Intelligence and security services chiefs from across Africa have joined the efforts toward the realisation of free movement of people across the continent.
The heads of intelligence and security services met in Kigali over the weekend to mull interventions toward the ambitions of having unrestricted movement of Africans across the continent.
Meeting under the umbrella body, Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), they underscored that involvement of intelligence and security services is largely due to concerns and fears of security challenges once the move is operationalised.
The meeting of intelligence chiefs on the matter was preceded by a gathering of members of African Union committee on free movement of people in Kigali.
The AU gathering finalised a draft protocol that, among other aspects, promotes the African passport, principles of right of entry, non-discrimination, right of residence as well as protection from unjustified expulsion.
According to the Executive Secretary of CISSA, Shimeles Semayat, several countries expressed concerns that opening up borders could see an increase of cross-border crimes such as smuggling of weapons and contraband, human trafficking, illicit trade, among others.
Other concerns by African countries on potential challenges include public health threats such as Ebola as well as unequal development among countries which could see big economies overwhelmed by labour immigrants.
“There are concerns that criminal syndicates will exploit the opportunity of free movement and use ships, air and land transport to their advantage. CISSA will work to put in place precautionary strategies to deal with real and perceived threats,” Semayat said.
Semayat told The New Times that the intelligence and security chiefs are looking to internalise the concept of free movement of people and, in the process, consider security threats and how to tackle them.
He added that the intelligence forces also plan to increasingly share information among themselves to address cross-border crimes that may arise from free movement of people.
Tool for integration
Speaking at the CISSA meeting, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said realisation of free movement ambitions will be an important tool to fast-track integration.
She said the pace of integration was still somewhat very slow but could be boosted by the visa-free regime.
Mushikiwabo allayed fears that free movement of people would jeopardise security or compound economic challenges, noting that the incorporation of security stakeholders would help anticipate and prepare for security challenges.
“Free movement of people should not be directly associated with insecurity and socio-economic hardship; and that is why we must anticipate, prepare, share information and coordinate our collective security,” the minister said.
“Seychelles, the only African country to offer visa-free access for all Africans and the most open country to Africans, is secure and has no particular socio-economic challenge,” she added.
With Africa still divided along colonial boundaries and also affected by security, socio-economic and political challenges, she noted that opening up to one another would make room for closer cooperation.
Stating Rwanda’s stand on visa-free movement, Mushikiwabo said that Rwanda believes that free movement of African citizens is the way for real African integration and one of the preconditions for Africa to unleash its full development potential.
“There is no way for our countries to trade with one another, contribute to each other’s economies without an open Africa. We must find a secure, legal way to allow Africans to cross from one country to another,” Mushikiwabo said.
The Secretary-General of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, who also chairs CISSA, said the organisation was ready to share experiences and lessons as well as review empirical data to be able to ensure that the continent makes the most of free movement of people.
Nzabamwita said free movement of Africans woud help the continent deal better with globalisation, and increase trade and prosperity for the continent.
Visa free movement is said to hold multiple benefits including increased investments and industrial growth, increased job creation, larger market for African goods, increased integration and deeper 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.
A recent report by the African Development Bank showed that African passport holders continue to face visa hurdles when travelling to other African countries.
The report showed that African passport holders still require visas to access 54 per cent of countries in the continent.
Only 10 African states do not require visa for Africans while just 24 per cent have provisions for visa-on-arrival regime.
East African and West African regional economic blocs are the most open, the AfDB report said.
‘Free movement of people should not be directly associated with insecurity and socio-economic hardship; and that is why we must anticipate, prepare, share information and coordinate our collective security. Seychelles, the only African country to offer visa-free access for all Africans and the most open country to Africans, is secure and has no particular socio-economic challenge.’
– Louise Mushikiwabo,
Foreign Affairs minister