Not African Enough
It is easier for non-Africans to move around the continent than it is for Africans
The visa regimes obtaining in Africa are detrimental to economic growth and needlessly frustrate the movement of people across borders on the continent.
A full 50 years after the formation of the OAU, now the African Union, the dream of achieving an integrated continent in which people can move freely across borders for personal or business purposes is still just that: a dream.
In short, lip service has been paid to the simple yet crucial objective of allowing free movement of Africans across Africa.
Immigration regimes that are largely still colonial in nature mean that it is usually easier for a non-African to move around Africa than it is for an African.
And even going to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, requires Africans to possess a visa.
This past week, Sudanese billionaire expressed the frustrations that millions of Africans feel every year when they are denied entry into another African country.
While Ibrahim did enter Botswana, several people from the investment arm of his Mo Ibrahim Foundation were earlier denied entry into the Southern African country.
This left Ibrahim fuming that it was harder for Africans to travel within Africa than it was for non-Africans.
Ibrahim said the dream of a united Africa would remain a mirage if current visa restrictions remained in place.
Botswana says it has lifted visa restrictions for South Sudanese wishing to enter the country. However, Gaborone’s Embassy in Nairobi has advised that the South Sudanese visiting Botswana should have a passport with a validity of at least 12 months from the intended arrival date. Ibrahim said, “European countries are successful and moving in the right direction because they have few things that divide them, even if they intend to come here they don’t face hassles as Africans do, though they are in their own continent.”
These same sentiments had earlier been aired by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism, Walter Mzembi, who called for a revamping of immigration regulations governing movement of Africans across their own continent. Addressing delegates attending the recent Conference on Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) hosted by Zimbabwe, Minister Mzembi said the current immigration regulations were largely inherited from the colonial era and were designed to minimise movement and trade between African countries.
Zimbabwe’s Minister Mzembi, speaking in Victoria Falls, said there was need to research how immigration procedures, including visa systems, and destination accessibility and connectivity could be liberalised without compromising national security and interests.
“They (immigration procedures) should be subject of intrinsic and intensive research by our economic units to see to what extent we can liberalise them without dramatically violating the national interest,” he said.
He bemoaned that Africa was essentially clinging to visa regimes that are a product of the 1884 Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa for European colonisation.
Minister Mzembi said European Union members, through the Schengen agreement, could move freely within the bloc and this stimulated trade and tourism.
He said the UN World Tourism Organisation General Assembly that will be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia this year offered an opportunity to address some of the challenges affecting the growth of tourism in Africa.
The Director-General of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation and incoming chair of CISSA, Retired Brigadier-General Happyton Bonyongwe, promised to look into the issues raised by the minister.
“Tourism is one of the major areas of the economic activities today and as security sector and intelligence we must understand the dynamics in this sector. Tourism is very important and we will definitely take up the issue.
“It entails facilitation of movement of people in their economic activities and I am sure there will be a lot of discussion on that from the delegates,” he said.
Experts have pointed out that mobility should be at the heart of regional and continental integration efforts.
Africa’s eight economic blocs have in recent years stepped up efforts to make it easier for people to move freely within their regions, but in many instances, the political will is lacking as countries say they do not want to compromise their national security and trade interests.
The West African bloc, ECOWAS, has achieved what is probably the highest level of mobility in Africa thanks to its Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the Right of Residence and Establishment.
The Protocol provides for freedom of movement, a common passport and the right of residence in any country within the bloc. Citizens of West Africa can settle in any country without a visa.
According to the Southern Africa Migration Project, “ECOWAS passports have gradually replaced national ones and border procedures have been progressively upgraded.
“In (the) West Africa Economic and Monetary Union area, a national identity card is sufficient for border crossings. In order to facilitate mobility of people across borders, ECOWAS’s travellers cheques have been designed and the goal of creating a common currency by 2020 has been set.
“National legislations, work codes and investment that prevented foreigners from participating in certain economic activities have been aligned with sub-regional and regional treaties in order to ensure the rights of migrant workers in host countries.”
The East African Community has also made much headway in a similar regard, but the introduction of a common visa for citizens has been stalled by the absence of the technical infrastructure to implement it.
In SADC, countries resisted the 1995 Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, and it was eventually replaced by the 2005 Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons. However, it is yet to come into force because several countries remain in opposition to free movement across borders.
According to the SADC Treaty, for a Protocol to come into force, it must be ratified by at least two-thirds of the bloc’s membership. To date, about half of SADC’s 15 members have ratified, the most recent country to come on board being Zambia.
Yet to ratify the Protocol are Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius and Tanzania.
The Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons has as its main objectives the progressive elimination of obstacles to movement of people in the SADC region by facilitating visa-free entry, residence and establishment in any member state.
Although the maximum period per year for visa-free entry will be 90 days, it provides for visitors to apply for an extension and applicants for residence permits will have their documents processed expeditiously.
Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons
ARTICLE 12 TRAVEL FACILITIES
1. State Parties agree to make travel documents readily available to their citizens and to co-operate in harmonising travel whether by air, land or water and to increase and improve travel facilities especially between their mutual borders.
2. State Parties undertake to introduce:
(a) machine readable passports as soon as possible; and
(b) technologically sensitive passports and other related facilities as circumstances allow.
ARTICLE 13 HARMONISATION OF CURRENT IMMIGRATION PRACTICES
State Parties hereby agree to take steps to achieve each of the following from the date of entry into force of this Protocol:
(a) harmonisation of their laws and administrative practices so that citizens of State Parties are able to enter the territory of another State Party for a maximum period of ninety (90) days per year for bona fide visits;
(b) standardisation of immigration forms used by travelling citizens of State Parties;
(c) establishment of a separate SADC Desk at each major port of entry between State Parties;
(d) by way of bilateral agreements, establishment of a sufficient number of border crossing points into the territory of another State Party with identical opening hours on each side of the border and ensuring that at least one such post remains open twenty-four hours every day;
(e) by way of bilateral agreements between the State Parties concerned, issuance of a uniform and simple border permit/border pass to citizens of State Parties who reside in the border areas of the territories of such State Parties;
(f) abolition of visa requirements where they still exist, provided that where visas are regarded as necessary, they shall be issued gratis at the port of entry ; and
(g) co-operation with the assistance of the SADC Secretariat or any such designated body of SADC and other State Parties in the provision of such training for senior immigration, customs, police and security officials as may be necessary to facilitate the movement of persons within SADC.