The Delegation of the European Union to Rwanda hosted an Open Discussion about free movement at the Impact Hub on Thursday last week. Opportunities and obstacles for free movement within the East African region were lively debated.
What does regional free movement mean for Rwanda and our relationship to neighboring countries? And how does free movement of people, goods and services foster business opportunities, economic development and regional integration?
Those were the main questions when Impact Hub in partnership with the EU Delegation to Rwanda and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) hosted a public debate around regional free movement.
Visa Free Africa
Michaella Rugwizangoga from Kigali Shapers, a leading movement advocating for a visa-free Africa, noted that Rwanda is becoming a model in easing migration.
“Today it is easier for Europeans to travel around Africa than it is for Kenyans or Rwandans. We want African policy makers to look at current visa and border policies and make a step towards increased regional mobility. We think Rwanda is in many ways a role model to the rest of the continent in the steps currently being made,” he observed.
Kigali Shapers was one of the panelists in Thursday’s debate, which is part of the EU Delegation’s public debate series, putting spotlight on societal topics through debate and dialogue and moderated by the head of the EU delegation to Rwanda, Michael Ryan. “Regional integration makes sense for Africa; a continent largely characterized by small economies and small markets. Intra-African trade is about 16 per cent on average compared to 21 per cent for Latin America and the Caribbean, 50 per cent for Asia, and 70 per cent for Europe”, Ambassador Michael Ryan said in his opening remarks.
The panel consisted of head of IOM Rwanda, Katherine Northing, Anataria Karimba from TradeMark East Africa, journalist Gonza Muganwa, and Michaella Rugwizangoga from Kigali Shapers.
World on the Move
Falling under the ‘I am Kigali’ campaign, involves a series of debates aimed at highlighting positive aspects of migration and a visa-free Africa and discussing pros and cons connected to regional mobility.
Speaking from the panel as one of the hosts, the head of IOM Rwanda Catherine Northing emphasized the importance of recognizing the positive implications of migration: “Today one out of seven people in the world are migrants. People are on the move now more than any other time in history. It is inevitable and it will continue, and it is a matter of making it beneficial and safe for people and communities. Rwanda is taking the lead in allowing free movement in the region; it is one of the two countries to sign the COMESA free movement protocol while also being active in promoting free movement in the EAC, Great Lakes Region and the Northern Corridor. We see that as a very positive step,” observed Catherine.
Diversity of opinions
The debate audience represented a large variety of nationalities, backgrounds and opinions, guaranteeing a lively debate that touched on numerous aspects of free movement in the region and in Africa. Among the most debated topics of the night were border control, competitiveness in business and education, lack of data on migration patterns in Africa, and national protectionism versus open borders and free trade. A recurrent point emphasized by all panelists was that free movement is about people and their interests and opportunities first.
“Regional integration should be driven by the interest of citizens rather than political agendas. Even if free movement is complicated on a political level, people will always move to where the opportunities are. That should be the starting point for all discussions”, said journalist Gonza Muganwa.
The overall sentiment across panelists, audience, opinions and questions was that free movement will benefit people and communities in East Africa at large. And while there is still a long way to go before free movement across Africa is a reality, there are steps being made in the right direction.
“Progress is being made to enhance free movement and cross-border trade because the leaderships in the East African community is listening to the voices of civil society. That is very important first step”, concluded Anataria Karimba from Trademark East Africa.