens to move from one country to another or from one Regional Economic Community (REC) to another.
According to the Africa Visa Openness Report published by the African Development Bank in 2017, citizens of African countries require visas to travel to 55 percent of countries within the continent.
The report notes that countries and RECs have made variable progress towards the goal of a pan-African, visa-free policy. In terms of visa openness, Seychelles, a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is the only country on the continent to offer visa-free access for all Africans.
Other countries whose visa regimes are more accommodative are Uganda, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique and Mauritius and Rwanda.
This means that three SADC member states are among the top 10 countries with open borders.
In terms of progress by RECs, the Economic Community of West African States introduced free movement between member states in 1979.
SADC is moving towards introduction of a single visa system. The first step towards achievement of that milestone was the introduction of a common visa known as the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Visa, which covers visitors from other regions to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
KAZA, launched in November 2014 is the first step towards adopting a Univisa in the SADC region and currently allows tourists from 40 countries to combine travel to the two SADC neighbours without applying for travel documents separately.
The East African Community now has a single tourist visa available for visitors to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, coupled with an East African passport that allows citizens freedom of movement within the trading bloc.
Noting the challenges faced by citizens in moving from country to country, the recent 30th Ordinary Assembly of the AU Heads of State and Government held in Ethiopia adopted the Draft Implementation Roadmap of the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Rights of Residence and Right of Establishment.
The protocol commits African countries to develop policies aimed at the progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of persons, capital, labour, goods and services.
It is based on the premise that full participation in the process of building the continent into a community is only possible where the citizens of AU member states can enjoy freedom of movement across borders.
Free movement of persons as well as goods and services in Africa is an essential element for deepening continental integration and unity in the spirit of pan-Africanism, African Renaissance and realization of Agenda 2063 of the AU.
The implementation roadmap is divided into three overlapping phases, which are expected to run from 2018 to 2025.
The first phase interventions will involve harmonisation of national laws, policies and procedures. This will be achieved through establishment and review of laws, policies and procedures that facilitate and promote free movement of persons in conformity with protocol.
With regard to free movement of residents of border communities, member states are expected to develop and implement programmes aimed at cross-border cooperation as well as establishing coordinated border management systems to regulate migration flows.
Another proposed milestone during this phase will be the rollout of the African Passport, one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 and forms an integral part of the first 10-year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063 over the period 2014-2023.
The African Passport, launched in Rwanda in July 2016, will be issued by the AU Commission and member states as a valid travel document and is expected to be recognized by all countries on the continent as well as other regions of the world.
The commission is expected to provide technical support to member states to enable them to produce and issue the continental passport to their citizens.
The passport will grant African citizens visa-free access to other AU member states.
Interventions under phase two of the roadmap are expected to allow countries on the continent to grant rights of residence to citizens of fellow AU member states starting from 2023.
During this phase, member states are expected to relax the conditions for nationals of other countries seeking to take up residence in their territories. This means that African countries will gradually adopt and implement more favourable policies, laws and measures on residence for nationals of other AU member states.
Under phase three, AU member states will, among other things, be expected to identify and remove restrictions on nationals of other countries on the continent seeking to establish businesses in their territories.
This will involve countries harmonization of processes and procedures for obtaining licenses, permits and other relevant documents for establishment of business.
Another crucial intervention under this phase will involve mutual recognition of qualifications by all AU member states, a development that should eventually lead to the adoption of a continental qualifications framework by 2025.
During this phase, AU member states will be expected to establish mechanisms for persons working, residing or established in a host country to transfer earnings or savings to their countries of origin. sardc.net