Freedom of Movement: A Challenge for ECOWAS
E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor (in Accra, Ghana)
The regional organization Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established in May 1975 with the purpose to promote socio-economic freedom for West Africans. But it appears that the dream of achieving the free movement within the sub region is far from reality.
The ECOWAS is comprised of 15 member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
The ECOWAS Treaty of 1975clearly acknowledged the need to authorize and maintain intra-regional trade migration as a way of balancing and optimizing resource allotment and development at the regional level.
Article 2 section2 (d) of the Treaty says: “The Community shall by stage ensure the abolition as between the Member States of the obstacles to the free movement of persons, services and capital.”
This objective was strengthened in the ECOWAS’ Protocol on Free Movement, relating to free movement of persons, residence and establishment, signed in Dakar, Senegal on 29th May, 1979.
Article 2 of the Protocol categorically states that: All ECOWAS citizens have the right to enter reside and live in the territory of member states.
This protocol is an essential part of making a single regional socio-economic space come true, where all citizens can benefit from opportunities in member states, including the utilization of services, access to coastal areas by landlocked member states, and, most significantly, unrestricted freedom of movement within its member states.
However, free movement of persons and goods within the sub-region has not been fully realized. Incompatibilities in immigration and customs policies and monetary zones among member states have obstructed migration and integration within the sub-region.
Due to these challenges there still is a long way from “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of People,” in which the people would be the focus of regional merger, rather than the state.
Also, regardless of the introduction of a common ECOWAS passport among its members’ citizens for the purpose of free movement within the region, travelers are finding it very challenging to move freely from one country to another.
Migrating citizens within ECOWAS member states continue to experience routine intimidation and harassment by security officers along the common borders. For instance, custom threats of arbitrary arrest and denial of passage if bribes are not paid are still common, even though the ECOWAS policy on a common passport for the entire sub-region has been in place since the early parts of 2005.
Businesswoman Lorpu Kollie told about her experiences at borders recently in Monrovia at a news conference. Lorpu Kollie is secretary general for an organization of local market women in Liberia. She sells African clothes produced in Guinea, and claimed that traveling for as marketers within ECOWAS Countries by roads is problematic.
She noted that despite being ECOWAS’ passport bearer, harassment and intimidations from security officers along the borders’ points are rampant and uncontrollable. “After every 30 minutes of drive there is a security check point where security officers -immigration and police officers- will demand money from drivers and passengers and if we don’t give the amount they ask for, they immediately make us stop the journey. We are forced to pay in order for us to have a free and safe passage. I think the heads of states should do something about it or else we, the marketers, will find it very difficult to transport our goods to other countries.”, she said.
According to her, such practice by the security officers within is frightening and embarrassing for the sub region. “Traveling by land within ECOWAS States is annoying, especially with security officers collecting money at every checkpoint. As a result, we don’t generate much profit as anticipated,” Lorpu Kollie detailed her experience.The businesswoman explained that she now prefers to fly in order to avoid harassment at checkpoints.
According to a Nigerian news alert, The Africa Portal, between Badagry (the exit point from Nigeria to Benin) and Noe (the entry point from Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire), there are an estimated 120 border posts and security check points.
Despite these challenges, ECOWAS looks to strengthen regional migration and the integration process.
About the Author:
Nathaniel Daygbor is a respected Liberian journalist currently participating in DW (German International Radio) Academic media training on regional integration focusing on AU and ECOWAS in Accra, Ghana.