The regularization of the free movement of people across African borders is one of the continent's great development challenges.
Kenyan President William Ruto recently announced that Kenya's borders would be open to visitors from across Africa, visa-free, by the end of 2023. He said
When people can't travel, business people can't travel, entrepreneurs can't travel, we all become net losers.
A few days later, Rwandan President Paul Kagame followed suit, declaring that all Africans could enter Rwanda without a visa.
Neither Kenya nor Rwanda will be first. End of 2022, Benin, Gambia and Seychelles had already put in place a visa-free access system for all Africans. Others may soon follow. Some regions, sub-regional blocks and bilateral agreements have also implemented visa-free and even passport-free access in some cases.
Despite this progress, towards the end of 2022, only 27% African routes allowed Africans to travel without a visa.
Actions such as those of Kenya and Rwanda allow the African Union to go further. The regularization of the free movement of people across African borders is one of the continent's great development challenges. It is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 of the African Union.
But even if all African countries no longer required visas for Africans, this would not necessarily give visitors the right to apply for a job, establish a business or build a house in the host country. The 2018 African Union Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons dreams total free movement, in three phases: entry, residence and establishment. This includes all full economic rights, including employment. However, it has not been widely ratified.
Our new study on migration trends highlights the potential contribution of migration to the economic development of countries of origin and destination. This contribution takes the form of the transfer of skills, knowledge and remittances. The study also shows that intra-African migrations are firmly anchored in geographical, social and economic links. Movements are mainly within regions and moderately between them.
Free trade and movement of people
African Union policies support the liberalization of intracontinental trade, investment and movement of people to promote the economic, social and political development of the continent. The continent has progress on those aspects of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that deal with trade and investment. There has not been much progress regarding the free movement of people. However, the success of the trade agreement requires greater freedom of movement of people.
This interdependence between trade and the free movement of people has been at the center of the recent Pan-African Forum on Migration which was held in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. This forum brings together member states of the African Union, the continent's regional economic communities, United Nations agencies and intergovernmental organizations to deliberate on issues of migration and human mobility in Africa.
The conference noted that most African countries had not ratified the protocol on the free movement of peopleof the African Union. At the same time, improvements have been noted in policies and practices at the national, bilateral and multilateral levels that facilitate the free movement of Africans.
In addition to the recent announcements from Rwanda and Kenya, we can cite other examples with more and more agreements reciprocal Between the countries.
Regional migration, a norm
The history of African states with strong social ties beyond national borders makes regional mobility a norm rather than an exception. This is evident from the migration routes, which are mostly in the same regions and flow in both directions.
For example, the route from Burkina Faso to Côte d'Ivoire is the largest migratory route on the continent and within the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) – the economic bloc of 15 West African states. Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso is equally popular. This trend is omnipresent across the continent, except in the region of Southern African Development Community, where most migration routes tend to lead to South Africa.
Among the main regional economic communities, it is ECOWAS which experiences the most intense regional migrations. It is followed by the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community. On the other hand, ECOWAS is the one which records the least interregional migration, while the East African Community is the one which records the most.
Differences in development in Africa mean that some countries experience contrasting patterns, particularly with regard to extracontinental migration. While most African migrants migrate to and from other parts of the continent, extra-continental emigration is greatest in middle-income countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
Immigration and emigration are generally low in low-income countries and higher in middle-income countries. In rich countries, people tend not to emigrate. The relatively low level of migration in Africa follows this trend.
Only 14% of total emigrants in the world come from Africa. The average migrant density, or the percentage of migrants living on the continent, is 1,89%, compared to a global average of 3,6%, with Europe and North America at 12% and 16% respectively. African migration is therefore not only low compared to global averages, but also exhibits low-income characteristics.
High-income countries tend to have more immigrants than emigrants. The opposite is true for low-income areas. Africa as a whole has more emigrants than immigrants, confirming the link between migration and development.
Legal restrictions don't matter
Much of Africa's migration is impervious to legal restrictions or definitions of national borders, and even logistical constraints. Government dictates manage to render much of this migration irregular, but fail to stop it. Although regional integration and liberalization of migration rules are helpful, they do not yet solve this problem.
The main country of origin for migrants to Kenya is Somalia, although it is not part of the same regional economic community. And despite the Kenyan government's efforts to dissuade Somali migrants from coming to Kenya. The main destination country for Nigerian emigrants in Africa is Cameroon, although it does not belong to ECOWAS.
If migration governance reforms in Africa considerable progress, it will still take time before they catch up and are able to deal fairly and rationally with the reality of migration patterns in Africa.
Michael Mutava of the New South Institute authored the report on which this article is based.