Let our People move:
Free movement of African people in Africa
Africans Rising for Unity, Justice, Peace and Dignity convened one of the biggest gatherings of African social movements, activists, human rights defenders, artists and relevant stakeholders in MS-TCDC in Arusha, Tanzania from August 29-31, 2022. The All-African Movements Assembly (AAMA) brought together members of Africans Rising – pan-African social movements, activists, human rights defenders, advocates, and key stakeholders from 55 countries across the continent and territories in the diaspora. The participants adopted specific campaigns and actions geared towards addressing current issues affecting Africans. One of the key campaigns adopted is a campaign for borderless Africa or the free movement of African people and goods in Africa. Others are reparatory justice, feminist justice and an African single currency. Africans Rising used this Assembly as a rallying platform to stimulate discussions on emerging issues affecting Africa’s economies, galvanize support from social movements and to proffer solutions that are grassroot-led, inclusive, participatory and continent relevant. Prior to the AAMA, Africans Rising convened strategic regional consultative meetings aimed at collecting and collating views and perspectives from the members of the movement. The Assembly’s program itself was a product of these broad consultations.
In line with this mandate, Africans Rising subsequently convened a virtual meeting on 7th October for the working group of the Borderless Africa. Participants were members of the movements that were representative of activists and civil society actors. The meeting defined the specific objectives and achievable targets in a participatory manner. This concept outlines the broad objectives and conceptualization of the campaign from that participatory process.
The Africa Migration Report provides evidence that a person from one African country, if they are to migrate, is more likely to migrate to another African country than to other countries outside the continent. Despite this, Africans are not free to move around the continent. Official migration policies impose heavy visa and cost restrictions on fellow Africans that limit free movement of people across the continent. Ironically, non-Africans have more access to Africa than Africans. This is not only against the notions of Pan-Africanism, but also discriminatory. Young people in particular are worst hit since they are the ones who are most likely to migrate for economic and livelihood reasons. This is happening even though it is well understood that the borders that divide us were artificially imposed by colonialists to divide and rule, for their own benefit. How do we achieve free-flowing migration and cross-country movement across the continent without the hindrances that currently exist?
Trade, labour mobility, skills transfer, employment and overall African development will be enhanced through the free movement of people, goods and labour across the continent. The economic basis for free movement is sound in that the trade among Africans will be boosted greatly, and help grow the economy of the continent, creating jobs and opening pathways for trans-border infrastructure development. The prevalent reason for migration in Africa is economic and livelihood. In this regard, border restrictions on travel and movement of African people is a restraint on intra-African trade which is the basis for the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has been touted as an economic and globalization game changer because it has the potential to transform African economies and significantly raise Africa’s share of global trade to position Africa as an increasingly dynamic force in the international arena. The AfCFTA is a catalyst for boosting trade between African countries, supporting industrial development, creating business opportunities, generating jobs and helping to alleviate poverty. But it can only achieve its goals if the people of Africa are allowed to move without the restrictions that currently exist.
Women and young people are worse affected by the restrictions on free movement because as the data shows, they are the most likely to move. For example 75% of the over 30,000 daily commuters on the border between the towns of Rusizi (Rwanda) and Goma (DRC) are women. Even the AfCFTA recognizes that women are a key group in its implementation. Article 3 (e) of the AfCFTA states the need to promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the States Parties. Article 27 (2) (d) of the Protocol on Trading in Services, State Parties are mandated to improve the export capacity of both formal and informal service suppliers, with particular attention to micro, small and medium size; women and youth service suppliers. The AfCFTA is an opportunity to tap into the talents of young Africans and women to ensure inclusive benefits. Africa’s informal sector accounts for 85% of the continent’s total economic activity; and while women account for 90% of the labor force in the informal sector, they constitute 70% of informal traders. Likewise, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the continent with the youngest population in the world. Therefore, women and youth are deeply engaged in cross-border trade, which at the moment is highly challenged by immigration restrictions.
Free movement of people is also central to Agenda 2063. More trade among Africans will be a good boost in reducing unemployment especially among the youth. It will also ensure that prices of goods and services in the various African countries are lowered to the benefit of the people who consume goods coming from cross-border countries. Local currencies will be strengthened and over-reliance on foreign goods will be lessened.
Diaspora and Reparatory Justice
Free movement of African people within Africa is a Pan-African ideal of historical significance. It has long been held as a concrete step towards the achievement of the vision of our forefathers and foremothers of a united, peaceful, secure, just, and dignified Africa. The political history of the current borders which form the basis for the enforcement of stringent visa requirements and restrictions of travel lies in the Berlin Conference of 1884, whose outcome was the carving up of the continent into parcels of possession to advance colonialism. Before then, the same forces enforced the enslavement of African people, uprooting them from their lands and subjecting them to the most cruel indignities in history. Thus, part of reparatory justice is to make it easier for African people to move within Africa without the restrictions imposed by colonialism. It is also important to ensure that people of African descent outside of Africa can access the land of their ancestors by extending free movement not only to those Africans living in the continent but those in the global Africa.
The Peace and Security Council of the African Union has on many occasions considered the issue of free movement of people in Africa. This is pertinent given that one of the main fears of some policymakers regarding free movement is perceived security threats. In its decision after such a consideration, the council held that the benefits of free movement of Africans far outweigh the potential cons associated with it. They went ahead to recommend the acceleration of action on the ratification and enforcement of the protocol on free movement. Independent studies have shown that the fears around security are more imagined than real and, in any case, there are significant and practical means by which any such issues can be collectively mitigated. After all, on matters of security, African countries are better placed to deal with them if they are working together than separately.
AU @60 and the Protocol on Free Movement
The Organisation of African Unity was founded in 1963 by 33 independent African states to work towards the unity of Africa. In 2000, heads of states meeting in Abuja agreed to change it to the African Union which is currently in existence. Thus, the institutional framework for the coordination of the efforts towards unity would have been in existence for a combined period of 60 years in 2023. The Borderless Africa campaign will leverage on this key milestone in the historical evolution of Pan-Africanism to push for concrete manifestation of the ideals of African solidarity and togetherness.
Realizing the importance of free movement of African people in Africa, the African Union in 2014 passed the Protocol on Free Movement of People. This followed the 1991 Abuja Treaty, which first demanded the free movement of people. Subsequent decisions of the AU Assembly of Heads of States in 2016 and the Peace and Security Council of the AU affirmed the decision on free movement. Recent progress on the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area also reinforces the need for the movement of people and goods across the continent to boost intra-African trade and the African economy. The protocol on free movement has been signed by 33 out of the 55 countries in Africa. However, only 4 countries have yet ratified it while at least 15 countries need to ratify it before it can come into force.
This creates a platform for civil society, social movements and activists to engage with the protocol through a bottom-up approach to push for a transformative Pan-African ideal. Through the borderless Africa campaign, the people of Africa will take due ownership of an initiative of the Africa Union to achieve something concrete that affects their lives daily.
- The abolition of visa requirements for travel of Africans within Africa
- Bring the AU protocol on free movement into force by getting at least 16 more countries to ratify it by 25th May 2023
- Organize a continent-wide grassroots push for the mass roll out of the African passport
- Give visibility to the linkage between Africans on the continent and global Africa
- facilitate trade among Africans through free movement of people and goods
- National policymakers of 55 African states
- Embassies of African countries in diaspora
- AU Commission and The Assembly of Heads of State and Government
- Regional blocs (RECs/RMs)
The Borderless Africa campaign will be a 5-year campaign to accomplish the free movement of people of Africa in Africa. Within 5 years, from 2023 to 2027, all the countries in Africa should have ratified and enforced the AU protocol on free movement. This will be achieved through a multi-pronged approach anchored solidly on mass mobilization with the following elements that will be kickstarted in 2023.
As a mass people’s campaign, the Borderless Africa initiative will seek more involvement of African people across the world to lend their voice and support, giving it a truly grassroots outlook. To this end, an online petition will be launched to collect signatures from African people across the world with the aim of collating at least 5 million signatures in support of the petition. This will build on an earlier effort targeted at the South African government against its visa policies and requirements for African citizens.
In addition to the online petition, volunteers will be deployed to rural areas in all African countries to collect signatures and thumbprints from people who may not have the opportunity to sign the online petition due to limited access to technology. The volunteers will be trained to understand the reasons for the petition, and it will be part of their responsibilities to educate each person and obtain consent before adding their name and signature/thumbprint to the petition. A range of communications tools including hashtags will be used to popularise the petition.
The petition will be presented during the 25th May African Liberation Week and physically at the African Union headquarters.
African Liberation Week is Africans Rising’s biggest annual mobilization of members across the continent and the diaspora to take actions in solidarity to advance the expansion of civic spaces, gender equality, peace and dignity, social inclusion etc. in 2022, more than 500 events took place across 49 countries in Africa and the diaspora. It is organized to mark 25th May every year with actions and campaigns taking place throughout the week of the 25th May. Given the milestone of 60 years since the 25th May 1963, the African Liberation Week mobilisations in 2023 will be historic. Being a mass mobilization tool, the African Liberation Week will be the main platform upon which the borderless campaign will be carried forward with a deep-rooted mass participation by the African people – after all the campaign itself was mandated by mass participation.
This will be seen in organized simultaneous protests in all African countries and others in the diaspora with the message of free movement. These protests will be organized locally by movement members who signed up to the original campaign mandate in Arusha as well as those who followed subsequently. With the support of Africans Rising, these protests will be coordinated to coincide with the 25th May celebrations by the African Union member countries. Each protest will end with the presentation of the people’s petition for free movement to the government.
The Borderless Africa campaign will culminate in the physical presentation of the People’s Petition for Free Movement to heads of states and governments at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2023 during their ordinary session. This will be done through a caravan of African people who will be massed to Ethiopia to present the petition on behalf of the millions of African people calling for the freedom to move within their own continent.
In order to achieve the stated objectives, the borderless Africa campaign will constitute a high level panel including Africans Rising’s ambassadors and others to champion the advocacy for the ratification of the AU protocol on free movement such that by the end of the campaign, at least 20 countries would have ratified the protocol. This will automatically bring the protocol into force while the campaign continues until all African countries ratify the same. The targets of the advocacy will be national governments, parliaments, AU structures and regional blocs to accelerate the signing and ratification of the protocol.
A panel of experts will be assembled to help in breaking down the issues, responding to enquiries, writing papers and briefs. This panel will also be responsible for creating content to be deployed in media circles but also to be used for the political education of the people
As a Pan-African movement dedicated to supporting grassroots movements, Africans Rising will establish engagement with grassroots movements especially those who have signed up to join the campaign. This support will be geared towards building their capacity and structures to continue the mobilisation at the grassroots level even after the African Liberation Week mobilization in 2023. A key aim of this support will also be to create intersections between the free movement campaign and the issues they are already working on at the grassroots level. This way, there will be local ownership to drive the cause with passion.
Beyond the movements and activists in the core of the campaign, we will build partnerships and collaborations with other organisations, media, social media influencers, think tanks and other civil society actors to push the campaign from all angles.
We expect the following outcomes at the end of the campaign
- All the countries of Africa, members of the African Union, ratify the AU Protocol on Free Movement of African People
- Free movement is enforced throughout Africa
- African passport becomes a citizens’ passport and not just for diplomats
- African passport is made available to Africans in the diaspora