Free at last. It is now a matter of months before Africans begin moving freely across the continent without having to applying for the painful restrictive entry visas.
A solid document has been generated with clear guidelines on how African countries will open up their borders for persons on the continent to seamlessly move from one country to another.
Following an experts’ committee meeting held in Kigali from May 23 to 26, 2017, a protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa has been finalized and awaits a blessing and signatures of the African Heads of State next year.
In the meantime, different stakeholders, such as security agencies, immigration agencies, and other players will pick on the document to inform themselves on the implementation of the historic protocol.
Right off the bat, Intelligence and security agencies have their hands on it. They are looking at one article after another, deliberating on how the protocol will be implemented.
While officially opening up a workshop of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) yesterday morning in Kigali, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo said that, “Africa united is not a slogan, it is a necessity.”
She said that the security chief from across the continent were expected to discuss come up with a way Africans can move, trade, effect tourism, do business, invest and plan together with security. “And that is the work that is cut out for you,” she said.
Minister Mushikiwabo said that each an every element of this project has been looked into and she believes the outcome will be mutually binding.
She said that the few concerns, particularly security, that were raised by some member states, have been discussed broadly and there are provisions on how they will be handled. However, she reassured that, “No African country’s concern should be dismissed…we should allow all African countries to feel confortable.”
According to Shimeles Semayat, the Executive Secretary of CISSA, indeed there must be associated security challenges and concerns to free movement of persons and goods. “Some of them are realistic, while others are imaginary,” he said. “Now, it is for the intelligence and security community to understand what free movement of people and goods mean and what will be the advantages.”
The intelligence and security community discussed the details of this matter and dissected the essence of free movement. “Even if we find real security challenges; it can not be a reason not to implement this concept.” “We must achieve a united, integrated and peaceful Africa. We must,” Semayat said.
Dr. Matlosa, who had co-chaired the Experts’ Meeting two days earlier alongside Katyen Jackden, the Chairperson of the AU Committee of the Free Movement of Persons in Africa, said that a fully studied and agreed upon blueprint of the protocol, will provide guidance on the way forward.
“This is timely,” he said. “We now have a document to guide our discussions.”
In his view, Africa needs to be aware that, “as we are considering free movement of person in Africa, we are dealing with an important process of continental integration.”
To emphasise more, he said that the protocol will serve Africa another opportunity to deal with a human rights issue; free movement.
He added that, “While we appreciate the benefits of free movement…I want to ephasise challenges.”
He mentioned three major challenges. Security remains on the top of the list, followed by public health rights and unequal economies.
The Secretary General of Rwanda’s National Intelligence and Security Service and Chairperson of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita reassured Africans the fears would be taken care of.
“We are here to demonstrate that we will be able to confront both real and conceived threats,” he said. He said experiences and lessons will be shared and imperial data examined. “This will be discussed in the broader context of achieving the seamless and borderless Africa.”
Rwanda has offered to share its experiences with hope that, “what has worked here, maybe it might work elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, Minister Mushikiwabo said that indeed “no change that is worthwhile has ever been easy.” However, she concluded that the task ahead is to learn from past mistakes and forge a way forward. “We have a few who [countries] are not at the same pace, but those who are ready must move.”
The African Passport
Less than 24 months, if all plans go as is, all Africans should be able to traverse through all the 54 African countries using the Pan African passport.
So far, all African presidents and ministers of foreign affairs already have the passport. According to Dr. Matlosa “Now we want all Africans to have these passports.”
The passport will be issued in three categories, the Red coloured for diplomats, blue coloured for civil servants and green coloured for the ordinary travellers.
“It is an important instrument and symbolic, because it provides a legal and secure way for Africans to travel and also trade between one another,” Mushikiwabo said.
Meanwhile, Africa is not being watched from a distance as these developments unfold. These are exciting times for Africa as waves of awakening hit the continent from all angles. But the excitement is being calibrated and scrutinised by stakeholders involved in the reforms.
Critically looked into, historical context and an understanding provide hints for examining possible peddling of the West due to geopolitical interests and need to maintain their influence on the continent.
“Of course we are mindful of the possibility of narrow national interests which might be going on and how they can undermine the process of this integration,” said Semayat. “We are aware, and we will continue discussing how to deal with it.”