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  • on 30.06.2015
  • at 05:10 PM
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Is the hyped free movement of people across African economic blocs a farce? 0

Countries on the continent are never short of declarations and protocols announced or signed with fanfare at the African Union summits.

Over the past two months alone, I have attended a number of conferences discussing the protocols on the free movement of people, labour, goods, capital and services within the continent’s regional economic communities (RECs).

The African Union recognises eight RECs: The Arab Maghreb Union, the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and the Southern African Development Community.

As I study the free movement protocols, five questions have preoccupied my mind, answers to which demand future research.

First, was the regional integration idea a false start in Africa? Second, is it analogous to putting the cart before the horse? Third, was it conceived in a Eurocentric fashion?

Fourth, is it elitist and blatantly snobbish as an agenda of the summit rather than of the general populace? Finally, are the RECs really working systematically to coalesce into the African Economic Community, slated by the Abuja Treaty of 1991 to emerge 34 years down the line?

Although each of these questions deserves a separate analysis, I offer some answers as food for thought for proponents of regional integration, of which I am one.

1. A false start in Africa

Professor Rene Dumont’s False Start in Africa (1966), though confined to the newly independent Francophone West African countries, advanced a thesis that some reviewers have dismissed as paranoid and lacking in authoritative research.

These African countries advocated socialism on rather flimsy grounds, in line with the euphoria surrounding independence when every newly Independent country espoused “African socialism” — a woolly little understood concept by most of the society.

There seemed to be a hurry to set up RECs before adequate research was undertaken to understand the facts on the ground and how they would be factored into regional integration. To this day, the vast majority of citizens hardly know anything about regional integration, not least the RECs that are meant to serve them.

2. Putting the cart before the horse

The way the RECs emerged was analogous to putting the cart before the horse, in which case the cart would never move. It is unclear what type of movements the RECs were meant to free when both voluntary and involuntary movements (including IDPs and refugees, human trafficking and migrant smuggling) are rampant, but have been ignored in most protocols.

A close scrutiny of RECs suggests that the free movement of people is a vague concept as they are not identified in accordance with the typical movements they engage in.

For instance, women traders ply across common borders; human traffickers and migrant smugglers thrive; some IDPs keep suffering in their motherlands and refugees cross borders or travel farther in search of refuge that is sometimes elusive. Most of these involuntary migrants never feature in the free movement protocols, ostensibly because their problems concern institutions other than RECs.

Continue reading on The East African

by John Oucho 

Photo Credit: The East African

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