COMESA works towards free movement of persons
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Meeting of Ministers responsible for Immigration which took place on the 16th of March 2011 at the COMESA Headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, demonstrated a strong will to move towards the free movement of people within COMESA.
Zambian Vice President and Minister of Justice Georg Kunda pointed out that although efforts have been made for the free trade of goods within the region, there is an urgent need to address the free movement of people. COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya also recognized that “the full implementation of the COMESA programme on Free Movement is key to the successful attainment of a well integrated Common Market.”
Legal instruments governing the free movement of people already exist within COMESA, which include the Protocol on the Gradual Relaxation and Eventual Elimination of Visa Requirements and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Labour, Services, the Right of Establishment and Residence. However since the adoption of the Free Movement Protocol in May 2006 only four countries have signed it, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and only one country, Burundi, has ratified it. Mr Ngwenya congratulated those countries for their efforts “May I take this opportunity to congratulate the four COMESA Member States that have signed the Protocol on Free Movement, namely: Burundi; Kenya; Rwanda; and Zimbabwe. In addition, I would also like to commend Burundi for having deposited her instrument of ratification with the COMESA Secretariat.” Mr Kunda urged Member states which have not yet signed the protocol to do so.
The implementation of the protocols seems to be hampered by a lack of harmonization of immigration laws among Member states. Indeed, Secretary General Ngwenya noted that member states “also recognized the fact that in implementing the programme on Free Movement of Persons, there cannot be any successful integration of immigration practices without harmonizing their national laws, hence the adoption of the COMESA Model Law on Immigration, which is a yardstick or point of reference on which COMESA Member States can harmonize their national immigration laws and practices.”
The ministers agreed on a series of recommendations to promote free movement of persons, services and labour within the COMESA integration Agenda. The recommendations were informed by the 7th Meeting of Chief Immigration Officers held on the 14th and 15th of March 2011 that identified three priority areas: (i) implementation of the Protocol and Council Decisions on movement of persons, services and labour; (ii) harmonisation of national laws with the COMESA model law on immigration; and (iii) cooperation on immigration matters among COMESA Members States to facilitate trade.
In addition, the meeting acknowledged the relevance of the Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership as a cooperation framework between Africa and the EU, and recommended that COMESA and the AUC cooperate closely in this matter.
The meetings benefited from the technical assistance provided under the framework of the joint European Commission (EC) and International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) Migration EU Expertise initiative – MIEUX.
To enhance a buy in and understanding of the above issues, ICMPD has committed to fund two workshops for immigration practitioners. The first workshop will be held in Swaziland in June 2011, and the second one will be held in partnership with the African Union Commission, in Addis Ababa in September 2011.
This article is based on information from the e-COMESA newsletter 286 - 18 March 2011.