Demand free and safe movement of Africans across Africa!

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Travel within Africa is beset with hurdles; travellers face a myriad of obstacles from poor infrastructure to restrictive visa requirements. Visa requirements for most Africans travelling within the continent is, perhaps, the single most restrictive barrier to travel abroad. Irrespective of the African Union’s encouraging position on freedom of movement of people across the continent, its commitment evidenced by its launch of the AU passport and the adoption of a free movement treaty earlier this year, many African countries persist in subjecting foreigners who are African to severe restrictions to enter their territory. It is not uncommon for Europeans and Americans to be granted visas upon entry and Africans travelling with them to be denied entry. 

Freedom of movement of people refers to the ability to enter a foreign country without a visa, the right to live and work in that country, and the right to establish there and set up a business without discrimination. Various studies have demonstrated the benefits of freedom of movement of people to the economies of the countries of origin and destination, e.g. remittances have been said to be a potential avenue for development resourcing for African countries.

To achieve the vision for Africa and the underlying foundation of the AU, that of a federation of states and of “a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa”, a key factor that must be met is that of freedom of movement of people. The integration process was started in earnest sub-regionally first in West Africa by the Economic Organisation of West Africa (ECOWAS) in 1979, followed by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) (see, then the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and then the East African Community (EAC) in 2009. More recently, the issue of free movement of Africans is one that has gained currency across the continent, particularly at the governmental level. In addition to pronouncements at African Union Summits, countries like Rwanda, Ghana, Seychelles, Benin, Kenya and Mauritius have recently removed or eased visa restrictions for Africans. 

Statistics from UNDESA (2013) show that nearly half (15.3 million) of all African migrants migrate within Africa, and that 46% of them are women. This has a huge social and economic impact for African countries, and uniquely places them as multiply countries of origin, transit and destination, as many have been dealing with high levels of migration for years.

The fact that free movement is bound to increase, driven by modern technologies of communication and transportation, requires that appropriate regulatory frameworks be put in place at the international, but most importantly at the domestic level, to protect those who are moving. There is an inordinate number of moving Africans who are subjected to egregious human rights violations and fail to find protection or recourse to justice. Different types of Africans are moving for different reasons and with differing levels of resources, education, and abilities. When borders are closed, it pushes them, particularly young people to the vagaries of irregular migration. There is a need to enhance legal and organised migration in order to stem the vulnerabilities faced, particularly by women and youth.

There is also a need to focus on the gendered dimensions of migration including drivers, vulnerabilities at origin, in transit and at countries of destination, which are intensified for women by the channels and sectors into which they migrate such as carer work, domestic work and the entertainment industry. Issues of trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, and gender based violence must be specifically tackled and protections must be put into place and implemented in all African countries.

With globalisation creating interdependency, countries’ economies now rely on access, and freedom of movement of goods, services and people. African governments need to better our lives and meet our aspirations, by ensuring that we are able to harness the socio-economic benefits that come with free movement, like employment, family, education and health care.


Sign this petition and demand that African governments:

  1. Ratify and implement the provisions of the existing and recently adopted free movement treaties to ensure a more visa-free continent that will enable Africans to improve their socio-economic wellbeing, and stem the vulnerabilities faced particularly by youth and women;
  2. Create an enabling environment by embracing more relaxed immigration policies and regimes for Africans in their territories;
  3. Dialogue honestly and openly with various national and multilateral stakeholders regarding their security concerns, and implement only necessary measures drawing from best practice examples;
  4. Adhere to their commitments under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and guarantee the protection of Africans of other nationalities living or travelling within their territories, especially against actions triggered by deep-seated discrimination and xenophobia;
  5. Take all measures to stem the vulnerabilities and dangers of human movement, faced by Africans in countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as upon return, paying specific attention to the vulnerabilities faced by women and youth including human trafficking and sexual exploitation and abuse;
  6. Craft stronger national and regional legislation, coupled with international co-operation, aimed at protecting travellers rather than criminalising them; and
  7. Provide comprehensive gender-sensitive and rights-based policies, and assistance and response mechanisms, to protect vulnerable travellers e.g. access to SRH services, easy access to legal and consular services, and safe houses.