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Presentation by WAI on the issue of free movement within the ECOWAS Region

ECOWASThe West Africa Institute participated in the international seminar on "Managing Migration in the ECOWAS Region". The seminar, held on May 29th, 2014, at the National Assembly of the Republic of Cabo Verde, within the framework of Government’s capacity building project for the management of migratory flows.

Present at the seminar were representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cabo Verde, Mr. Manuel Palos Jarmela, National Director of the Portuguese Aliens and Borders services, Dr. Luka Antony Elumelu, Head of Trade, Customs, industries and Free Movement of Persons at the ECOWAS Commission, representatives of the Immigration Services of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Republic of Ghana, Senegal, Portugal and Cabo Verde and University Professors.


Representing the Director General of WAI at the occasion, Mr. Benjamin Ablam Akoutou, coordinator of Research Area I of the project between WAI in Praia, Cabo Verde, and the Center for European Integration Studies (ZEI) in Bonn, Germany, presented a paper entitled "Free Movement Within the ECOWAS Zone: Challenges and Recommendations for its effectiveness"

"Achieving the ECOWAS of PEOPLES is axed on the effective implementation of the policy of free movement within the West African region." It is with these words that Mr. Akoutou started his presentation. To illustrate his point, he first of all explained to the audience the sensitive and complex nature of the topic of migration, the resulting politicization of the phenomenon and the different migration flows within ECOWAS. He then addressed the community’s legal provisions on free movement and the challenges thereof, and concluded with recommendations. Referring to sociological experiences of the sub-region, the speaker stressed that these community features reflect legal arsenal favorable to the realization of inter-African solidarity.Offiziell2

In addition, he particularly showed the extent to which free movement within ECOWAS would be the fulfillment of a long-standing aspiration that eluded West Africa at the time of its independence. Migration, having become irregular during colonization, with the creation of ECOWAS and liberalization of migration, would be a victory of the West African people in their quest to regain their freedom of movement existing before the colonial period.

On how to achieve the ECOWAS OF PEOPLES, the speaker recognized the undeniable importance of the nation-state, the latter having been rather immobilized by its battered economy and by its inability to be on top of the contemporary challenges, in particular, the failure to find workable solutions to the challenges of migration and human security, in the context of porous borders and the fluid nature of migration. These are the reasons why the presenter found that "the most effective and cheapest way to ensure management of migration, taking into account human security, is common approach at the regional level, in close collaboration with the nation-state.

Benjamin AKoutouThis common approach will ensure that citizens of the sub-region, even away from their native countries, do not lose their innate civil rights - even human. The development of a truly common approach is therefore necessary. However, controlling factors and dimensions of migration, the establishment of a reliable statistics system as well as more knowledge about the different migratory poles essential for effective migration management are lacking in the region.

Despite this absence of reliable statistics in the West African context, observations and analyzes of the ECOWAS show that it is mainly the coastal areas that attract migrants. Three immigration poles are identified: The East zone (especially the Federal Republic of Nigeria), the Centre zone (the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana) and the West zone (especially Republic of Senegal).

A truly free movement is not yet fully realized in West Africa, Mr. Akoutou, however, listed some achievements that demonstrate a level of progress in achieving this goal and were the fundament of the creation of the ECOWAS. These achievements include:

  • Entry into force of texts relating to the free movement of persons;
  • Effective abolition of visas for entry into all ECOWAS Member States;
  • Recognition of the right of residence and establishment for citizens of the community;
  • Increasing use of the residence card, the travel diary and the ECOWAS passport for travel inside and outside the ECOWAS 

He also emphasized some favorable measures that have been undertaken by several Member States of the Community such as:

  • Establishment of monitoring committees of free movement in some states (Burkina Faso);
  • Reduction in the number of checkpoints in most countries.

Palais assemblea naciolaDespite these community features and the ardent desire of peoples to unite, freedom of movement within the ECOWAS continues to be a challenge to overcome. Taking stock of the achievements of ECOWAS integration process in his publication "La Citoyenneté Régionale face aux Enjeux de la Libre Circulation et du Droit à l´Établissement dans l´Espace CEDEAO," Professor Ahadzi-Nonou, President of the University of Lomé, made an observation about “failed processes and unfulfilled hopes, one of which is the free movement of persons and the right of establishment, having to deal directly with symbolisms attached to boundaries and to national preferences”. Thus, there are cases of corruption, embezzlement, sexual harassment and other serious violence crimes at the borders. Some borders close at 22h, curtailing freedom of movement. Patrols, which should ensure the safety of people, become "Toll Posts" and in other places, border officers frequently levy informal taxes.

Moreover, one also finds:

  • Border control agents being ignorant about challenges of regional integration;
  • Community legal instruments being little known; 
  • Social disintegration in member states (Nigeria, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea); 
  • Reluctance of Member States to transpose and implement regional directives and Member States equipping themselves with own immigration policies;
  • Reluctance of Member States to relinquish part of their sovereignty; 
  • Lack of incentives for Member States to transpose regional position to the national level.

Concluding, Mr. Akoutou asked the audience questions that have been the subject of much debate, such as whether regional citizenship is possible without the exercise of political rights or if "the regional citizens" can accept to be excluded. Touching on Member States, still referring to the security issue, the speaker advanced the following question: What would happen if Member States agreed overnight to eliminate their borders by transforming the "checkpoints" into security posts to ensure peaceful, free movement of people?


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