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The African Development Bank (AfDB), in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, organized on 20-21 June 2013, in Dakar, Senegal, a brainstorming workshop for migration experts and stakeholders from ECOWAS member states. The workshop, organized by the Regional Integration and Trade Division of the AfDB and supported by the Nigerian Technical Cooperation Fund, provided the basis for the development of a common regional migration policy.
The common migration policy, when developed, will provide critical materials for the review and modernization of the ECOWAS Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons and the Rights of Residency and Establishment. The implementation of the Protocol, which was crafted in 1979, has shown weaknesses that a modernized Protocol would need to address.
Critical issues to address include skills shortages, harnessing region-wide talent, improving remittance transfer mechanisms, as well as addressing the issue of dual citizenships, while improving the protection of migrant populations around the region in line with international conventions.
Mamadou Seck, Adviser to Minister for Foreign Affairs of Senegal, who represented the Minister at the opening ceremony, noted that “with its mutual and human riches, economic potential, historical and cultural affinities of its people, ECOWAS constitutes a homogeneous entity. A common migration policy elaborated and implemented in such a geographic space can only promote growth and development. That is why the Government of Senegal strongly supports this great initiative.”
Capturing the migration dynamics in the region, Inye Briggs of the AfDB re-iterated that more than 7.5 million West Africans (about 3 per cent of the region’s population) currently circulate within the sub-region – compared to 0.5 per cent of Europeans who circulate within Europe. These numbers do not include border dynamics or seasonal migration.
“These figures,” he continued, “show that West Africa cannot afford to ignore this trend, as the livelihood of a sizable part of its citizenry depends on intra-community migration. It also means that any migration policy that will be meaningful to the lives of West Africans needs to have a West African outlook.”
Briggs recalled that in 2009 the Bank launched the Migration and Development Initiative supported by a Fund to help maximize the development impact of remittances by channeling them into productive investments, promoting business opportunities and creating jobs at the grassroots level.
On migration and employment, N’Fally Sanoh, ECOWAS Director of Free Movement and Tourism, spoke of what he terms “the ECOWAS Preference”, which should apply to employment in all sectors. “It is important to create a regional job market within ECOWAS, which could be a short term solution to the lack of skilled workers in specific industries in all ECOWAS countries. It is also a possible alternative to emigration towards the global north,” he said.
“We are witnessing a strong momentum today, with nine West African countries developing migration policies, as well as ECOWAS progressing towards a common migration policy. This should be based on moving from immigration control to migration management of the rising numbers of youth in West Africa, and moving towards pro-active regional skills pooling, mainly through a harmonization of qualifications in order to facilitate recruitment of ECOWAS citizens within the sub-region,” said Anne Sofie Olsen, an AfDB migration expert who was also a participant at the workshop.
Delegates from ECOWAS countries shared their experiences of managing migration, interacting with their diaspora and developing national migration policies. Four key issues arose during the deliberations that delegates would expect a common regional migration policy to address. These are lack of mutual recognition of qualifications for professionals, lack of data on intra-regional remittances as well as lack of understanding of their development impact, lack of outreach to the diaspora within the sub-region to increase cross-border investments, and lack of cross-border trade facilitation.
Participants also discussed the cost of remitting money to West Africa, where 70 per cent of all transfers is handled by one money transfer operator, pointing to lack of competitive marketplace for money transfers. Competitiveness is a function of the regulatory environment, capacity and resources, all areas the region must revisit in the future. The market is also evolving, with a large informal component and new technologies, leading to new remittance distribution channels such as mobile transfers and retail outlets that represent new challenges for regulators.
A key resolution was that ECOWAS indeed needs a common migration policy that is in tune with modern day realities and that would provide the framework for addressing the migration dynamics in the region in a way that is beneficial to its citizens.