Kigali is this week hosting a weeklong meeting on the adoption of an African Union procedure on Migration, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, seen as a step closer to achieving the continent’s goal on free movement of persons.
The forum, which opens today, will see participants deliberate on the setting up of key framework policies and legal instruments to allow for free movement of people across Africa.
The meeting will be attended by cabinet ministers and experts in the areas of migration, refugees and forced displacement matters.
The director-general of Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, Anaclet Kalibata, said the process is a precondition for the integration of African nations by allowing citizens to move freely across the continent.
“The draft protocol on the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment, once adopted, will facilitate and accelerate free movement of African nationals on the continent, a prerequisite to the process of African integration,” he said.
The move towards free movement across the continent has been gaining momentum and has gained support from multiple authorities, including intelligence and security services chiefs from across Africa.
The heads of intelligence and security services met in Kigali early this year to mull interventions toward the ambition of having unrestricted movement of Africans across the continent.
Prior to that, an African Union committee on free movement of people meeting in Kigali presented 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.
Experts say that, with Africa still divided along colonial boundaries, opening up to one another would make room for closer cooperation and present a range of benefits.
Visa free movement is said to present several 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 countries 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 on the continent.
Only 10 African states do not require visa for Africans while just 24 per cent have provisions for visa-on-arrival regime.
Several countries have expressed concern that opening up borders could see an increase in cross-border crimes such as smuggling of weapons and contraband, human trafficking, illicit trade, among others.
However, the African development Bank report showed that countries that are more open in terms of free movement of people achieve faster growth rates and attract more business, trade and investment.
In addition, countries that have opened their borders to African nationals have also reported that the move has not exposed them to more security threats than they already faced prior to opening up.
Since January 1, 2013, all African nationals travelling to or transiting through Rwanda are issued with entry visa upon arrival at any of the country’s entry points.