ECOWAS - Free Movement of Persons

In May 1979, ECOWAS member States adopted their first protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment.[1] It stipulated the right of ECOWAS citizens to enter, reside and establish economic activities in the territory of other member states and offers a three step roadmap of five years each to achieve freedom of movement of persons after fifteen years.  The first phase regards the right of visa-free entry, phase two dealt with the right of residency, and phase three concerns the right of establishment in another member State. The first phase have been fully implemented. The second phase, the right of residency, has also been implemented, given that citizens had obtained an ECOWAS residence card or permit in fellow member State. The third phase, the right of establishment, is still under implementation in most member States.[2]

To facilitate the free movement of people in the ECOWAS region, member States established a common passport, formally known as the ECOWAS travel certificate. The ECOWAS passport was introduced in December 2000 to exempt holders from intra-regional visa requirements and to function as an international travel document. The member States are currently in the process of implementing a joint visa for non-ECOWAS citizens that cover the whole region, the Eco-Visa.

ECOWAS has also implemented measures to ease the movement of persons transported in private and commercial vehicles by harmonizing policies that enable vehicles to enter and temporary reside in a member State for up to ninety and fifteen days respectively. Most ECOWAS member States have, in this regards, instituted the ECOWAS brown card, which is an insurance of motor vehicles that covers the civil responsibly of the owner in the ECOWAS region[3].

[1] ECOWAS/979 Protocol A/P.1/5/79 relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment. Available from

[2] Aderanti Adepoju, Alistair Boulton and Mariah Levin. 2010. Promoting integration through mobility: Free movement under ECOWAS. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Available from

[3] African Union, Status of Integration in Africa IV, 2013. Available from