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Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa

The COMESA Programme on Immigration and the Free Movement of People

The COMESA programme on immigration and the free movement of people consists of the promotion and implementation of the Protocol on the Gradual Relaxation and Eventual Elimination of Visa Requirements (Visa Protocol) as well as the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Labour, Services, the Right of Establishment and Residence (Free Movement Protocol).

The Visa Protocol was adopted in 1984. It is premised on two key elements: a ninety-day visa free regime and access to visa-on-arrival. Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Eswatini, Seychelles, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are to a large extent implementing the Protocol; providing ninety-day visa access and access to visa on arrival to at least half of the COMESA Member states. Mauritius, Rwanda, and Seychelles have waived visa requirements for all COMESA citizens. Being the seat of the COMESA Secretariat, in 2013 Zambia issued a circular waiving visas and visa fees for all COMESA citizens on official business.

The Free Movement Protocol was adopted in 2001 by the COMESA Authority of Heads and States and is in the process of being signed and ratified. The Free Movement Protocol was developed to ease the operationalization of the COMESA Common Market, with the objective to remove all restrictions to the free movement of persons, labour, and services and provide for the right of establishment and right of residence. To date, little progress has been made on its signature and ratification, and only four of COMESA’s 19 Member States have signed the Protocol.

On 30th May 2019, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) entered into force, bringing the number of regional trade agreements recognised by the African Union to nine. However, despite the fact that it is a trade agreement, scope of the AfCTA is broad enough to include aiding the movement of capital and people. How this agreement will impact the implementation of the COMESA Free Movement Protocol remains to be seen.