Visa-free intra-African migrations should drive development for the African continent

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde. Picture: Supplied

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 22, 2023


Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde

In contemporary days, many nation states attempt to drive their respective developmental activities, planning, strategies and policies as single and independent political-economic entities; however, experiences across various geographic regions have shown that the most powerful and effective driver of social and economic growth, development and advancement for nation states tends to be realised through forging regional or continental level alliances, treaties and solidarities. Through creating regional and continental politico-economic blocs, nation states have increasingly become aware of the limits and disadvantages of operating as isolated government systems.

One of the primary ways social and economic developments and advancements can be accelerated and expanded is through allowing free inter-migrations of persons across traditional political borders. When treaties allowing for free movement of persons and goods are implemented among many nations, interpenetration of skills, knowledges and commercial trade between nation-states occur, which tend to facilitate rapid and enlarged socio-economic development.

African nations should seize the enormous benefits of immigration through allowing visa-free movements of Africans across their borders, effectively making the African continent a giant circulator of Africa-to-Africa movement of skills, cultural information, technological transfers, academic knowledge, exchange of expertise and commercial goods. Africa needs to adopt governance systems and frameworks such as those of the EU in order to harmonise and integrate diverse country-level development activities into a single, unhindered, interdependent and common hub of interconnected development systems.

African national governments, their think tanks, policy framers and expert advisers need to re-direct their inward-looking and nationalist development initiatives, ideas and planning towards more broad and expanded views of social, economic, cultural and political developments and advancements through implementing free, unfettered, motivated and even incentivised intra-African migrations of persons. We Africans should move beyond discourses and narratives of framing immigration and migrants as a “national problem” and instead start to embrace and conceptualise African immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as persons to be cherished and incorporated into the national life and activities of host countries. Dominant views on immigration tend to mask, undervalue and underrate enormous social, cultural, economic, philosophical, educational, commercial and political ideas and knowledges that the dynamic of immigration brings into host societies.

In order to realise broader, continental-level free and unrestrained inter-migrations of persons, African countries might start with the formation and application of regional visa-free blocs such as those initiated by Southern African Development Community (SADC). For example, most countries within the SADC bloc allow nationals of many member states to enter their countries visa-free. This regional bloc needs to be an example for other African countries to adopt towards future continent-wide visa-free migration of Africans. Therefore, by forging region-based free-visa inter-migration treaties and agreements between regional nation-states such as West African Visa Free Zone, East African Visa Free Zone, Southern African Visa Free Zone and North African Visa Free Zone, Africa will be on its way towards a complete, continent-level free movement of persons and by doing so, transform its current development models and growth.

Current regimes of visa requirements of many African countries should be abolished as these visa restrictions can only hamper, slow and impede meaningful development for single African countries and the continent as a whole. By establishing visa requirements for African people, many African countries are forfeiting significant development benefits free, intra-African migrations could have brought about. Rwanda has recently set an example by initiating to implement a visa-free regime for all Africans. Other African countries should follow suit by either adopting Rwanda’s visa-free announcement for Africans or by creating regional visa-free blocs.

The adoption and implementation of free intra-African movement of Africans will indeed absorb and retain skilled Africans, facilitate transfer of knowledge and ideas and commercial trade which phenomena will indeed slow down even curb the brain drain of educated and skilled Africans by Western countries. As Africans, we haven’t effectively taken advantage of the powers and miracles of migration in the socio-economic empowerment and development of societies. It is time we now harness immigration as a driver of development rather than as a “problem”.

Dr Amanuel Isak Tewolde Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow Centre for Social Development in Africa University of Johannesburg

The Star

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