Africa Wary of Free Movement As Single Market Opens

Smale-scale traders at the Rubavu-Goma border post transact business (file photo).

Reluctance to open borders is likely to hinder the success of the African single market after only about half of the continent's countries signed the protocol that allows free movement of people, right to live and establish business anywhere in Africa.

Whereas the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) that created the world's largest market got massive support with 44 countries inking the deal, the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the African Passport was only signed by 27 countries.

Some delegates at the African Union summit in Kigali on Wednesday blamed the poor show on the AU Secretariat's sensitisation on the protocol.

"The negotiations concerning the Protocol on Free Movement were not high profile - and there was no prior openness about the protocol ahead of its signing. As a matter of fact, many of us were surprised when it was presented to be signed alongside the CFTA agreement," Francis Mangeni, Comesa's director for Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs, told The EastAfrican.

Comesa - the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa - is 19-member state free trade area.

Mr Mangeni also noted that many African nations fear that opening their borders would worsen unemployment pressures and insecurity.

"Many African states still believe in overblown myths that when they open up to other nationals, it will cause insecurity and jobs will be fewer for their citizens. But they have to look at countries that have successfully done it. Rwanda, Kenya, Seychelles and others opened up their borders and they have not collapsed," he said.

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