Kigali — Africa needs a major mindset change so it can tear down the physical and mental borders imposed during colonial times so citizens can embrace each other for the betterment of the continent, participants at the ongoing 22nd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE) for Eastern Africa agreed Wednesday.
In a session titled; Beyond Trade: The Protocol on the Free Movement of People, participants called for political will and urged governments in the sub-region to open borders without alienating anyone. They agreed there was need for better understanding of what constitutes free movement of persons with crucial issues like human trafficking being discussed and tacked in unison through police and immigration bodies working closely together.
Civil registration and national ID schemes, they agreed, were important schemes all governments on the continent should take seriously.
In raising awareness on the Protocol of the Free Movement of Persons, citizens should be sensitized on benefits of co-existence, the participants agreed while emphasizing that the fear of foreigners taking opportunities was misplaced as they actually increased competitiveness, especially in skills enhancement.
Countries were encouraged to reflect on how they could balance free movement of persons with protectionism. They were encouraged to put in place policies that encourage mobility for skills acquisition, education and training.
Economic Commission for Africa's Emelang Leteane said the objective of the session was to analyse and debate the potential and perceived effects of the Protocol of the Free Movement of Persons in Eastern Africa and its expected impact on citizens.
"While other aspects of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) seem to be gaining momentum, there has been a slow uptake of the free movement of persons as evidenced by the signing of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons by only half of African States," she said.
Twenty-seven countries have signed up to the Free Movement of Peoples Protocol while 49 have signed the AfCFTA since its unveiling at the March African Union Summit in Kigali. At least 12 have since ratified the AfCFTA.
Participants discussed the case for free movement, as an integral part of the AfCFTA with BBC Africa's Lerato Mbele moderating the lively debate.
"The core idea of the AU Free Movement of Persons Protocol is to contribute to continental integration. It promises to be the oil that will move the machinery of greater investment, tourism and trade," said Ms. Leteane.
Christophe Bazivamo, Deputy Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC), said selective opening of borders was problematic, adding measures should be put in place to ensure everyone benefited from migration.
"Governance and regulatory frameworks are key in encouraging migration. As Africans we need to liberate our minds on the subject and harmonize national laws and policies in order to adopt the free movement of people," said Mr. Bazivamo. He noted the adoption of the EAC passport in some countries as progressive.
Linda Oucho of the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC), shared research findings on migration and poverty in Kenya and Ethiopia where migration was considered a threat.
She said communities should be allowed to contribute to the conversation on migration.
On harnessing the African diaspora finances for development, Ms. Oucho said; "Africa should not only focus on cash remittances but also social remittances in the form of diaspora skills. They can make a huge difference on the ground if brought back to the continent."
Cyrus Nkusi, CEO of Governance for Africa, also of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), said Africa needs to embrace free movement of people as a human right.
"It will allow and promote education and foster tourism and investment. Most important our governments should formulate youth-friendly policies that would enable the youth to fully participate in the free movement of persons," he said.
Mr. Nkusi highlighted the importance of political will and gave the example of the EAC's youth council which member States have agreed to have.
ICE2018 is being held under the theme: Implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area in Eastern Africa: From Vision to Action.