Reluctance to open borders is likely to hinder the success of the African single market after only about half of the continent’s countries signed the protocol that allows free movement of people, right to live and establish business anywhere in Africa.
Whereas the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) that created the world’s largest market got massive support with 44 countries inking the deal, the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport was only signed by 29 countries.
Some delegates at the African Union summit in Kigali on Wednesday blamed the poor show on the AU Secretariat’s sensitisation on the protocol.
“The negotiations concerning the Protocol on Free Movement were not high profile – and there was no prior openness about the protocol ahead of its signing. As a matter of fact, many of us were surprised when it was presented to be signed alongside the CFTA agreement,” Francis Mangeni, Comesa’s director for Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs, told The EastAfrican.
Comesa – the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – is 19-member state free trade area.
Mr Mangeni also noted that many African nations fear that opening borders would worsen unemployment pressures and insecurity.
“Many African states still believe in overblown myths that when they open up to other nationals, it will cause insecurity and jobs will be fewer for their citizens. But they have to look at countries that have successfully done it. Rwanda, Kenya, Seychelles and others opened up their borders and they have not collapsed,” he said.
In the six-member East African Community, the protocol was signed by all, save for Tanzania and Burundi. Tanzania did not sign the CFTA as well.
Rwanda eased its travel restrictions starting January this year by allowing travellers from across the world to get a visa-on-arrival, a move adopted in Kenya for Africans.
The AU has set a 2018 deadline for the removal of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries. But a number of obstacles including protectionism remain.
“Individual countries have different levels of security and border protection measures against illegal immigrants, and I think this is why some of them refused to sign. I hope they will put in place the necessary laws to eliminate those worries and join the rest of us who signed [the protocol],” South Sudan Cabinet Affairs Minister, Martin Elia Lomuro, said.
Governments now have the next six months, by September this year, to ratify the protocol. Those that did not sign can also do so during the window.
“Those who signed this protocol should move forward and implement it and then those who have not will join if they see the gains being made by letting Africans move freely,” said Raheemat Momodu, Head of the Ecowas Office to the African Union.
“Regionally, free movement has become a reality in EAC and Ecowas – and economic gains are being made by those who chose to open up. So it is a matter of successful implementation and others will join,” he added.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is a 15-member economic bloc in West Africa.
Under the protocol, member states are required to remove visa requirements for Africans, allow 90-day stay, and right of residence for any African in a territory other than his or her country of origin.
The protocol also calls for issuance of African passport in corroboration with the AU.