Feature - April 9, 2023

AU ECOSOCC launches webinar series on free movement in Africa

The African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) Thursday hosted the inaugural session of its five-part expert webinar series to foster civil society dialogue on the AU Free Movement Protocol (AU-FMP) as well as unpack myths about labour migration and free movement in Africa.


The expert webinar series is organized by ECOSOCC in partnership with the African Free Movement Consortium (AFMC), bringing together experts from the African Migration Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC), the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) UK and the Pan African Network in the Defence of Migrant Rights (PANiDMR). The series is being supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH i.e. the German Agency for International Cooperation.

The inaugural webinar which was themed ‘Transcending Migration Challenges and Creating Opportunities for Africa’ was focused on understanding how the removal of barriers to mobility will foster an environment for free movement of persons within Africa. Among others, speakers at the session underscored the significance and linkages between the AU Free Movement Protocol (FMP) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Although the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence, and Right of Establishment was signed by more than half of AU Member States at the 10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on AfCFTA, held in 2018, only 4 member states have ratified the AU-FMP, as of March 2023. This is in stark contrast to the AfCFTA, which has received almost universal signature and ratification.

In his opening remarks, William Carew, head of ECOSOCC secretariat, said migration and human mobility was intricately linked to the history of Africans as the continent had over the centuries witnessed numerous migratory movements of people from one part to another. He thus described migration as part of the African lifestyle hence the need for the dignity of migrants to be preserved which was why the AU established several policy frameworks for the management and promotion of migration and mobility.

Carew therefore said the ECOSOCC webinar series seeks to provide a new narrative for hope and possibility of a borderless Africa by offering a space for civil society actors to share their experiences and perspectives, exchange ideas and practical recommendations for overcoming the obstacles to free movement on the continent. “This [webinar series] will provide an opportunity for participants to engage with, and encourage various member states to sign and ratify the Free Movement Protocol.

“Additionally, the webinar series will contribute to a greater understanding of the importance of free movement in Africa and the steps necessary to achieve the goals of the Protocol. Continental integration and actualization of the FMP in Africa is a significant opportunity to augment the developmental benefits of migration as well as Aspiration 2 of the AU Agenda 2063 which can only be achieved through the free movement of individuals, capital, goods and services within Africa,” Mr Carew said.

Amanda Bisong, a policy officer at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), said the provisions of the AU-FMP were not always consistent with national legislations of African countries, particularly concerning rights to establishment and residence, as some national legislations exclude non-nationals from certain employments or engaging in certain businesses. However, the Protocol allows for limited implementation and temporary suspension of certain provisions by State Parties.

Ms Bisong described the dearth of data and evidence refuting myths and misconceptions on free movement in Africa and low-level awareness about the FMP among African citizens as major challenges inhibiting the ratification and implementation of the Protocol. “Security, public order and health concerns are also major issues as migrants are oftentimes accused of being linked to criminal networks. Moreover, the fear of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic through migrants further stalled discussions on free movement with other countries, recently.”

ECOSOCC and partners hope the webinar series will help stakeholders including CSOs acquire a better understanding of their role in advocating for their national governments to ratify and implement the Protocol.  The Council also hopes the planned webinars would inspire more conversation and dialogues at national and regional levels among stakeholders, migrants and the general public about FMP as well as encourage AU Member States to explore the benefits of the Protocol’s ratification and implementation in relation to their socioeconomic development.

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