The 8th Pan African Forum on Migration (PAFoM-8) Theme: “Bolstering Free Movement and Trade Nexus in AFCFTA: Optimizing Benefits of Migration, Labour Migration for Development”

Accentuated clearly in the vision of the African Union and permeating all the Agenda 2063 aspirations, Africa’s integration, free movement, and trade have never been so pronounced in Africa’s development policy frameworks. Chief amongst these is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) adopted alongside the Migration Policy Framework for Africa (MPFA) and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment (AU Free Movement Protocol – FMP) frameworks in 2018. Stimulating the positive trajectory, these developments have positioned the continenstrategicallyde for accelerated development to reap the economic gains, including migrationlaborur migration-trade nexus and concomitant developmental spinoffs. Harnessing free movement-migration-trade nexus dividend and leveraging intra-Africa mobility is potentially within grip; its potential to contribute to socioeconomic development is crystal clear in the documented policy and practice developmental discourse for Africa.

The year 2018 saw the adoption of two complementary legal instruments, namely the FMP and the AfCFTA. The rationale for the complementary aspect of these two treaties influencing migration is that economic development, trade, and labor migration are intrinsically intertwined. To the extent that without people, goods and services would not be able to cross borders and contribute to formal economic development. The free movement of persons and trade holds the potential for the continent to spur economic growth and sustain the implementation of the Accelerated Industrialization development in Africa (AIDA).

Signed in Kigali on 21 March 2018, the AfCFTA entered into force on January 202d, consequently commencing a continental free trade regime in Africa. It gives Africa a unique opportunity to unleash its economic potential for inclusive growth and sustainable development. It will create a single African market of over a billion consumers with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of U$2.5 trillion. The Agreement covers trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights, competition policy, and e-commerce, encapsulating the drive behind the African Union integration agenda. It envisions a single, liberalized continental market for goods and services and guarantees the free movement of traders across the continent, culminating in a dynamic and vibrant Trade Area. Therefore, the successful implementation of the AfCFTA will lead to more decent jobs, improved welfare, and a better quality of life for all citizenry; skills development, employability, and opportunity-driven entrepreneurship will help Africa realize its continental trade objectives.

The FMP is intended to contribute to implementing the AfCFTA by providing for the progressive implementation of the free movement of persons in Africa. Invariably, the quest for the free movement of persons will have a positive impact on the realization of meaningful intra-African trade, as envisaged under the AfCFTA. This reasoning is further amplified by well-documented evidence showing up to 80% intra-Africa migration, signaling that human mobility within the continent is already significantly extensive. This is compelling evidence for Africa to urgently push for the facilitation of free movement within Africa to invigorate robust economic development and create vibrant labor markets across the continent. Consequently, labor is required to boost productivity in various industries, such as manufacturing sectors across African countries. Therefore, labor mobility across specific sectors of interest to countries increases productivity and exports in these sectors under which trade is happening. 

The vision of Africa to be an integrated economy gives rise to a revitalized thrust to remove restrictions stifling migration and human mobility intimately intertwined with trade. Without liberalizing the g movement of persons to a certain degree, it is impossible to achieve meaningful trade and continental integration. Consequently, the relationship between the free movement of goods and services across the continent through the AfCFTA and the free movement of persons is essential to harness the benefits of regional integration and trade.

The renewed political impetus for the free movement of persons in Africa is driven by a confluence of factors, both internal and external, to the continent. These include the growing realization that the fragmented and externally oriented nature of Africa’s economies continues to impose severe costs, evident, for example, in the low level of trade among African countries when compared with other global regions, Despite the impressive strides in recent African integration efforts, intra-African trade remains low relative to other regions (15% compared with 60% for the European Union, 41% in North Ameri, ca and 53% in East Asia).

The global geo-political prominence of migration has dramatically increased recently as the world sees more significant numbers of migrants than at any other time in history. Global inequality, the lack of employment, and decent work increased exponentially while Africa disproportionately bears the brunt.

This shift towards more restrictive migration policies in the developed world and the policies of some more economically advanced African countries has seen a proliferation of barriers to migration flows within and between Africa and the rest of the world. Regressive global migration developments have led to a natural and perceptible narrowing of opportunities for cross-border interchanges, economic development, culture exchange, tourism, and otherwise. To advance the free movement of persons at continental and REC levels, it will be essential to frame free movement as a managed and non-threatening process for Africa.

Several progressive continental legal instruments and policy frameworks have been put in place in line with Goal 1, Aspiration 2 of Agenda 2063, which strives to accelerate “progress towards continental unity and integration for sustained growth, trade, exchanges of goods, services, free movement of people and capital through establishing a United Africa and fast-tracking economic integration through the Continental Free Trade Area.”

Poorly governed labor migration can increase irregular migration and perpetuate exploitation and governance challenges for countries of origin, transit, and destination. Both the AfCFTA and FMP underscore the need for solid labor market institutions. In juxtaposition to this notion, the Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP) for Africa was adopted by African Heads of State and Government in January 2015 as a comprehensive labor migration governance. With its strategy focused on intra-Africalaborur migration, the JLMP’s overall goal is to “‘Strengthen effective governance and regulation labor migration and mobility in Africa” to bolster trade, integration, and sustainable development.


The African Union adopted the AfCFTA as a flagship project of Agenda 2063 aimed at creating a single African market for goods and services facilitated by the free movement of persons, capital, and investment to deepen economic integration, promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development, gender equality, industrialization, agricultural development, food security, and structural transformation. As the world’s largest free trade area bringing together 55 countries, the AfCFTA is an innovative instrument for igniting economic integration and prosperity. It directly contributes to the social development strata in Africa.

Ostensibly, the catalytic role of AfCFTA in accelerating African integration, its economic spillover effect, the solidarity, its envisaged positive impact on the well-being of African citizenry, the expected opening up of immense sources of jobs, and the encouraging development prospects it could offer to youths are all symbolic of the aspirations permeating the letter and spirit of the “Africa We Want.” In five (five) years, the AfCFTA framework was adopted, and the AU Summit decided that the Theme of the Year (2023) would be: “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation.” It recognizes the importance of unlocking the levers of trade among the AU Member States to fast-track the implementation of the AfCFTA for the benefit of Africa’s population and a catalyst for the r continental integration landscape.

Tracking the implementation of AfCFTA

Notable progress has been recorded in creating one African market. Various operational tools to facilitate commercially meaningful trading under the AfCFTA have been launched. On the contrary, the same cannot be said about the algorithms with the social development operational parameters required to energize a functional rhythm of AfCFTA. Case in point, very little has been achieved to mainstream the 4th AfCFTA pillar focusing on the Free Movement of Persons, Migration, and Labour Migration. Evidence from other regions shows that a well-managed and Free Movement of Persons is a precondition for integrated economic development. The AfCFTA is thus positioned to stimulate economic development directly and, in doing so, will now foster socioeconomic growth trajectory, boost the creation of decent jobs, and amplify integration of Africa – home of fastest growing economies, the youngest population, and a robust labor force, Africa is primed to benefit from a demographic dividend boom.

African integration remains very prominent on the AU agenda, with significant progress toward implementing the AfCFTA, entailing a range of measures lowering sovereign boundaries to allow deeper engagements and cooperation with neighbors on the African continent. A vexing question arises: What are the requisite conditions and an necessities required to lathe the foundations for a vibrant continent integration in AfCFTA? Research shows that among these is the development complex comprising the Free Movement of Persons, Migrati, and Labour Migration Governance regimes.  

Cross intersections of Labour Migration, Migration, Free Movement and Trade

The Free Movement Protocol clarifies that the free movement of persons, capital goods, and services will promote integration of Africanism, enhance science, technology, education, and research and foster tourism, facilitate inter-African trade and investment, increase remittances within Africa, promote mobility of labor, create employment, improve the standards of living of the people of Africa and facilitate the mobilization and utilization of the human and material resources of Africa to achieve self-reliance and development. The MPFA also recognizes the importance of the trade-labour-migration nexus and its interdependence on the free movement of persons. To the extent that free movement of persons is a crucial pillar of trade and economic integration, it facilitates trade in goods and services and industrialization, thereby contributing to socioeconomic development and poverty reductionThe accelerationon of implementation of AfCFTA is thus intrinsically interwoven with regular migration and free movement devoid of restrictions stifling trade in Africa. In the same ve,ilaborur migration is a current and historical reality in Afri,ca impacting directly on the economies of countries of origin and destination. In this regard, labor migration and migration feature prominently among the conditions required to stimulate acceleration of AfCFTA in myriad ways: These include investment into diverse economic sectors, labor market skill contributions to countries of origin and destination, usage of remittances as an investment to economic sectors, more so in the financial markets, tangible flows of knowledge and skills; tourism and trade of goods and services.

The Protocol on Free Movement of Person nexus with trade is acknowledged by literature, highlighting that creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of cross-border traders under the AfCF,TA is of critical importance folaborur migration and migratin, and its contribution to socioeconomic development.

Policies, strategies, and programmatic responses relating to trade facilitation have generally focused on a limited definition of trade facilitation in terms of the reduction and removal of barriers that slow down or increase the cost of the movement of goods across borders and along trade corridors. Less focus has been placed on human mobility, including those aspects that can broadly expedite the movement of goods and bring economic dynamism in neighboring economies by enhancing the movement of people – such as immigration controls, entry and stay requirements, and travel documentation (including visa and permit requirements) as well as other human mobility-related aspects, including public health considerations. People facilitate trade and investment, and as such, the free movement of persons and facilitation olaborur migration is an integral part of the African free trade area strategy. The cases of Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda are compelling evidence of the positive effects of the free movement of people on cross-border trade after these countries revised their administrative procedures for work permits and entry visas. The three countries recorded a 50% increase in cross-border trade with each other, epitomizing a pronounced substantial nexus between trade and free movement wita h positive impetus olaborur mobility and regional integration. Consequentlytoto accelerate the implementation of AfC,TA the free movement of persons, migrationlaborur migrate,on and trade nexus ought to be explored.

Optimizing Free Movement of Persons for Integration

The Free Movement Protocol is a significant landmarforto continental integrationBeforeto the adoption of this instrument, various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other organizationwereen createto removeng barriers to trade and the free movement of goods, capital, and people. Regional Economic Communities including the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) have introduced rules for free movement of nationals between their member states. Congruently, the pathways for optimization olaborur migration through bolstering the nexus between trade anthe d free movement of persons derive viability frofavorablele pre-existinAfricanca intra-trade conditions inspired by thREC’sCs relevant frameworks.

Facilitating regular migration through the AU FMP can significantly increase the benefits for African migration for origin and destination societies as it has been established that restrictive immigration and visa practices have stimulated irregular migration and migrants smuggling, interrupted labor circulation as well as blocked access to (regular) migration opportunities to the poorest and more vulnerable members of societies. Thus, limiting the positive contributions of migration to poverty reduction and reducing inequality in countries of origin facing realities of economic fragility is an omission. Application of selective immigration and visa policies tends to privilege the already privileged by providing ample legal provisions for the highly skilled professionals to migrate freely and regularly, while the lower ansemi-skilleded people are often excluded from regular migration opportunities, thus condemning these poor to the periphery of continental economic activity.

The status of free movement in Africa

To date, few countries on the continent are easily accessible to citizens of other African states. So far, those few countries have not registered an influx of migrants by facilitating access to African migrants in their respective countries. According to the Africa Visa Openness Report (202,): 32 countries still require the nationals of at least half of the continent’s countries to obtain a visa before travelling. Regarding visa-free travel and visas on arriv,l: 48 countries (89%) out of 54 now offer visa-free travel to the nationals of at least one other African count,ry with 42 countries (78%) offering visa-free travel to the nationals of at leasfive 5 other African countries. 3 African countries (6%) provide visa-free travel to the citizens of all other African countries. Visas on arrival: 29 countries (54%) now provide a visa on arrival to the nationals of at least one other African country. A total of 24 countries (44%) offer a visa on arrival te nationals of 5 or more country,es while 14 countries (24%) offer a visl to 35 or more African countries.

The AU Agenda 2063 included, as one of its flagship programmes approved by the AU Summ,it the introduction of an “African Passport and free movement of people” within the first ten years. Implementation of Agenda 2063 provisions on migration would imply “transforming Africa’s laws, which remain generally restrictive on the movement of people despite political commitments to bring down borders with the view to promoting the issuance of visas by Member States to enhance free movement of all African citizens in all African countries by 2018”. This would mean that “there will be free movement of goods, services, and capital; and persons traveling to any Member State could get the visa at the point of entry.”

Legal Identity and Integrated Border Management

A plethora of studies have noted a strong linkage between the current posture of AU Member States, underscored by acutely low ratification of the Protocol on Free Movement and the lack oan f Integrateborder managementnt system and poor Legal Identity management. Several member states do not have the capacity and resources to establish adequate civil registries to confirm the identity of their nationals and implement integrated border management syste,ms thus equally posing a challenge to security. Consequently, concerns ovethe r lack of adequate and assured legal identity and poor border governance among African countrieareis evident in hoscountries’es authorities’ reluctance to ratifthe y Free Movement instrument, citing potential security breaches on aspectof s public policies relatdto , social development, heal,th and security. These issues have contributed to a lack of trust between member stat,es also seen at the REC level in the implementation of regional free movement protocol,ls and if noaddressed,ss it will hamper the implementation of AfCFTA.

In light of the foregoing, the African Union Commission, under the auspices of the continental migration Interstate, the Pan-African Forum on Migration (PAFoM), together with the Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP), is organizing a Conference to harness, harmonize, harvest knowledge and practice, and stimulate transformative dialogue on the free movement of persons and catapult actors into action to optimize a managed migration and labor migration in view to make intra-Africa trade a reality.

The 8th Pan African Forum on Bolstering Free Movement and Trade Nexus in AfCFTA:

The Pan African Forum on Migration (PAFOM) is an African Union continental interstates dialogue Framework on Migration that brings together African Union Member States and other relevant stakeholders within the migration space to discuss and deliberate on various topical issues regarding migration and human mobility in Africa. As a continental Migration Governance Conference, this Forum aims at providing an opportunity for AU Member States and RECs, together with other relevant stakeholde,rs to share information, best practices and also learn from each other on ways of improving migration governance in the continent.

PAFOM has existed for the last years and has recently evolved as a premier continental forum that contributeto s and shapes how migration governance in Africa can be improved for sustainable development as per the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The 7th Pan African Forum on Migration (PAFoM-7) was held from 18th -21st of October 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda. The Foruallowedor AU Member States, RE, Cs, and other relevant stakeholders to deliberate on the impact of Climate Change on Migration and displacement governance in the continent. The Forum brought together relevant Ministers of Migration and anClimate-relateded issues together with their expert providing necessary policy and operational guidance on mitigating climate-induced migration and displacements at the national, regional,al and continental levels for socioeconomic development.

The 8th Pan African Forum on Migration (PAFoM-8) on Bolstering Free Movement and Trade Nexus in AfCFTA: Optimizing Benefits of Migration, Labour Migration, and Development will, amongst others, contribute to the AU theme of the year 2023 theme “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation” by unpacking the linkages between the AfCFTA, Free Movement of Persons, Migration and Labour Migration across the continent. Particular emphasis will be placed on women and men migrant workers, as well as discuss the good examples and mechanisms through which different stakeholders (countries of origin and countries of destination, civil society organizations, and social partners) can highlight benefits derived from an integrated economic development for Africa. 

Objectives and ExpecteOutcomeses of the Forum:

The Forum aims to:

  1. Promote an improved understanding of the nexus between migration-labour migration, free movement, and trade by unpacking socioeconomic benefits and positive multiplier effects of this relationship;
  2. Providcriticaley recommendations for concrete initiatives that illustrate the nexus between trade and the free movement of people, especially labor, on the continent and the resultant contribution to continental integration and AfCFTA implementation;
  3. Stimulate a discourse that highlights labor migration and migration-trade nexus and migration as a catalyst to realize the African Economic Community single market;
  4. Advance dialogue to deconstruct barriers towards advancing the Free Movement of people in Africa.
  5. Facilitate discussion to highlight the impact of legal identity and border management on free movement and AfCFTA;
  6. Explore digital technological advancement for gathering accurate data and information to generate critical statistics in contexts of Free Movement, Labour Migration, and Migration for development.

By the end of this Forum, the following will be the key outcomes of the meeting:

  1. Documented experience l,essons learned, and best practices on migration and trade nexus initiatives are shared and disseminated.
  2. Recommendations on strategic catalytic actions for optimizing labor migration to advance   AfCFTwere were developed and affirmed.
  3. AU Migration and Labour Migration governance policies and their strategic role in attaining regional integration and promotion of AfCFTA in line with the AU 2023 annual theme strategically positioned.
  4. Intra-Africa policy sub-themes for migration and labor migration-trade nexus framed and transformed into a syllabus for knowledge production to advance AfCFTA.

Resource and Reference Materials:

The following will be bcriticaley documents for the meeting:

  1. Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence, and Right of Establishment

2. African Union Strategy for a Better Integrated Border Governance

3. Theme of the Year 2023: “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation”

4. Migration Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018 – 2030)

5. Study on Benefits and Challenges of Free Movement of Persons in Africa

6. Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area

7. Africa Visa Openness Report (2022)