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Urgent need to reverse slow progress on ratifying the protocol on free movement of persons - Joint ECA-AUC report

5 June, 2024
Urgent need to reverse slow progress on ratifying the protocol on free movement of persons - Joint ECA-AUC report

Nairobi, Kenya, 5 June 2024 (ECA) – A joint report by the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union Commission has warned that the slow progress of ratifying the Africa Union (AU)’s Free Movement of Persons Protocol will have a negative impact on the development of human capacity and the skills mobility required to achieve inclusive growth and development in Africa.”

Titled, “Free movement of persons for trade: towards an accelerated ratification of the African Union Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment, in support of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area”, the report was presented at the National Consultation Workshop to Review the Reports on Enhancing free movement of persons and pathways for labour mobility and skills portability in Nairobi, Kenya.

This slow progress, the report says, is a result of lack of awareness of the Protocol combined with weak political will, concerns about giving up sovereign protections regarding free movement of persons, and ambiguity regarding the implementation process.

The reports key findings are the result of a study commissioned last year by ECA and AU to identify and clearly demonstrate the benefits of free movement of persons for the implementation of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia.

Rita Amukhobu the Coordinator of the Free Movement Programme at the African Union Commission (AUC) emphasized the importance of ratifying the AU’s protocol by all countries on free movement of persons which Kenya for example, has already implemented through national policies, but is yet to ratify.

“A more inclusive approach is needed, involving multiple government agencies working on labour, immigration, education, and trade. This is crucial for the governance of labour mobility and free movement of persons,” she said.

“AU also notes there is progress in the development and adoption of visa openness solutions for African citizens, and the promotion of positive reciprocity between States - relaxing visa requirements, opening up on visas unilaterally, simplifying visa processes and improving access to information online in different languages,” said Ms. Amukhobu.

Francis Ikome Chief, Regional Integration Section at ECA urged countries to implement the AU protocol on free movement of persons to advance its socio-economic transformation recognising that facilitating labour mobility, free movement of persons and portability of migrant skills is crucial for Kenya to benefit from AfCFTA.

Building on previous studies by ECA and AUC on the potential of free movement for Africa's growth, Mr. Ikome said if the protocol is implemented and ratified by all countries, Africa can achieve its vision of an integrated, peaceful, and prosperous continent.

Presenting the report’s findings, Ndinaye Charumbira, Economic Affairs Officer at ECA highlighted several key issues for consideration by policy actors. For instance, despite ratifying the EAC Common Market Protocol (CMP) more than a decade ago, Kenya for example, is yet to fully implement the Protocol’s provisions on the rights of residence and establishment.

In response, Geofrey Odanga, a Kenyan member of parliament highlighted the issue of overlapping membership to regional communities as a hindrance to the ratification and implementation of the free movement of people protocol. Security and job loss concerns are leading to xenophobia and reluctance to allow free movement of labor.

He emphasized the role of technology as the means of facilitating mobility, stressing the AU should play a key role in resolving border disputes to create an enabling environment for ratification and the implementation of the protocol.

Tsion Abebe, a Senior Policy and Research Officer at the Regional office for East and Horn of Africa, International Organization for Migration (IOM), stressed the importance of implementing recommendations on migrants’ protection and labor mobility on the continent as this can benefit countries economically. Furthermore, there is a need to implement legal and policy frameworks to protect the welfare and social rights of migrant workers from across Africa, she underlined.

Giving a perspective on the labor mobility and skills portability, Esther Kamoet, Alignment and validation officer at the Kenya National Qualifications Authority said, the Kenya’s National Qualifications Framework has been formulated to facilitation the mutual recognition and portability of migrant skills and qualifications with the aim of ensuring that migrants have their qualifications and skills recognized and verified.

“Kenya’s progress towards adopting facilitating recognition and portability of migrant skills is however being challenged by the incomparability of education systems across the continent, a lack of proper systems for effective interpretation of qualifications and overlapping mandates of crucial government stakeholders,” she said.

According to Charumbira, to accelerate the ratification of the Protocol, the report recommends the need for aggressive advocacy campaigns targeting high-level continental, regional and State entities – and awareness campaigns targeting civil society, private sector, and universities.

The report also notes the AU, supported by ECA and other stakeholders, should develop a more robust road map for the implementation of the Free Movement of Persons Protocol.

Issued by:
Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826