Feature - Featured - June 1, 2022

Sensitizing Africa’s civil society on AU Free Movement Protocol

The African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH (the German Agency for International Cooperation) launched a series of regional civil society sensitization forums on the African Union Continental Free Movement Protocol (FMP).



By Adam Alqali

The maiden Africa Migration Report ended most of the myths and misconceptions about the trends and patterns of African migration. Against the predominant notion that migration in Africa was dominated by the South-North movement via the Mediterranean Sea, the report showed the true picture of African migration to be more complex and diverse: there are more migrants’ flows within the continent than outside of it!

In a bid to effectively govern intra-African and extra-continental migration and mobility and harness the development potentials of Free Movement (FM), the African Union (AU) has initiated several policy frameworks aimed at minimizing the multiple risks associated with migrant flows and guaranteeing safe and orderly movement of people. This is in accordance with the ideals of the AU’s continental integration agenda enshrined in Agenda 2063.

At the heart of the AU’s migration policies are the Free Movement Protocol (FMP), the revised Migration Policy Framework for Africa (MPFA) and its Plan of Action (2018 – 2030). While the MPFA offers AU member states and RECs comprehensive policy guidelines to assist the formulation and implementation of national and regional migration policies, the FMP supports the free movement of persons, their rights of residence and establishment across the continent.

A major inhibition to FM in Africa is the prevailing restrictive nature of the visa regimes in many African countries. Although the continent has in recent years recorded significant progress towards achieving visa openness, the 2021 Africa Visa Openness Report revealed a decline in the gains achieved due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To this end, The African Passport offers the most practicable solution to the continent’s intractable migration and mobility challenges.

As a result, GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation, has since 2016 been involved with the Union’s migration initiatives, aimed at fostering safe, orderly, and regular migration. The current phase of GIZ’s cooperation with the AU (2022 – 2024) focuses on free movement and labour migration, including the sensitization of relevant stakeholders to promote the ratification and implementation of FM and labour migration policies.

In this direction, GIZ is partnering the AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC), mandated to actively engage civil society in the work of the Union. Accordingly, AU-ECOSOCC and GIZ recently launched a series of regional civil society sensitization forums on FMP and MPFA, the first edition of which was held May 17-19 in Accra, Ghana, targeting Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) regions.

Among others, the Forum sought to improve its over 55 CSO participants from different countries of the two regions’ understanding of MPFA and FMP and their role as champions of the advocacy for the policies’ implementation; Encourage dialogue on relevant aspects of the FMP i.e its linkages with security, labor market, trade, health etc.; Equip the CSOs with skills to design and execute effective advocacy campaigns for the ratification, and implementation of the FMP by African countries.

In his opening remarks, William Carew, Head of the AU-ECOSOCC Secretariat, said the popularization, ratification, domestication and overall implementation of AU’s migration policies required the “gentle and firm nudges” of the continent’s civil society, affirming AU-ECOSOCC’s commitment to ensuring the outcome of deliberations at the Forum, were acted upon.

Mr Carew thus urged African CSOs to use their voices in “popularizing and promoting” the implementation of continental and regional migration policies. “Where Member States of the AU may be dragging their feet, I call upon members of the civil society who I like to recognize as an unofficial fourth arm of government on the continent, to take a leading role in pushing the member states to prioritize labour migration and free movement issues,” he urged.

In his keynote, Hon. Kwaku Ampratwum-Sarpong, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, said since the FMP was meant to reduce and ultimately eliminate barriers to cross-border movements for the purposes of trade, work and establishment of businesses, African CSOs were well-positioned to promote the popularization and implementation of the Protocol.

“The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the FMP are very important flagship projects of Agenda 2063. The successful implementation of the AfCFTA and the innumerable benefits it has to offer our continent including increase in the level of intra-African trade through effective harmonisation and coordination, increase in employment opportunities and opening up of market access, altogether heighten the importance of the Protocol,” he noted.

Mr Denise Kodhe, Presiding Officer of AU-ECOSOCC agrees the AfCFTA and FMP offered immense opportunities for boosting intra-African trade and so urged Africa’s civil society and media to become their champions by engaging citizens and policymakers on the ratification and implementation of the policies. “As civil society, our role is to objectively criticize public policies and work with governments to create awareness about vital public policies.”

The AU-FMP was inspired by ECOWAS’s FM Protocol. Mr Albert Siaw-Boateng, director in charge of FM at the ECOWAS Commission, described free movement of persons, goods, services and capital as a crucial pillar of West Africa’s integration agenda. He however noted that the implementation of the ECOWAS FM Protocol was being hindered by challenges such as harassments and poor knowledge of the Protocol among citizens and border operatives.

“A robust free movement mechanism will lead to the transfer of skills, the circulation of knowledge, cultural and technological exchanges, supplement the labor markets, among other things and cross-border cooperation and boost tourism in the region. Combined, the above mentioned will lead to peace and prosperity which is at the heart of the agenda of ECOWAS,” Mr Siaw-Boateng noted.

Ms Dorothee Dinkelaker, Head of Cooperation at the German Embassy in Ghana, noted the significance of FM and labour migration and the close linkages between trade and mobility, hence Germany’s facilitation of engagement with the civil society on the issues. “We are convinced that efforts to promote free movement will also contribute to improved trade conditions and movement of business people and traders,” she said.

Similarly, Ms Felicitas Mukurarinda, Head of the GIZ project: “Support to the African Union on Labour Migration and Free Movement”, said their migration project was one of around 25 projects currently being implemented by GIZ in collaboration with the AU, on behalf of the German government. While walking participants through GIZ’s migration portfolio, she said, GIZ was prioritizing migration governance as a basis for addressing Africa’s migration challenges.

“The beneficiaries of these policies are the citizens of this continent; the question is who are the people and institutions responsible for implementing these policies, hence our engagement at regional and national levels. There are many lessons to be learnt from the RECs, particularly ECOWAS and the East African Community (EAC) who enjoy a relatively high-level of free movement; it is important to learn from their best practices,” she noted.

Ms Mukurarinda described GIZ’s partnership with AU-ECOSOCC as crucial to their engagement with Africa’s civil society. “This Forum seeks to unpack the term civil society in relation to migration, free movement and mobility i.e understanding who the stakeholders in mobility and free movement are. We are talking about women, youths, cross-border traders, students.”

While closing the three-day Forum, Mrs. Amma Twum-Amoah, Ghana’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the AU, called for more sensitization to reinforce African people’s ownership of the FMP.  “Records available indicate that ECOWAS and EAC are the two RECs that are most advanced in the area of integration. In this vein, CSOs in these two RECs can come together and work with their governments to encourage those who have not yet done so to sign and ratify the FMP,” she urged.

In its communique, the Forum took note of FMP and its key pillars, namely abolition of visas, right of residence, and of establishment and commended the 12 ECOWAS countries that have already signed the Protocol and the three that have ratified it. It encouraged other ECOWAS and ECCAS countries to do so before the 60th Anniversary of the OAU/AU come May 2023 and commended countries of the two regions already issuing visas on arrival to Africans while urging others to follow suit or completely abolish visas for Africans.

The Forum urged the two RECs to guarantee the protection of migrants, refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within their territories, combat xenophobia and facilitate the usage of the ECOWAS Identity Card, among other African travel documents. Also, the Forum urged the RECs to address security, climate and humanitarian challenges affecting free movement; adopt ICT-based border management systems; as well as institutionalize collaborations among their respective countries’ immigration, defense, security, intelligence and humanitarian agencies.

Although FMP was along with the AfCFTA presented to AU Heads of State and Government during their 10th extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda, unlike the AfCFTA which has been signed by 54 out of 55 member states, the FMP has been signed by 32 countries and ratified by only 4 (Rwanda, Niger, Mali, and São Tomé and Príncipe). It is noteworthy that the AfCFTA’s intra-African trade agenda rests on four basic freedoms i.e movement of people, capital, goods and services; this makes the AfCFTA and FMP mutually reinforcing instruments.


For more information about AU-ECOSOCC, you may wish to visit their website www.auecosocc.org or follow them on Twitter @AU_ECOSOCC.


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