By Bryan Chafwila
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) says it has ratified the Free Movement Protocol (FMP) among it’s member states through the creation of the Tripartite Free Trade Area between COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which comprises of 26 countries with a population of over 625 million people representing 57% of the continent’s population.
Speaking during the 10TH Meeting of COMESA Chiefs of Immigration at the COMESA Secretariat, Home Affairs Permanent Secretary, Dr Chileshe Mulenga said there was need for respective members of the COMESA region to raise awareness about the COMESA Free Movement Protocol, and to consider modalities for accelerating implementation of Protocols and decisions on Free Movement of persons, services, labour and capital. Drink Mulenga, who was the guest of honour at the function observed that there was need for COMESA member states to scrap off Visa requirements so that there could be regional integration among member countries.
” The issue of free movement in COMESA is an integral part of our desire to ensure a Free Trade Area. It is our hope that COMESA member states endeavour to remove travel restrictions through the examination of modalities for the implementation of gradual relaxation and eventual elimination of Visa requirements in order to facilitate for inter-agency corporation and information sharing among member states, ” he said.
He also noted that the Protocol on Visas is in full swing as can be seen between the movement of persons within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) being facilitated by the Task Force on Immigration with support from the European Union (EU) and the international Organization on Immigration (IOM) through the IOM Development Fund (DF).
Dr Mulenga reiterated that there were numerous benefits to the free movement of people as seen by numerous research conducted by various research centres across the globe.
“Some of the imminent benefits of free movement of persons are in the improvement of social economic well-being of themselves and their families. In the process, the host communities benefit from their skills and entrepreneurship and ingenuity, ” he said.
The free movement of persons is part of the strategy by COMESA to facilitate for the free movement of capital, labour, goods and services so as to foster regional integration among member states.
Dr Mulenga also observed that the political independence of one single country doesn’t entail economic emancipation and independence, hence the need for member states to break barriers and create larger markets within the region.
“The free movement of people allows for the expansion of economies, leading to powerful economic actors. It should also be noted that there are more benefits to free movement of people than there are to its restrictions, though certain countries put barriers to movement of people because they don’t realize that immigrants add more to the economies of the countries they visit than they gain from there.
“We need full regional integration so that we can have economies of scale, not only for the COMESA region, but also for the whole African continent and the world at large. We need regional integration as this scales up international trade, billionaires need it, Heads of State need it to call for investors to invest in their countries, and this in turn makes it easy for those seeking medical attention in other countries to travel swiftly,” he added.