Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

After the 'migration crisis': the role of regional economic communities

12 May 2020, 12.01am
Michael Kappeler/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

What role, if any, have regional economic communities played in the development of an African migration policy?

There are eight regional economic organisations, but of these ECOWAS has been the most proactive in the area of migration management. ECOWAS was established in 1975. Four years later its member states adopted the first protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment.

ECOWAS has recorded several achievements. It has created a borderless area and galvanised intra-regional commerce and trade, in spite of occasional hiccups such as the recent closure of Nigeria’s land borders. Today, intra-regional trade in West Africa has been enhanced and citizens from the region can travel to neighbouring countries with a uniform ECOWAS passport. There is now also the proposed ECO, which is the region’s single currency. A third potential area of achievement would be the harmonised accreditation of diplomas, which would facilitate the exchange of students and render them more marketable in neighbouring countries.

The EU and particularly France have tried to undermine these efforts. I could provide numerous examples to prove this point. When I lived in Senegal many years ago, there was a vibrant trade exchange between Nigerians and Senegalese women until France encouraged Senegal to stop buying Nigerian products. Senegal believed at the time that Nigeria was having undue influence in the region and abided by France’s request. When I was president of the Union for African Population Studies, I observed that French diplomats would often stay in the hotel where we held our meetings and subtly influence the position of our Francophone colleagues.

Others point to Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS and Egypt’s membership of COMESA as further evidence of France’s hidden agenda. These countries have almost no geographical, historical, economic or cultural ties with the regions concerned and many suspect that the only possible reason behind their membership is for them to serve as a foot in the door for Paris. In fact, such is France’s hold on Francophone Africa that the former AU Ambassador to the U.S., Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao, gave a speech in which she criticised France’s “continued colonialism.” She was eventually removed from her post.

IGAD in the Horn and Eastern regions of Africa is still at a very primitive stage of free movement of persons, and SADC in the south only agreed to a Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons in 2005 after many years of negotiation. The problem here is one of lack of foresight by the African leadership. To illustrate, if Zambia and Zimbabwe had foreseen that their economies could one day collapse, they would not have vigorously opposed free movement of persons when it was first proposed in 1995. Zambia only ratified the SADC Protocol on the Facilitation of the Movement of Persons in 2013. Unfortunately, most of our political leaders think only short-term.

What policies has IGAD put in place to manage migration in the region and what have been the impacts of these policies?

IGAD followed in the steps of the African Union, which in 2006 adopted a Migration Policy Framework and recommended that regional economic communities and national governments formulate regional and national policy frameworks. In 2012, IGAD therefore adopted the IGAD Regional Migration Policy Framework, a comprehensive document that identified twelve broad priorities that speak to the migration dynamics of the region. These range from irregular and labour migration to forced displacement, climate change, pastoral mobility, returns and readmission.  In 2014, IGAD also adopted the Migration Action Plan 2015-2020 to operationalise the policy framework. This plan is under review in light of new realities and the region’s changing migration dynamics.

IGAD is the only regional economic community to have adopted a regional policy framework and adapted it to regional realities. This is largely due to the fact that our leaders were accustomed to dealing with drought- and conflict-related displacement and so, unlike in other regions, they did not need to be convinced of the relevance of this policy. The IGAD Protocol on Free Movement of Persons is vital in promoting freer mobility, particularly labour migration across East and the Horn of Africa.

In terms of the impact of our policy response, I would say that there are things that we have done well, such as setting up a migration governance architecture. IGAD has established several mechanisms to facilitate interactions between member states, between member states and the IGAD secretariat, and between member states and our development partners. These include coordination platforms, such as National Coordination Mechanisms (NCM), the Regional Migration Coordination Committee (RMCC), and the Regional Consultative Processes on migration (RCP). Member states use these mechanisms to share experiences, best practices and lessons learned from different approaches to migration management.

Furthermore, IGAD, in collaboration with other actors such IOM and GIZ, is currently supporting governments to develop national migration strategies and national plans to implement the Global Compact for Migration. We also work with groups known as intermediate sectoral committees, which include national agents of change and which are crucial in pushing for policy developments and improvements at the national level.

Unfortunately, the implementation of key regional commitments requires a lot of resources and time. This is further exacerbated by the fact that majority of our programmes are dependent  on donor funding, and in some instances our priorities and donor priorities may not align. For instance diaspora engagement and remittances remain largely underfunded.

This series has been financially supported by Humanity United.

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