This article was written by Tshepo T. GwatiwaMichael Noel Sam and was and first published on ​The Conversation.



The African Union (AU) has adopted a Free Movement Protocol and a draft plan of action to go with it.

The idea was first set out in the Abuja Treaty, which was endorsed in 1991 at the establishment of the African Economic Community. The AU’s protocol defines free movement as the right to enter and exit member states and move freely within them, subject to the states’ laws and procedures. It regards the freedom to travel or move goods across the continent as likely to boost the economic integration of Africa.

There are several reasons why the protocol is an important development.

First, it will directly affect ordinary people. Up until now the effects of most of the AU’s treaties and protocols have filtered down to people’s lives from a distance, if at all. This protocol applies directly to citizens’ movement.

Second, it moves the AU closer to the progress that sub-regional groupings have made on migration. For example, the East African Community (EAC) launched its passport in 1999 and has recently started a process to issue an EAC e-passport. This is a passport with digital identification features.

In West Africa, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) launched a regional passport in 2000, but implementation by member states has been slow.

Lastly, free movement of people in other regions has been beneficial. For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that the average unemployment rate has been lowered by 6% in Europe due to free movement within the European Union (EU). And according to the International Monetary Fund, free movement has resulted in better institutions and better economic management in Eastern Europe.

Advantages of free movement

There’s a great deal of evidence that migration boosts the economies of receiving countries. Free movement in Africa can be expected to enhance business and investment as the EU example has shown.

According to an African Development Bank report, tourism in the Seychelles increased by 7% annually between 2009 and 2014 when the country abolished visas for African nationals. By 2015, thanks to increased revenues, it had become a high income country with thriving real estate, aviation and service industries.

The same report also states that African travel to Rwanda has increased by 22% since it eased its visa requirements in 2013. Since then Rwanda’s cross-border trade with Kenya and Uganda has increased by 50%. This is evidence that free movement of labour and capital, boosts economic activity.