Former head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas has urged African countries to promote the free movement of persons in addition to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
Dr. Chambas was speaking to African Ministers and policymakers at the 2023 Professor Adebayo Adedeji Lectures organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
The lecture series was instituted in 2014 in honour of the founding executive director of the ECA, the late Professor Adeyeni Adedeji.
This year’s lecture was under the theme, “Governance, social contract and economic development in Africa – looking back, projecting into the future”.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been described as a game changer for African trade and economic development. It is the largest free trade area in the world with an estimated market worth trillions of dollars. The agreement came into force in 2021 after the required 33 member states of the African Union ratified the protocol establishing it. Its goal is to open the African market to African goods and services by removing trade barriers between African countries. Intra-African trade is the lowest among the regions at just 15% according to the UNCTAD as opposed to 60% for intra-European trade. It is envisaged that the free movement of goods and services will increase this drastically, boosting trade, employment, and overall economic development of the continent.
The same year that the AfCFTA protocol was adopted (2018), the African Union also adopted the protocol on free movement of persons. Its purpose is to facilitate intra-African travel by removing Visas and other travel restrictions.
However, since 2018, only four countries have ratified the protocol – Niger, Mali, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe – while 15 are needed for it to come into force. Many have wondered why the movement of goods and services seems to be given more priority than movement of persons since it is people who move goods.
“We must accelerate the ideals of Pan-Africanism and break the barriers that separate us and make us weak individually. A united Africa is our best chance to weather the storms and create a prosperous Africa for the future”, Dr. Chambas noted adding that, “This requires that free movement of persons, goods, and services must accompany our pan-African initiative of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)”.
It is widely believed that the free movement of persons has the potential to accelerate African unity and development by promoting cross-border infrastructure, labour mobility and cultural understanding. Recently the Pan-African movement, Africans Rising launched what it called a People’s Petition for Borderless Africa as part of a broader Borderless Africa campaign to push for free movement.
It is clear that the AfCFTA and the Free Movement of Persons Protocol are the two most important Pan-African instruments in contemporary times. It remains to be seen if there is enough political will to implement both to their logical conclusion.