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The AU and the Free Movement of Persons Protocol



Towards the Implementation of the Free Movement of Persons Protocol in Africa

 adegoke, adesegun, mammah

By Abiodun A. Adesegun, Ph.D


The Organization for African Unity (OAU) came into being on May 25, 1963 with the coming together of the Monrovia and Casablanca groups of African countries. Several African nation-states were just coming out of colonialism into political independence. Many of them were still under colonial rule or under apartheid. It was no surprise therefore, that the founding fathers of the OAU such as Nkrumah and Balewa pivoted the organization towards the political emancipation of the entire continent. By the mid 1990s when this political objective had been established, and no  ‘serious’ challenge at hand, the OAU tended to gravitate towards becoming a mere ‘talk shop’ for African leaders.


Encouraged by leaders such as Muammar al Ghadaffi of Libya, African leaders signed on to the Sirte Declaration on September 9, 1999 to form the African Union (AU). The AU was formally launched in Durban, South Africa in 2002 with Thabo Mbeki, president of the Republic of South Africa becoming the first Chairman of the 55-member body.


The AU was modeled after the European Union (EU) which itself had metamorphosed from the European Economic Community (EEC). There were 14 main objectives of the AU, which include promoting democracy and good governance and ensuring sustainable development among others. Sustainable development, as enshrined in the AU objectives revolves around economic, social and cultural activities. However, the Free Movement of Persons  (FMP) Protocol that would be the vehicle to achieve this goal took longer in coming. It was not until the June 2015 AU Summit in Johanesburg, South Africa, that the AU Commission was directed to provide a continental protocol for the FMP to be adopted by the Summit in January 2018. It is worthy of note, that the Protocol will be adopted in January as opposed to it being ratified which would have called for a longer process of getting member states to work through their various parliaments in the process of ratification.


The proposed FMP protocol is based on Chapter 6, Article 43 of the Abuja Treaty which states as follows:


  1. Member states agree to adopt individually at bilaterally or regional levels, the necessary measures in order to

achieve progressively, the free movement of persons, and to ensure the enjoyment of the right of residence

and the right of establishment by their nationals within The community


  1. For this purpose, Member states agree to conclude a Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of

Residence and Right of Establishment


The AU Commission, in going about the task has been drawing heavily from the work of the eight Regional Economic Communities (REC) that comprise the AU, especially that of ECOWAS and the East African Community which are the most advanced on the continent with respect to FMP.


A drawback to over reliance on drawing from work done by the RECs is that the AU Commission may not present a robust Protocol different from those of these bodies.


Another challenge that the FMP Protocol may face is lack of adequate cooperation from member states whose economy rely heavily on revenue generated from visa fees. This is more obvious in countries whose mainstay is tourism. We must not forget that the stoppage of this type of revenue will be through the visa free regime imposed by the implementation of the FMP Protocol. As a result of this, the Protocol is expected to start with visa-on-arrival and progressively move towards the abolition of visas. This will ease the anxiety of affected member states.


Another envisaged problem in the implementation of the FMP is the issue of security as it relates to terrorism and trans-border crimes. It is believed that with the opening of bothers through the FMP, ‘borderless’ Africa will open the way for more acts of terror in the wake of Boko Haram And Al-Shabab activities that have already assumed trans-national dimensions. However, it can be argued that these problems already exist, even without the implementation of the FMP Protocol. Boko Haram, for instance, is known not only to operate within Nigeria, but in the neighbouring countries of Cameroun, Niger and Chad. Similarly, the activities of the Al-Shabab extend beyond Somalia into Kenya. African states need to cooperate with one another in checking the purveyors of terror and address the nagging poverty on the continent which tends to lend itself to extremist views and activities.


The opportunities to be derived from the FMP far outweigh the challenges. To be able to mover persons, goods and services seamlessly across the continent through the FMP will ensure an integrated and virile African economy. This will move the African peoples from the doldrums of abject poverty to a more prosperous and dynamic society. Many Africans have had to pay large sums of money to procure visas. In addition, bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining travel documents and visas  have tended to discourage intra-Africa business and skills exchange. With the FMP, the African economy will thrive and take the shine of the lure of her citizens to Europe and beyond. To this end, the launching of the African e-passport in January, 2018 will open a new vista for the continent to make much progress.



Pix: Deputy Comptroller of Immigration and Head, Ikoyi Passport Office, Barrister Segun Adegoke, HOD, History and International Studies, Babcock University, Dr Abiodun Adesegun and MD/Editor-in-Chief, The Difference Newspaper, Mr. Richard Mamah at the 2017 Africa Day event in Lagos, Nigeria


Adesegun, Head of the Department of History and International Relations at Babcock University, presented this paper at the 2017 Africa Day Colloquium convened by The Difference Newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria.

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