The African Union committee on free movement of people across the continent is currently meeting in Kigali to review a proposed treaty on the subject.
The committee opened its sittings yesterday to look into the possibility of realising age old ambitions of liberalising movement across the continent.
The meeting comes days after the launch of the 2017 African Visa openness index report by the African Development Bank, which shows that movement across the continent is still inhibited by several challenges.
The report showed that African passport holders continue to face visa hurdles when travelling to other African countries.
This is despite the potential benefits of visa-free movement such as increased investments and industrial growth, increased job creation, larger market for African goods, increased integration and boosted intra-regional trade.
Other benefits include easy repatriation of profits for nationals working in neighbouring states as well as students’ access to better education, among other benefits.
The report showed that an African passport holder still requires a visa to access 54 per cent of countries in the continent.
Only 10 countries of African states do not require visa for Africans while just 24 per cent of countries have provisions for visa-on-arrival regime.
East African and West African regional economic blocs were found to have the most openness compared to other blocs, according to the AfDB report.
Report shows fruits abound
Although most countries cite security or protection of economic interests for their citizens as the reasons they lack openness, the report found that nations with higher openness have registered significant economic progress and do not face unique security challenges.
The AU committee recognised that movement across the continent remains a challenge largely due to restrictive visa regimes.
This is largely due to visa requirements and processes as well as instances where some applicants have to travel to other countries to apply for visas where there is no resident embassy in the applicants’ country.
Dr Khabele Matlosa, the director of political affairs at the African Union Commission, said many of Africa’s regional and strategic hubs as well as upper-middle class nations were found to have prohibitive visa regimes.
“Many of the continent’s regional and strategic hubs continue to have restrictive visa policies. Strikingly, Africa’s upper middle income countries, as a group, have low visa openness scores,” Matlosa said.
However, he commended trends of reciprocity among a number of African countries saying that it is serving to open up the continent.
Among the proposals being fronted by the AU official is availing provisions for visa on arrival for Africans, visa-free regional blocs such as EAC tourism visa, simplifying visa process as well as allowing use of identity cards in regional blocs.
Katyen Jackden, the chairperson of the committee on the Free Movement of Persons in Africa, allayed fears that liberalising movement would lead to security or economic challenges.
She said it has so far been proven that the benefits of opening up outweigh the negative consequences.
Jackden recommended that the process be done using a phased approach considering that different countries were at different stages of readiness.
“It has the potential to fast-track Africa’s integration. The benefits of liberalising movement across the continent outweigh the potential security and economic challenges that may manifest as a result,” she said.
Member states and economic blocs are at different states of liberalisation and we agree that adoption on a phased approach, Jackden said.
The Minister in the Office of the President, Vénantie Tugireyezu, said it was unfortunate that, despite the integration of the continent in most aspects, little has been done to ensure the free movement of people across the continent.
Citing the example of the Northern Corridor Integration Project, under which participating countries have embarked on easing movement of people, Tugireyezu said there were no particular security or economic challenges that emerged as a result.
Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, through NICP in 2015, introduced the use of identity cards for citizens which increased free movement of persons across the bloc.
Col Francis Mutiganda, a representative of the Committee on Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), said that though security is a valid concern, it should not be a hindrance to the integration process given the benefits.
African Union committee on free movement of people is reviewing a treaty on the issue which promotes the African passport, principles of right of entry, non-discrimination, right of residence as well as protection from unjustified expulsion among other aspects.