Gaborone: The Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele said the government is committed and willing to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to ensure the success of the Free Movement of Persons within Southern Africa initiative.
Siele was speaking at a Southern Africa Development Community Council of Non Governmental Organisation (SADC-NGO) free movement of persons campaign held on Tuesday in Gaborone. The campaign brought together state and non-state actors (NSA) from the SADC region.
Siele said the purpose of the gathering was to open up a multi-stakeholder dialogue on how best SADC can make the movement of citizens of the region convenient and efficient. He said that the free movement of people within the region is a phenomenon that spans generations from the pre-colonial period. He said there was need for this movement to be revived because there were better people relations then. Botswana is leading by example as they have already introduced a 90-day VISA free period for all but three SADC member states.
"We are already strengthening our migration systems and procedures as well as the national identification system, all of which are beginning to deliver on the easy movement of people across our borders," Siele emphasised.
However, in an effort to facilitate easy - and ultimately free movement of people across borders - the SADC region still has many hurdles to address. Challenges include language barriers and peace and stability as a lot of migration in the region is due to political turmoil, lack of democracy, human rights violations, economic disparities and protectionist policies, xenophobia, security impacts and poor infrastructure and operational efficiency.
Research, advocacy and policy manager of SADC-CNGO, Bob Muchabaiwa acknowledged that there are hurdles to be encountered in the integration of Southern African member states, but pointed out that it is not going to be an overnight activity. Muchabaiwa said they would take baby steps in order to ensure the success of the initiative. "So far we have devised short, medium and long term schemes that we need to stick to," he said.
Muchabaiwa said in the short-term, member states should sign the Protocol on the Facilitation and Movement of Persons. The protocol has only been signed by five countries being Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, with the number falling short of the nine that is required for the protocol to enter into force.
He said other short term initiatives hat can be seen through include scraping of Visas for short term visits between member states and the efficiency of border posts in order to save peoples time.
"It is not impossible for SADC member states to obtain freedom of movement of persons because certain parts of the world including parts of West and East Africa, Europe and Latin America have been able do it," he said.
German Embassy Attache to SADC, Larissa Berhmann, said freedom of movement of persons is important. "Europe has adopted this and things are easier for Europeans as they engage in different activities cross border and a single market has been established," she said.
Berhmann however said that member states should have good intentions when agreeing on such initiatives. She said that they shouldn't have hegemonic ideologies or hidden motives of exploitation of another country. She said that for the success of the freedom of movement of persons, the region needs both visionary leaders and visionary persons at all levels of the society. This has to be like a never ending project that will continue generation after generation because even back in Europe there are challenges we still face on a daily bases," she said.
SADC-CNGO executive director, Abbey Ditlhake, said that it is necessary for SADC to educate member state citizens on the SADC mandate. He said since 2008 they have done extensive consultations in the region. "To overcome our challenges we need to take SADC to the people and the people to SADC," he said.
Meanwhile a public dialogue on the regional policy dialogue series themed "Regional Economic Integration and trade: Whither SADC?" will be held on August 2 at Boipuso Hall. The topic to be discussed is the challenges and opportunities that will be brought about by the inter-state regional trade with reference to north-south trade negotiations and agreements with SADC.