Easing Mobility in Africa: Harnessing Free Movement of Persons to Leverage the African Continental Free Trade Area

Easing Mobility in Africa: Harnessing Free Movement of Persons to Leverage
the African Continental Free Trade Area

In line with Aspiration 2 of the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which spotlights building an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, the Special Liaison Office (SLO) and the African Union Commission (AUC) recognize the critical role that migration and easy mobility play in the continent’s development and integration and the importance of enhancing migration management and governance.

In this regard, IOM works jointly with the AUC to support the evolution and advancement of migration discourses as well as the development and implementation of strategic policies and programmes for the Continent, which will ease mobility across the continent’s many borders and promote socio-economic cohesion.  

Since 2016 IOM has been supporting the AUC on the continent-wide initiative to facilitate free movement of persons in Africa. IOM has helped popularize the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence - also known as the Free Movement of Persons Protocol (FMP).

The FMP was adopted in 2018 with 32 Member State signatories and underscores free movement as, “the right of nationals of a Member State to enter, move freely and reside in another Member State in accordance with the laws of the host Member State and to exit the host Member State in accordance with the laws and procedures for existing that Member State”. The Protocol was adopted simultaneously with an implementation roadmap that covers thirty different provisions.

Article 10 of the implementation roadmap focusses on the production of an Africa Passport, a common document that will replace current national passports and exempt travelers from obtaining visas for any African Union Member State. IOM has supported the AUC in consultations that resulted in guidelines for the design, production, and issuance of the African Passport. This guideline was subsequently endorsed at an AU Special Technical Committee (STC) meeting on Migration, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, in November 2018, and adopted at the AU Assembly in February 2019.

Realizing free movement of persons, goods and services on the continent offers multiple opportunities for socioeconomic and political integration and promises to unlock Africa’s development potentials.

The opportunities are highlighted in the IOM-AUC Study on the Benefits and Challenges of Free Movement of Persons in Africa, which notes that facilitating free movement on the continent promises to: 1) Boost intra-Africa trade, commerce and tourism; 2) Facilitate labour mobility, as well as intra-African knowledge and skills transfer; 3) Promote pan-African identity, social integration and tourism; 4) Improve transborder infrastructure and shared development; 4) Foster a comprehensive approach to border management; and 5) Promote rule of law, human rights and public health.

To this effect, the adoption and implementation of the Free Movement of Persons Protocol is expected to harmonize migration policies and facilitate the harnessing of skills and resources necessary for the continent’s development. However, with only 4 out of the required 15 ratifications submitted, the Protocol is some way from entering into force and further momentum is needed.

With the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which came into force on 1 January 2021, IOM and the AUC recognize the importance of quicker implementation of a free movement protocol that will facilitate trade on the continent. The AfCFTA promises to cover a market of 1.2 billion people, produce a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member States of the African Union, and boost intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent.. The AfCFTA, which has gathered an impressive 36 out of 55 ratifications, may not reach its full potential if not supported by an effective free movement of persons, goods and services instrument – especially as trade and investment will need to be facilitated by the unhindered movement of the continent’s citizens.

IOM will continue to support AU priorities towards achieving the continent’s socio-economic integration by ensuring any gaps between free trade and ease of movement are bridged.

Key publications:

  1. Final Implementation Roadmap on Free Movement of Persons in Africa
  2. Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons
  3. Tralac: African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) legal Texts and Policy Documents
  4. African Continental Free Trade Area: Questions & Answers
  5. World Bank: The African Continental Free Trade Area Report
  6. Study on the Benefits and Challenges of Free Movement in Africa
  7. AfroChampions AfCFTA Year Zero Report
  8. AfCFTA Futures Report: Making the AfCFTA work for Women and Youth
  9. Africa Migration Report: Challenging the Narrative