Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1424, (3 - 9 JANUARY 2019)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1424, (3 - 9 JANUARY 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt, Africa and migration

Free movement of persons in Africa is a key to development, with Egypt  — as the upcoming chair of the African Union — having a special responsibility to see it implemented, writes Ayman Zohry

In November 2018, I was invited by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to take part in the fourth Pan-African Forum on Migration (PAFoM) organised by the African Union in collaboration with IOM and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). All agencies concerned with migration in Africa took part in the forum, including African Union (AU) members, private sector organisations, academics, parliamentary representatives, representatives of African communities abroad, civil society organisations and human rights organisations in Africa, as well as UN and other international organisations concerned with migration. The forum offered an opportunity for participants to assess progress made in raising awareness of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons in Africa, to review the inroads made in the ratification of this protocol and the challenges faced in this regard by member states, and to devise solutions to such challenges. PAFoM also gave participants the opportunity to share initiatives on migration, exchange expertise and knowledge of best practices in this domain, to upgrade the AU’s programme and operations in migration at the continental and international levels, and to promote a common understanding of migration-related issues in Africa.

In spite of how important PAFoM is to Egypt as Cairo assumes the chair of the African Union in 2019, and despite the attention that Egypt accords to migration issues, this pan-African event received no coverage in the Egyptian press. Moreover, Egypt’s official delegation to the forum consisted of a single individual from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the young and gifted diplomat Amr Badreddin who, after arduous rounds of deliberations and lobbying, managed to overcome stiff competition from Senegal and to secure the support of the majority of participants for Egypt as the host for the fifth PAFoM in 2019. 

It is interesting to note that sub-Saharan African nations or, more precisely, all African regional communities apart from North Africa, attach a high priority to facilitating the movement of persons within regional communities, in particular, and between all African countries in general. IGAD in East Africa seeks to facilitate the free movement of persons between the member states of that organisation (Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea). Towards this end, it is working to adopt a “Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons in the IGAD Region.” Moreover, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has already granted the free movement of persons between this organisation’s 14 member states as a step towards the regional integration of this community. 

The Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment, which was drafted by the African Union Commission and which was adopted in January 2018 after numerous deliberations and consultations, contains many important provisions the purpose of which is to promote closer integration between African countries so as to increase the benefit from the human resources and skills available in all African countries by facilitating inter-African migration and lifting restrictions on the movement of experts, researchers, businessmen, labour and other human resources. Towards these ends, the protocol’s articles address such ideas and proposals as a single African passport, the mutual recognition of qualifications among African countries and the portability of social security benefits. Egypt, as African Union chair in 2019, will be asked to put this protocol into effect and to ensure the practical implementation of its provisions. 

The free movement of persons in Africa is vital not only to optimising the benefit from human resources but also the transfer of technology and expertise, and bolstering investment and tourism in the continent. True, this comes with certain security implications. However, these should not be allowed to hamper the many benefits that come from greater freedom of movement. In all events, officials concerned with security in African states need to accustom themselves to dealing with an open world and an open continent and, therefore, they need to develop their instruments in a manner that meets security needs without unduly hampering the freedom of movement. 

Egypt, as AU chair, must do all it can to support the protocol for the free movement of persons in Africa and, simultaneously, it should work together with its fellow North African countries to promote freedom of movement within this important region. After all, it makes little sense for Egypt to promote a protocol of the free movement of persons in Africa when people in the North African region to which Egypt belongs remain unable to move freely within it.

Ultimately, it is impossible to dream of the Alexandria to Cape Town Highway as long as so many obstacles stand in the way of the free movement of persons in Africa.

The writer is an academic and an expert on population and migration studies. 

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