Free Movement of Persons

The free movement of people across borders have been high on the regional integration agenda for member States, primarily because of the prospective trade gains that are associated with it. Free movement of people across Africa represents a powerful boost to economic growth and skills development when people can travel with ease for business, tourism or education. Everyone benefits from a country that opens up their borders as well as the country whose nation is on the move, as seen in the growth in remittances in recent years.[1]

It is a prerequisite that sufficient liberalization is implemented in the countries of member States as regards free movement of people, if cross-border investments are to be realized. Furthermore, “free movement of people and the rights of residence and establishment” comprises the fifth phase of the Abuja Treaty that is projected to be realized by 2023. To date, businesses are not able to attain, move or retain professionals because of restrictive immigration laws that hamper the mobility of professional services, causing limited regional skills pooling throughout the continent.[2] A critical constraint is that Africans can only get a visa on arrival in 25 per cent of other African countries, whereas North Americans, for instance, have easier travel access on the continent than Africans themselves.[3] To tackle the constraint, the African Union has urged its member States to offer visas on arrival to fellow Africans. The African Union also advocates for the “single African passport” that aims to fulfil the above objective and improve intra-African trade as a part of Agenda 2063.[4]

African countries and regions need to encourage positive reciprocity, applying the treatment they are receiving from more visa-open countries; and look at promoting a visa-on-arrival approach or regional bloc visas. Leaders and policymakers need to work towards the goal of every African being able to scan an African passport at immigration controls continent-wide. In this regard, improved infrastructure and transport facilities can ease the process and further stimulate cross-border mobility that boosts economic growth and development in Africa.[5]


[1] African Union Commission, African Development Bank and ECA, Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2016. Available from

[2] African Development Bank, Visa restrictions and economic consequences in Africa (2013). Available from

[3] African Development Bank, Africa visa openness report 2016. Available from

[4] African Union, Agenda 2063: The Africa we want (2014). Available from 

[5] African Union Commission, African Development Bank and ECA, Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2016. Available from