Kagame, Why Are Africa’s Top Economies Unwilling To Sign The Free Movement Protocol?

By David Himbara

General Paul Kagame is on top of the world. In his capacity as Chairman of the African Union, he just presided over the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement on March 21, 2018. Kagame’s newspaper, The New Times is beside itself proclaiming the new African dawn. According to the newspaper,

”The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (CFTA ) could enter into effect by the end of this year.”

This is, of course, utter nonsense. There are many outstanding issues, including the determination of the institution to drive the process of forming the free trade area. Then there are 22 ratifications to be carried out by national parliaments of member states.

The most difficult challenge, however, is the unwillingness by African top economies to sign the African Union Free Movement Protocol. The Protocol calls for the following:

”In accordance with this Protocol, nationals of a Member State shall have the right to enter, stay, move freely and exit the territory of another Member State in accordance with procedures of the host Member State…

Member States shall implement the right of entry by permitting nationals of Member States to enter into their territory without the requirement of a visa…

A Member State permitting a national of another Member State to enter into their territory shall permit that national to move freely or stay for a maximum period of ninety (90) days or such further period determined by Member States or through bilateral or regional arrangements…

A national of a Member State who wishes to stay in the host Member State beyond the period provided in paragraph 4 shall seek an extension of stay in accordance with the procedures established by the host Member State.”

Countries that are unwilling to sign the Movement Protocol include the following:

  1. Nigeria
  2. South Africa
  3. Egypt
  4. Morocco
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Tunisia
  7. Botwana
  8. Tanzania
  9. Zambia
  10. Seychelles
  11. Swaziland

So, Kagame and The New Times, why do you think countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco have not signed the Movement Protocol? I give you a hint. Most of the countries unwilling to enter the free movement agreement are middle-income economies. They fear that the free movement will result in massive numbers of economic refugees from the low-income countries seeking better opportunities. Free trade area in Africa is, therefore, most problematic because of uneven development.

What we see here are the poorer African countries eagerly joining the comprehensive continental free trade area, while the richer ones wish to opt out of the free movement of people. Tanzania, for example, fears Rwandans and Burundians flooding into its borders. South Africa is already hosting unknown numbers of African immigrants from every corner of the continent.

It remains to be seen how free trade without free movement of people materializes. It is by no means impossible but very difficult a challenge that requires leadership and creative solution — and time. It is not the likes of Kagame who lead the least developed states that will resolve the free movement dilemma. It is countries such as South Africa and Nigeria that hold the key — but they seem unwilling to engage in this matter at present.